Washing Away Sin

I was baptized in an unholy place—one of Saddam Hussein’s palace pools in Baghdad to be specific. At first, I thought this was a horrible place to get baptized, but actually it wound up being perfect.

When the chaplain mentioned where the baptism was going to take place, I started imagining the horrible things that must have happened around these grounds. It was pretty common knowledge that Saddam was not the nicest and holiest of men. With that in mind, I started to think that I should not go through with it. I wanted my baptism to mean something, to be special. I didn’t want it to be tainted with a history of evil.

Then it dawned on me, having my baptism in a place known for sin and violence and who knows what else, was actually very symbolic. I mean the entire point of being baptized is to cleanse you from the sin, from the past. To make what was tainted and dirty fresh…and start anew.

It was a moving experience to say the least. And the host of the service, Cannon White, spoke so eloquently, making it even more meaningful. It’s funny, because over the years, I had forgotten his name and it bother me. One day, I was listening to a National Public Radio broadcast and heard this religious speaker. I recognized his distinctive voice immediately. Without a doubt, he was the one who baptized me in May of 2005.

Now, ten years later, I think about that day and what it meant. I can’t say I was completely changed and that I am now the perfect Christian. No. I still stumble. I still sin. I am not perfect by any means. And I am not completely changed since I was a practicing Christian prior to my baptism. I just had not be baptized before and wanted to take that step.

I remember being a small child and watching someone get baptized. I wanted to do it. I wanted to be close to God. So right in the middle of a service, I started begging my mom. She told me I had to wait. I had to be older. And well, I couldn’t just go up there and jump into someone else’s moment. So of course, I threw a fit like the child I was. I lay under the pew crying that she was keeping me from God. LOL…my poor mother.

It was the right choice of course. Being baptized as an adult meant more. I had to really evaluate what I wanted and why. I got to choose for the right reasons. Every day is still a struggle though. It is hard to have faith in times of stress. It is hard to hold unto hope when things look bleak. It is hard to feel loved when you feel alone. And boy is it hard to turn the other cheek when people are cruel. But I try. I really do try. I think that is all we can do as people. Regardless of your faith, I think most of us try to live our lives well, have a purpose and make a difference. We try to be good, loving, and caring people. We won’t succeed every day. What is important though, is that we know, each new day is a chance to start anew. It doesn’t matter if we are coming from a bad past or have not always been the best person. We can all start fresh and wipe our slate clean, even if we do it with some questionable pool water.

For the Daily Post ~All It’s Cracked Up to Be.


Silly Can’t be all THAT Bad…Can it?

I can be serious. I just don’t see the point in it often. I mean life is more fun with some out-of-script moments. And many times, serious and near-painful experiences have been made pleasant, and even fun, with a little wackiness.

Like on my deployments let’s say. There are times to be stern, tough, and professional. Those are our ‘game face’ moments. Times where you are engaging the local citizens, American public or Nato allies. You certainly don’t want your first impression to be of you acting a fool. No, that does not instill confidence in people. Then, there are moments of all out business. You have to get things right because in some situations, there is no room for error. Like when handling weapons or searching an unknown person entering the base, there is zero tolerance for playing.

On the flip side though, there are plenty of times where the mood can be lightened, needs to be lightened. As Soldiers, we wait a lot. I mean a lot. We have to stage our gear for movement. We have to then wait to move. Then, there is almost always some other delay. At times, it really seems like we are herding cats. As I have progressed in rank of the years, I understand it more now, but while you are living in the ‘waiting zone’ there is certainly ample opportunity for shenanigans. And in my opinion, these are the moments where people bond and release the stress. This is where units build morale.

There are also times where we joke, that some people may find odd, very odd. Like when mortars are going off. After doing the immediate proper things, such as putting on your gear (if it is not already on) or taking shelter in a bunker, there is nothing else to do (unless you are on special teams that deal with these situations). So you can sit there listening and feeling the explosions and feel terror. You can scream the sky is falling (and it kind of is). You can worry and wonder yourself into a frenzy, cursing each whistle and explosion. Or, you can laugh. I chose to laugh frankly. It is hope I cope. It is how many of us cope.

I remember one day in Afghanistan (2011) where our base was under attack. There was all kinds of gun fire and mortars. Our special teams were running here and there. Armored vehicles were hauling ass to strategic spots. Helicopters were buzzing over head. It was pretty intense, particularly when you don’t know what exactly is happening. So in the midst of this, the rest of us did what we were supposed to do: we stayed out of the way and waited in bunkers until we were needed. We followed orders, our standard procedure for this situation. Meanwhile, those of us in my bunker did what we could do to cope. We joked, we laughed, and we drank coffee. (One of the Soldiers happened to be making a pot of coffee when the alarms went off and his hut was right next to the bunker, and he just happened to bring it with him in the hurry to get there, lol.) So, ‘no shit, there we were’ finding a way to deal with the craziness. What’s hard for most Soldiers, is not doing anything. It drives us crazy. We want to help. We want to contribute. However, in moments like this where we know we have to sit tight while others do the brunt of work, we get anxious. Combine that with the natural anxiety of wondering if the next mortar will land on your head…and there is a need to be silly.

