"Blessed Be the Lord ... Who Trains My Arms for Battle" -- Psalm 144:1
"The safest place for me to be is in the center of God's will, and if that is in the line of fire, that is where I will be." -- Father Tim Vakoc, Army chaplain
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- War can bring out the worst in man. The crucible of combat tests one's faith in self, in fellow man -- even faith in God.
It is particularly so in this war on terror -- where at any moment a brutal, suicidal and fanatical enemy can blow himself to pieces just to kill an American. Yet on Easter Sunday in Iraq and Afghanistan, where our troops brave these dangers daily, tens of thousands of young Americans will attend Resurrection services, where they will pray for their enemies. Those who lead those Easter rituals, the holiest in Christendom, are garbed in the same sun-bleached camouflage as the troops kneeling before them. We call them chaplains. They are part of what make us "different" from our enemy -- and they are a remarkable lot.
My wife and I were married before a Navy Chaplain assigned to the Marine Base at Quantico. When I was wounded in Vietnam, it was Cmdr. Jake Laboon, our regimental chaplain, who called out "take this one next," as the triage corpsmen ran in to get another litter patient for emergency surgery.
Chaplains Bob Beddingfield and Don Dulligan spent months in the field with my Marines -- braving enemy fire to minister to them. As our children were born, other chaplains baptized them in chapels around the country. To say that these "men of the cloth" were an important part of my life in the service would be an understatement. And so it is today for the young Americans I see on my trips to Southwest Asia.
The chaplains in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and offshore in the Persian Gulf -- are cut from the same bolt of "cloth" as those I recall from my days in uniform. They minister to a "flock" -- one of the youngest in the world -- full of Americans only a few months out of high school, all of whom are scared, whether they show it or not.
By the time these "parishioners" return to the United States, they will have confronted more suffering and death -- and had more responsibility -- than their civilian contemporaries will experience the rest of their lives. Yet, if the statistics are right, the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have a lower incidence of "Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome" than any troops in history. Thanks for that should go, in part, to the chaplains.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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