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Chaplain in Iraq: Friendships forged in war zone are hard to forget

POSTED: December 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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State 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. His e-mail address is douglas.collins@blab.afcent.af.mil.

As the Christmas season arrives in the war zone, the base is alive with activity. We have everything planned — from a production of "A Christmas Carol" to caroling in the hospital to a tree-lighting ceremony. We have the normal activities that you would find back home. Each unit is encouraged to make a holiday greeting card out of 4-foot-by-6-foot plyboard and put them out along the main strip on base.

The other thing that is like home is that if you are not careful, even with all the activity going on over here, you can gain an extra 10 pounds if you eat everything coming in from the care packages back home. You see, you can’t just eat out of your own box. You get to share with all the others around and get samplings from all over the country.

Needless to say, I am spending more of my time off running so I can sample all the great treats that come from home.

The sharing of care packages and the special dinners and impromptu parties going on in between missions reminds us also of the one thing that the holidays are all about: relationships.

We are our own not-so-little town over here right in the middle of a war. The relationships that are forged over here are ones never to be forgotten easily. We all are bound by a place and time that brought us together far from home to do a mission and to take care of each other in the process.

A few years ago, a character portrayed in the movie "Black Hawk Down" stated that when he went home, people asked him why he did it. He stated that after all is said and done, the reason we do it is not for all the grand things, but simply we do it for the person next to you. We all love our homes and, at this stage of the deployment, some are leaving and all are thinking ahead to their own departure. However, last night I was struck by how I will miss this place in some strange kind of way.

As chaplains, we share hope and joy. It is our stock and trade. However, you often are unaware if what you do has the impact that you wish.

I found an example Sunday night that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I was out visiting a unit that is not in one of the best places: standing point against those who would wish to do us harm. I first got to know them a couple of months ago and have enjoyed greatly getting to know them and sharing a meal with them each week. The food was OK, but the laughter and conversation shared by me and the group always broke the anxiety of the important mission for which they were tasked.

They will be going home in a couple of weeks, and their replacements will be coming in soon, so Sunday night probably was our last night together.

As we were eating, I noticed a couple of them leaving the area and doing something over in the corner. After a few minutes, they brought over a gift. It was an object that they had all signed and left notes on. I will share with you later what the gift was, after I come home. Needless to say, I was blown away. I had to choke back tears as I tried to finish my meal. They were so proud of their gift, and I was so proud of them.

There is a country music song playing over here called "You’re Going To Miss This." I cannot say that I will miss being in Iraq, but I can say that as I walked back from their camp, I found myself realizing that the holiday season is really about relationships, and I had been blessed by a bunch of young troops who reached out and accepted the old chaplain into their group. I and many others will miss our families in a few weeks as Christmas arrives, but I will say that the relationships formed here will keep me going until I see them again.

May you have a very good week. Thanks for your support.



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