Heroes in the Eyes of a Child

Years ago, a little boy looked at me and my coworkers like we were heroes. I don’t know if we were per say by definition, but I will never forget that little boy and I hope… he didn’t forget us.

It was 2002 and I was deployed to Bosnia. I was out on a mission with some engineer Soldiers who needed to visit a small village that was in need of a bridge. We drove around the area, checking out the river and possible locations to install a bridge. One area that seemed likely was on or near a villagers property. Naturally, we went over to discuss this with the owners.

As they were talking business, I was doing my work. I began documenting the scene, the effort. While doing this, I noticed this little boy. He was around six years old I guess. I will never forget the way he was looking at us Soldiers. As he stood there in his camouflage pants and his Mickey Mouse shirt, his look was of wonder. He was timid but yet eager to see us, watch us. He kept looking at us and I couldn’t help but think his eyes conveyed he was impressed. It touched my heart to the core. It also taught me a lesson: when I am in uniform, I represent more than just me. I AM America. I AM all Soldiers. Well, at least to those seeing us.

Over 13 years have passed and I still remember this boy. I look at the pictures now and think, he is a young man now. I wonder what the village is like now. I wonder if he still lives there, or visits. I wonder if he remembers us. And…I wonder if he still thinks we were there to help his country, his village.

I am not a political person and certainly won’t claim to understand all the factors involved in wars, but from my perspective, us Soldiers (both American and Nato allies) on the ground were there to help where we could. We wanted to help the people rebuild. We weren’t trying to be heroes, we just wanted to make a difference. I hope we did.

Slightly Scared of Charity

In just a few days, I would be out of Afghanistan and on leave, I thought. I was so excited that I could almost taste home. Prior to leaving, I had one more mission to go on though. And while I was on it, I had moments where I thought I may never make it home.

It was suppose to be a simple mission. I was headed out to a nearby village to hand out humanitarian aide with a Special Forces Group. I was going along to document the mission through photography. I have to admit, I was thrilled to go. As a public affairs officer for a signal task force, there was not necessarily a lot of excitement or interaction with the Afghan people. So, I jumped at the chance to go on a mission. It was a low-threat area and we were just handing out clothes and food. The SF guys wanted to use this opportunity to give specific items to specific people. Baby clothes and food to new mothers. Shoes to young kids. Hats to the teen boys. Interacting with the community also gave us a chance to talk to them, build relationships. And of course, get a feel for what is going on the area.

We loaded up the gator with our boxes of donations and we started walking though the town. Like expected, people started to follow us. We chatted with the kids, handed out candy. We spoke to the adults. We found out their concerns. And through all that we handed out some items to people in need.

Of course, some Soldiers were not involved in the banter. Their job was security. As I snapped away, I tried to be very aware of those Soldiers to watch their cues as they instructed. They knew I was not very experienced in moving through a village. I’ve been on some patrols and convoys over the years, but its not my typical every day mission. So, I have to trust the experts. So of course, I was a little nervous.

As we kept moving through the village, more and more people came. The crowd was not only making me nervous but I could see the security team was not as relaxed as before either. They started pointing things out for me to photograph. Certain people. Odd piles of rocks. They told me to get closer. I was getting a bit uncomfortable and very aware of everything around me. (And, when looking at my pictures, I can tell when the mood changed because the quality of many of my photos diminished greatly. It was like I was just snapping away and not paying as much attention to my craft. I was merely thinking of tactical skills at that point. I was no longer a photograph but a Soldier with a camera.)

What I noticed is that there was now a bigger crowd and they were pressing in on us. The security Soldiers were telling them to back up. They were not listening though. They were trying to grab things off the gator. They were trying to “steal” the things we wanted to give them. My thoughts were very conflicted then. I thought, if we are going to give them these things anyway, why do we care if they take them? Well, we wanted to give the right items to the right people was my answer. Then I felt empathy, thinking how awful it must be to feel that desperate, that in need. And of course, part of me that had never been in the middle of a swarm of people pushing, was scared. I was scared I would get hurt. I was even more scared someone else would get hurt. My fellow Soldiers were in the crowd. There were kids in the crowd. One child fell to the ground. I helped them up and put them near my legs and pulled them with me out of the growing chiaos. Now, I was getting angry at the carelessness of people pushing with no regards to the kids.

To bring the risk to an end, we just walked back from the donations, pulling what small children we saw with us. And we just let them run of with the stuff we wanted to give them anyway. It removed us, and the small kids, from the middle of the pushing and the crowd dispersed.

We headed back to the base shortly after that. I think we had all had enough community interaction by that point.

I look back at this mission years later and think, a few varied thoughts. This is definitely no where near any level of danger that many Soldiers have experienced. As a matter a fact, it would probably be laughed at by some of those hard core troops, and justifiably so. But, I can only tell you about my experiences and how I felt. At that time, I felt conflicted. I was nervous, but still had a job to do. I could see the potential for this situation to go bad as a Soldier and as a public affairs officer. I was trying to think tactically and not do anything that would put my host Soldiers at more risk. I didn’t want to let them down and make the situation worse. I was also thinking…I am about to go on leave, I really hope I get to go.


For the Daily Prompt ~ Fight or Flight

To see some of the better photos from that mission, check out my photography blog next Thursday, March 5th.