I took that oath for the first time Sept. 17, 2004 when I joined the U.S. Navy and then swore it again in a different form when I was commissioned as a naval officer Feb. 22, 2008.
The meaning of that oath has meant different things at different points in my military journey, depending on place, depending on job, and depending on the connections I leave behind when I leave shore. And yet it has always meant the same thing: thinking of the greater good above oneself.
In the same way that I raised my hand for country, I gave my heart to Jesus Christ within a year and half after joining the Navy. From the get-go, I pursued the church with a curiosity and an openness to letting the Lord guide and shape me. He put key people on my path, a handful of chaplains and a couple of individuals who took the time to disciple me, spending late nights in one of the ship's common spaces going over key parts of the Bible. I was baptized at a Japanese house church outside on a cold December night.
No matter the place, no matter the time, no matter the reality of the moment, a walk with Jesus is a walk in faith. It is a continual process of counting on Him, of seeking His essence to be your essence, to allow Him to step into the moments of help and to provide hope.
In the environment of military operations, in the environment that seems to never let up on its intensity or tenseness to achieve mission accomplishment, faith is the only fuel you really have.
My ship and its crew, a Norfolk-based cruiser, are months away from deployment, from setting sail to several different regions around the globe. We found out about our departure in early 2008, a little before I checked on board, and have been marching to that point ever since. The military, by nature, is about readiness, about having the capacity to respond and react to any contingency anywhere. The last 20-plus months for us have been a strenuous process of training and maintaining the ship; it all creates a routine that calls for long days in port and a significant amount of time out to sea.
While the multi-month season of training can be long, God is not absent, always displaying Himself in the moments of mutual encouragement/fellowship when manning a watch station with others; the picturesque sunsets and sunrises; and the moments -- however brief they may be -- that get set aside for God, even within operations, that seem to be specially reserved so that nothing else matters but Him and His glory.
To be candid, I have often found myself in a dark place on this sojourn aboard the cruiser as it heads toward deployment. Often felt that the weight of everything was just too much. Often felt that I was out of God's will in the job/profession that I had chosen. And many times, as well, felt that the distance and obligations would break my marriage.
But in the moment of darkness, Christ always -- and forever -- brings light. He is the glue, not only to our souls but also to our relationships, particularly that of marriage. God seems to inject Himself in what can only be described as God-inspired moments. Like on the flight deck, when awaiting to launch a helicopter, in the stillness there, as blades turn, as the sounds of those blades ricochets into the open air, as the ship gently sways underneath you, you are put in touch with Him, His peace. One of my favorite occurrences is Sunday worship, where individuals from across the life spectrum gather together, detached from their homes and home churches, but joined together by a faith in Christ. Lifting up our hearts with those believers and letting God reciprocate back down is an overwhelmingly refreshing period.
I am not sure what to expect when we depart on deployment, as we continue to ramp up to it, as I have to say goodbye to my wife on the pier knowing I won't see her for months, as we go to distant and perhaps dangerous places. Indeed, there's a lot of uncertainty, but the Lord seems to be saying, "Calm your heart, follow Me and I will lead." He has revealed to me that the true plan for mission accomplishment is to trust Him.
Adam Cole is a naval officer stationed in Norfolk, Va., where he lives with his wife Rebekah. He is a member of First Baptist Church of Norfolk. Cole is the creator and founder of Join the Journey (JointheJourney.cc), the Christ-focused webzine dedicated to showing how God is moving in people to uplift the world and spotlighting areas that need prayer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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