Category Archives: military

Our fragile and amazing First Amendment

At a recent evening hosted by the Crossroads Cultural Center, a young woman in the audience asked  how chaplains minister to troops of other faiths or no faith.  This is a question that always comes up, and, indeed, it was one of the issues that drove us to make the film: we wanted to see for ourselves whether and how a predominantly Christian clergy in the employ of the state served the needs of a religiously diverse population.  Chaplain Ken Bolin answered in a way that reminded us of the many chaplains we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They reached to others out, fueled by their faith to love, not judge, fellow service men and women.

The more time passes, the more I realize how very important this is.  Anyone read the book Christian Nation?  It is a particularly chilling dystopia because it underscores that what we have is so very valuable and, possibly, so very fragile.  We take its existence for granted, but the  Constitutional balance that at once guarantees our free exercise of religion and prohibits the government from establishing any one religion is delicate and finely tuned.  And it needs to be protected if it is to endure.  In his extremely well researched novel, author Fred Rich sets out how, through a confluence of planning and accident, a dogmatic religious faction comes to power in the US.  And, yes, military chaplains play a role in this dystopia: rather than reaching out in faith-inspired love to help and comfort troops, the chaplains in this novel love only those who share their faith and help the government impose that faith on those who do not.

We are so very lucky that the world Rich describes exists within the pages of a book and not in the world we inhabit.  As we approach Memorial Day, we want to thank all the chaplains and all the troops who have died upholding this delicate and oh so valuable balance in our Constitution.

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War/Photography

On view for another month at the Brooklyn Museum, WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath is an amazingly effective show.  It groups some 400 images taken over the last 166 years thematically — from training to deployment to combat, injuries, death, and the 1000-mile stare of returning troops.  By organizing the show this way, it drives home the constants of war.  The equipment and circumstances change, the realities of sending people into combat doesn’t.  There are acts of bravery, tenacity,  loyalty and love on the battlefield, in hospital tents, by gravestones. There is also unspeakable brutality, suffering, and devastation both individual and collective, military and civilian.

This was our take on it.  If you have seen the show in Brooklyn or any of its previous venues (Museum Fine Arts, Houston;  Corcoran, Washington, DC; Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles), please share your thoughts.

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Picturing combat

Combat cameras — when we had trundled down to the banks of the Euphrates to witness a baptism, waded into the river up to our hips, praying we wouldn’t trip or stumble, we weren’t the only camera there.  Click click, click.  The same sound troops hear at their backs on missions and in trainings.  I thought of their service and the risks they take  when we stopped into the museum of the Cranbrook Art Academy.  There, tucked in the display of works by alumni,  a small section highlighted the work of some who had served as combat artists  in World War 2.  The glare was such that I had to stand way to one side so I am not doing justice with these snapshots to the efforts of men who, like our combat cameras today, sought to capture some of the truth about humans in battle.

Hari Kari by Jack Keljo Steele, 1945 - Steele served as combat artist in Australia and the South Pacific. He made this ink drawing on the back of Royal Australian Air Force map.

Hari Kari by Jack Keljo Steele, 1945 – Steele served as combat artist in Australia and the South Pacific. He made this ink drawing on the back of Royal Australian Air Force map.

Australian Soldier by Jack Keljo Steele, circa 1942 -

Australian Soldier by Jack Keljo Steele, circa 1942 –

Sentry by Robert Collins, c. 1945

Sentry by Robert Collins, c. 1945

Soldiers in New Guinea by Jack Keljo Steele, 1945.  Troops beat their way through the thick bush to bring a wounded comrade to safety.
Soldiers in New Guinea by Jack Keljo Steele, 1945. Troops beat their way through the thick bush to bring a wounded comrade to safety.

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5 Things to Know About Suicide: #1 Ask Straight Out

Thank you Off The Base for this and your many other helpful blogs —

Off The Base

They’re called “responders” – the folks at the other end of the Veterans Crisis Line. But they aren’t the only ones serving on the front-line of suicide prevention.

As a society, as colleagues, as friends, as family, we cannot leave the work of suicide prevention to the “responders” alone.

It is up to all of us to act or at least “ask” if we see someone unduly stressed according to psychologist, Dr. Caitlin Thompson, deputy director of suicide prevention at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“If worried – asking people straight out saying, ‘I’m so concerned about how you seem to be, have you been thinking about suicide at all?'” Thompson advised. “It’s just that simple really to just ask the question that can be a very scary question.”

It’s time to stop being “scared” and start becoming informed.

