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Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2006 12:48:33 -0400

From a Military Chaplain  ( Introduction)

Delivered at Ohio Statehouse Lawn for "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit of the
American Friends Service Committee 13 June 2006

My name is Brad Cotton from Circleville, Ohio. I will be reading today a letter from a close friend, a military chaplain, who has conducted funerals for many of our children, husbands, wives, brothers , sisters, parents killed in military action in Iraq, represented here by these empty boots. I read you my friend's letter as a veteran of the U.S. Army reserves, as a
practicing physician, as a Quaker.

As a U.S. Army reserve officer I recall proudly the young men and women I served with 1984-1992. For a brief period I was attached to the 256th Evacuation Hospital, Brookpark, Ohio, just down the road from the 25th Marines, who suffered so badly in Iraq last year. These young reservists represent some of the best our country has to offer. These young men and women were looking to better themselves and their families, earn money for college, learn a skill, they asked only that their wives not be thrown away needlessly. Not in this war.

As a physician I have treated Iraq War veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Their peace disturbed by endless involuntary replays of the faces of the Iraqi families, women and children they killed, pulled out of the rubble of a home destroyed by firepower they directed. The bleeding faces of their dead buddies appear to them at night. One vet tells me of the effects of .50 caliber machine gun fire on a human body, he is surprised that I listen. What I hear is his pain, his injuries to his soul, suffered by doing what he thought his country and his God asked him to do.

As a Quaker, I am concerned that my military chaplain friend may also be soul-injured from having conducted so many military funerals. He feels the helpless rage that I, that many of us have felt as this unnecessary war of choice was launched, as we see this national tragedy cynically used as a photo opportunity under a " Mission Accomplished" sign. Our country has gone insanely off  course after 11 September 2001. Ephesians 4:26 cautions " In your anger, do not sin". U.S troops trapped in an insurgent war lashed out in anger against innocents in My Lai, Vietnam, 1968 and  Haditha, Iraq November 2005. After 11 September 2001, angry and afraid we  too lashed out with "Shock and Awe" on Iraq. Our nation has sinned.

I read now my friends letter as circumstances prohibit his reading it for you himself.

"Letter from a military chaplain"

             "The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they
were very dry.  He said to me, 'Mortal, can these bones live?' I answered, 'O Lord God, you know.'"

            Those are the words of the prophet Ezekiel in a time of desolation.  As a military chaplain, I must walk a fine line between my Oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and obey the lawful orders of the Commander-in-Chief and my ordination vows to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, always prophetically and compassionately.  It is in that
balancing act that I wish to address my concerns for, and experiences of, the soldiers, Marines, airmen, and sailors who are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan-and, tragically, those who have fallen.

             Although we live in a time when "Support the Troops" or even "I stand with President Bush and the Troops" bumper stickers and ribbons are fixed to car bumpers, I have heard from several families of Marines who have lost that they feel practically forgotten, ignored, and overlooked within their communities.  "No one seems to come around anymore" is a remark I heard from an Ohio Marine's family.  More, in a time when leaders send our military young into a deadly arena in Iraq, my own assessment of the general attitude of Americans toward the military in harm's way is summed up by "If it's not my child, I don't care."

             Perhaps, that describes as well the general isolation I have noted among military families, and the thought I have heard expressed that bumper stickers are nice, but they are a band-aid, something to make one feel good, and immune from contact with those whose loved ones are in Iraq, Afghanistan-and yes, whose resting places in Ohio, and other states, are
sadly neglected.

             For many, many military families, and personnel deployed, this is a time of dry bones.  Some time ago, I sat with a family whose loved one committed suicide rather than be deployed a third time to Iraq.  He left behind a wife with child, and a daughter.  There were concerns that his wife would not carry the child to term.   What ministry of presence could I carry to this desolation?  What poor, incomplete words could I offer?  "On behalf of a grateful country, you have our condolences?"  Not likely.

             To attend a military funeral, to stand at a graveside of an Iraqi fallen hero, is to know, as I have, Ezekiel's experience of dryness. Around central Ohio, I have visited scores of gravesides of America's finest, and the scenes are remarkably the same-a few toys from childhood, desiccated flowers, some cards from a loved one in a plastic Ziploc bag.
"Please don't forget him", is the consistent sentiment I have heard from family members, some months after the memorial service is over, the friends and neighbors gone, and the strange silence descended.

             I cannot forecast the outcome of this maelstrom that has consumed the lives of some of the bravest young men and women in America.  Our service personnel are the bravest, most capable, most patriotic generation we have yet seen.  But, that said, I recall the Jewish proverb that says that killing one is also killing his descendants.  In a time when this nation is
struggling for unity, I find it strange that this great nation's best--who surely could give rise to generations of America's most sterling descendants--are being consumed in a War, whose end is not in sight, and whose results are the "dry bones" Ezekiel saw so long ago.


             As a military chaplain, I believe that this War, this national desolation, must be addressed by people of faith.  I do not claim total wisdom, or even eloquence.  I do claim, however, that faith knows that dry bones can come to life.  "Till they all come home" is a motto of many parents of those deployed.  It is a living hope, much like faith, in the
minds of families of those serving.  I think of the mother of a soldier who told me that she fears every time she sees a van drive by her house-she feared it was a team, including a chaplain, coming to bear the news of dry bones; a son lost.    I've known several Ohio mothers who lost their loved ones in Iraq, only to receive a letter in the mail the next day from their
loved one.    My faith affirms that this view of dry bones should not be the last word.   In biblical faith, the "last word" comes from God, not from politicians.

             Should this be the last word?  I do not think so.  Soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors, merit our profound thanks.  To the young Marine whose buddy died in his arms during his last deployment in Anbar Province, Iraq, I do not want the dry bones seen by the prophet Ezekiel to be his most defining experience of his very young life.  As a military chaplain I
believe that this should not be the end, for Ezekiel also heard the word of the Lord, in response:


           "Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.   And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord."

- - - - - 

This concludes my friend's letter. " From a Military Chaplain", In closing, Ezekiel spoke truth, renewed hope from a valley of dry bones, from this lawn of empty shoes and boots.. From that valley of bones, from these empty boots, let us speak truth to power, as Jesus himself did. Speak the truth of this war, of all wars, to our congressmen, on the editorial pages of our newspapers, to our President. Speak truth, not lies, in our churches; in our homes, to our children, to the future.

Let these before us be the last victims of 11 September 2001.

The peace of God, that "passeth all understanding," to you and yours.

Thank you .



 
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