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Winter 2006 Rapport: Letters from the Front: AGTS military chaplains write about life in Iraq and Afganistan

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AGTS military chaplains
write home about life
in Iraq and Afghanistan

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

The following contains excerpts of an entry posted by Chaplain Brad Lewis to his online blog “Training for Eternity” (chaplain.blogspot.com). Although his descriptions are graphic, his story illustrates the reasons why AGTS and the Assemblies of God fellowship support U.S. military chaplains.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The first report said a mortar had just hit a nearby chow hall during the middle of lunch. Ten were dead and approximately 50 wounded. They were being transported to the Combat Surgical Hospital (CSH) down the street. It was a mass casualty event and it’s where the rubber meets the road in military ministry. I woke my assistant, and we rushed to the hospital. I didn’t expect what I saw.

The scene was little more than controlled chaos. Helicopters were landing, people shouting, wounded screaming and bodies were everywhere. As the staff began to triage the dead and wounded, I offered my assistance. I would be hard pressed to write about every person I had the opportunity to pray with today, but I will relate a few instances.

A piece of shrapnel had hit “Ilena” in her chest causing a sucking chest wound. The doctors said her left lung was filling with blood and she was having a hard time breathing. For the next 20 minutes I held her hand while a doctor made an incision in her left side, inserted most of his hand and some kind of medical instrument and then a tube to alleviate the pressure the pooling blood caused. It was the most medieval-looking procedure I had ever witnessed. In the end, Ilena was taken to ICU and she will be OK.

“Mark” was put on a stretcher and laid along a wall. A small monitor on his hand would tell the nurses when he was dead. Even a cursory glance said it was inevitable. Mark had a head wound that left brain matter caked in his ear and all over the stretcher on which he was lying. I knelt next to Mark and placed a hand on his chest. His heart was barely beating. As I put my face close to his ear to pray with him, I thought, He’s practically dead. So why stay? He probably can’t hear anything! Nevertheless, I couldn’t risk it. I prayed the sinners prayer. Few things in this life will make one feel more helpless.

Outside, the number of body bags had grown considerably. I saw a fellow chaplain who obviously was in need of care himself. I put my arm around him and asked how he was doing. He just shook his head so I pulled him in close and prayed for his strength, endurance, a thick skin and a soft heart.

Any attack with casualties will naturally concentrate a large number of caregivers in one location. The first mortar round hit about 100 to 200 meters away. Everyone started shouting to get the wounded inside. The next mortar hit closer. I stood at the door shoving as many people inside as I could. Just as I headed inside, the last round hit directly on top of the solid concrete hospital. I couldn’t have been more than 10 to 15 meters from the point of impact and, brother, did I feel the shock. I rushed inside to find doctors and nurses draped over patients, others on the floor or under something.

After a few tense moments, the business of patching bodies and healing minds continued in earnest. An officer asked me to pray for another patient who had just been moved to the “expectant” list. When I finished, I looked up at the nurse who had been tending him. She was struggling to maintain her composure. I asked, “Are you OK?” and she broke down. I put my arm around her. She said, “I was fine until you asked!” Then she explained that this was her third patient to die that day.

As I walked away at the end of the day I saw a soldier standing among the rows of black body bags. He wanted to see his friend one more time. We slowly and respectfully unzipped the bag to reveal the face of a young private first class. His friend stared for a few seconds then turned away and began to cry.

I’m where God wants me and wouldn’t change that for anything, even if it means death. After all, “to die is gain.”

According to the Washington Post, of the 22 people killed in the December 21 attack, 14 were U.S. military personnel, four were U.S. civilians, three were Iraqi Security Forces and one was unidentified. It is now believed that 69 people were wounded, 44 of whom were U.S. military personnel. The original explosion was likely the result of a suicide bombing.

Updated: Friday, December 2, 2005 5:07 PM

 

 
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