Here are tips from the Defense Suicide Prevention Office website:

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Honoring our military on Memorial Day

Media Representatives:

The Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Public Affairs Office has received
confirmation of consent from the primary next of kin to authorize media
coverage of their fallen military loved one’s return:

Thus begin the notices that go out to the media.  These are the names we have received since Memorial Day 2012 — we honor them and all the other men and women who have died wearing the uniform (click to enlarge).

Memorial Day 2013 -2Memorial Day 2013

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Perform or Provide still holds

Our  post Chaplains once again used as pawns drew an impassioned comment from Thomas Carney, who wrote:

Whoever wrote this is sorely mistaken. The same-sex ceremony garbage has been MANDATED that chaplains WILL perform them and if not, said chaplains must resign their commissions. Military chaplains are also ILLEGALLY ordered not to preach against homosexuality in military chapels. One of the last acts of Adm McMullen as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was to tell all Chiefs of Chaplains that all chaplains MUST be on board with the pro-homosexual agenda. This comes straight from the White House.

Since we could not find any definitive information on-line, we contacted the office of the Army Chief of Chaplains and it appears that, Mr. Carney has less to fear than he thought.  Indeed, the policy of ‘Perform or Provide’ still holds.  Here is what the spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains wrote:

 I speak only for the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps.
A Chaplain is not required to perform ANY religious service if doing so
would violate the tenants of his or her religion, personal beliefs or
conscience.  Army Chaplains perform or provide religious services according to the dictates of their faith, personal beliefs, and conscience, consistent with their denomination/endorser, provided those services are not prohibited by applicable state and local law.

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Chaplain receives Medal of Honor

Hard to imagine a more inspiring story than that of Chaplain Emil Kapaun who served in World War 2 and then in the Korean war.  Here is a particularly moving excerpt from a two-part series by Jaqueline Hames published in Soldiers Magazine (here are links to part 1 and part 2):

Then-Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Miller was badly injured leading his platoon across the river. His ankle was broken when grenade shrapnel slammed into it, sending him tumbling into a ditch, where he hid beneath the body of an enemy Soldier as the Chinese and Koreans advanced.
The enemy came into the ditch to conduct a search and found Miller. After he was captured, a Chinese Soldier noticed Miller was wounded, and prepared to shoot him.
“He had the gun pointed at my head, and about that time, I looked and this American come across the road and it was Father Kapaun,” Miller said. “He pushed the man aside — why that Soldier never shot him, I’ll never know.”
“And they were still shooting and firing at us, they wasn’t just setting there looking at one another, war was going on!” he said. “And he walked across that road, standing up, never got hit or anything.”
Kapaun knew it was common enemy practice to execute men too injured to walk, the Rev. John Hotze, judicial vicar for the Wichita Diocese, explained, so Kapaun picked Miller up and carried him.
“I kept telling him to put me down, you can’t carry me like this. He said, ‘If I put you down, they’ll shoot ya,'” Miller said.
As the prisoners marched, Miller would alternate between leaning on Kapaun and being carried by Kapaun – this went on for 30 miles. They were separated upon arrival at the Pyoktong prison camp, Kapaun was sent to the officer’s compound and Miller to the enlisted.

Later in the prison camp,  Kapaun was put in with the officers since he was both chaplain and Captain.

Kapaun would gather the officers every night at dusk and sing with them, Hotze explained. They would sing the “Lord’s Prayer,” “God Save the Queen” and “God Bless America.”
“He wanted to make sure the enlisted men knew the officers were still there so that they would not lose hope, and would not feel abandoned,” Hotze said.
Once all the officers were settled in their huts, Kapaun would sneak out and head to the enlisted compound, where he would go from hut to hut speaking with the men and providing spiritual guidance.
“We were housed in mud shacks,” then-1st Lt. William Funchess said. “The shacks had straw roofs, and the sliding doors and one small window were covered in paper. It was very primitive conditions, and I was extremely hungry.”
The enemy had lost Funchess’ paperwork and didn’t realize he was an officer, so he was placed in the enlisted compound. One night, as he was out walking around, Funchess came across a man crouching near a fire who “looked real old” and dirty, with a big beard.
“I walked over to him, toward the fire and this old gentleman, and anyway, as soon as I got near, he spoke up and welcomed me and he said, ‘I am Chaplain Emil Kapaun, and I am melting snow,'” Funchess recalled. “He asked, ‘Would you like a cup of hot water?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.'”
They struck up a conversation and Kapaun described how he would slip through the barbed wire between the compounds, dodging armed guards, to come and care for the enlisted men.
Kapaun would scrounge around the camp and raid enemy warehouses for millet seed, corn and sometimes soybeans, Funchess said, filling his pockets and distributing the food among the prisoners.

Kapaun fell ill and died in what his captors called a hospital and what the prisoners dubbed the “Death House” on May 6, 1951.

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