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Chaplain in Iraq: Even in a war zone, human spirit endures

POSTED: November 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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Rep. Doug Collins

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Editor’s note: State Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, currently is in Iraq as a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain. He began his service there in September. He is reporting weekly on the activities at his location.

I am pleased to report that the Noah sighting from last week has not been repeated. However, the effects of that one round of thunderstorms are still evident everywhere around the base.

As I look at the calendar and see that it is already November, it is hard to believe that I have been here almost nine weeks. And for anyone counting, like me, that puts me close to the halfway point. As I think about the first half of this deployment, I have some thoughts on things that I have learned since being over here.

The first thing is that the human spirit is amazing. You put a whole lot of people on a relatively small area, and you would think that people would be all over each other and tempers would run short. I have to admit those things happen, but for all we go through, they are the exception and not the rule.

Over here, people adapt in many different ways. One of the most unique ways to cope with the stress of life over here that I have seen is carried out each week by one of the units I work with on the flight line.

They have a long name, but for the sake of space they are the sweepers.

"What is a sweeper," you may ask? They are not part of the janitorial staff — they have the job of keeping the runways clear of FOD (foreign object debris).

Yes, we love our acronyms in the military.

Foreign object debris can be anything from rocks to blowing tumbleweeds. The problem is that if any of this gets sucked into an engine on a plane it can cause the plane to break, or worse, crash.

They use a big machine that looks like the street sweepers we use back home. The folks in the unit take turns all through the day riding the runways and taxiways making sure the runways are safe.

I rode with them one night, and I have to admit I felt a lot like Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strip with all the dust being stirred up. The young man who took me around began apologizing because he said what he did was boring and not very exciting. I told him I did not care about that — I was just glad he did what he did because if not, our planes would be in danger.

As you can see, the life of a sweeper is not going to be in anyone’s recruiting mail, but the folks that do the job are great folks. The reason I am telling you about them is because the way they adjust over here is by going to the chow hall every Friday night and getting some chicken or whatever they can and having a cookout.

Since I rode with them and I am now an honorary sweeper, I was invited to the party.

It is like any other cookout you might have been to except we were about 150 yards off the runway, and every few minutes you would have to stop talking because no one would hear you over the planes taking off.

The unique thing that they had at this cookout, however, was the game they had come up with to help pass the time. They had taken PVC pipe and constructed a rack, and then drilled a whole in some golf balls and connected a golf ball to each end.

The way you play is that racks are placed about 15 yards away from each other and you throw the string with the Golf balls at it and you score points if you string wraps around the PVC pole.

Kind of like a strange game of Horseshoes.

We ate and played what they termed Norwegian Golf for about an hour, then some went to the pods to sleep, and the others started another run in the sweeper truck. Life slowly got back to normal, but for a little while the human spirit triumphed over the madness that is this world.

The other thing I would like to say is that the human kindness that has been displayed to me while I have been over here by all of you back home has kept me and the ones that I work with sane. I share your thoughts and e-mails and the candy that you have sent. Please know that even a short e-mail matters so much. I always love to hear from home.

So in a world full of war with dangers from mortars and rockets ever present, the folks over here make do and always love the support from you back home. Have a great week.



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