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Chaplain in Afghanistan

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Forum topic by Paul posted 08-31-2011 12:00 PM 1499 views 1 time favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Paul

660 posts in 3552 days


08-31-2011 12:00 PM

Gosh, I miss making saw dust!

29 August 2011

“Chaplain Ganther . . . Chaplain Ganther . . . sorry to wake you, but a soldier just received news that his mother passed away. He’s pretty tore up.”
It was 2330 (11:30 p.m.) and I had been asleep for less than an hour after a fairly long Sunday. The day began with leading worship and preaching at a chapel service in the morning for about 30 soldiers and then, more than the usual number of serious conversations with soldiers about things going on back home throughout the afternoon and evening. I had sought out, comforted and prayed with a soldier earlier in the day whose mother was seriously ill with cancer back in Puerto Rico. I expected to be comforting the same young Hispanic soldier again as I pulled on my PT uniform (Physical Training T-shirt and Shorts) and running shoes to go to the soldier located at the headquarters building. After walking through the building, I was directed out the back door where I was surprised to find a different young soldier sitting on the steps with a cigarette dangling between his fingers and crying beside a caring Staff Sergeant. The Staff Sergeant excused himself and I slid over next to the soldier.
After expressing my sorrow for his loss, I gently began to discover the details. In this world of e-mail and cell-phones, news had reached him before it came through the “official” channels. An e-mail had alerted him to call home immediately. And when he reached his step-sister, he learned his mother had passed away suddenly at age 48 – a year younger than I.
I empathized with his pain and his difficulty in understanding. I prayed with him and expressed God’s care and love and strength available for him. But mostly, I just sat in the dark, late at night in Afghanistan, under a bright canopy of stars with a young soldier struggling in his grief.
I’ve been a full-time deployed Army Chaplain in Afghanistan for three months for the 111th Engineer Battalion Texas Army National Guard. I joined the National Guard as a Chaplain nearly three years ago, and I closed my 15 year local church ministry before I was deployed last April with the battalion. Sometimes I’m busier than others. I do many of the same things I did as a full-time Pastor in the States. I go to meetings. I prepare and lead worship (chapel) and I preach. I counsel those struggling with personal issues. I comfort the grieving. I’m “on call” 24/7. And I go “visiting.”
My “rounds” take me walking through company headquarters, training groups and the motor pool in the 100+ degree heat instead of to houses in middle class neighborhoods. Sometimes I talk with a soldier over a meal in the dining facility or in my office. Yet mostly, instead of sitting in an easy chair or at a kitchen table like back home, we chat and drink water as I lean against massive armored vehicles designed to keep soldiers alive if attacked by a road side bomb.
I have a couple of memorial messages outlined for quick personalization and completion “just in case” the bomb defeats the armor sometime in the coming months. I hope I wasted the days I spent preparing them, but history tells me that I probably didn’t. I still hope and pray history doesn’t repeat itself with “my” soldiers though. It’s been “quiet” so far. But who knows what the coming months will bring? A company of soldiers from Louisiana that we trained with in Wisconsin went to a different location than the bulk of the battalion and they have qualified for 9 purple hearts already!

The longer we’re away from home, the more we yearn to be home, of course. Yet, we’re actually just beginning “in country” and most everyone is doing well. I try to “practice what I preach” by staying physically and spiritually fit. Every day but Sunday begins with an hour of exercise at 5:00 a.m. followed by clean up and breakfast. But everyday, I do my spiritual exercises as well of Scripture reading, prayer and journaling for an hour. I’ve already discovered that the days are especially long when I don’t start them out this way. I believe the old adage to be true: “You can’t give what you don’t have.”
I “chat” a couple of times a week with my wife Rachel through instant messaging on Facebook. I keep up with my children by watching for their presence and messaging on Facebook, too. I could pay for Internet service in my tent, but we’ve decided to save the expense of that service. I use the computers and Internet provided free for soldiers in one of the two Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) tents here on the base. We’ve even “Skyped” two or three times. Rachel and I carefully plan our Facebook “dates” though because of the 9.5 hour difference between Afghanistan and Texas.
As I said, we’re only just beginning our deployment. We have several more months to go. We’re generally comfortable and well-fed on this particular base. Yet, it’s still not home and only one mission has encountered the enemy (with no injuries). This is my first deployment, yet I’m sure it gets tougher as time passes. The need for God’s support, encouragement and comfort will become more and more apparent to many more soldiers in the coming months. I’m here to be a conduit of that strength. I’m here to insure the religious liberty of the soldiers. I’m here to provide spiritual counsel for those who seek it. Yes, the Army recognizes that humans are spiritual beings. In many ways the Army Chaplaincy “is a different world” than the local church, but in many ways it’s the same, too. I feel honored to serve these soldiers that are sacrificing so much for their country. If I can help one soldier come through deployment healthier and stronger and perhaps closer to God, it will be worth it.
Thank you for your love and prayers and support. Your care packages are much appreciated by the soldiers. I’ve written more letters and postcards in the past four months than I have in the past 25 years! I’m thrilled with every letter and piece of mail and the other soldiers are, too. God bless you.

In Service to God and Country,

CH (CPT) Paul Ganther

-- Paul, Texas


10 replies so far

View sarahss's profile

sarahss

258 posts in 2109 days


#1 posted 08-31-2011 04:19 PM

Paul,

thank you so much for the work that you and our brave soldiers do. i pray for their safety every night. I hope that God keeps all of you safe and we can have peace soon.

View Charles Maxwell's profile

Charles Maxwell

1081 posts in 3267 days


#2 posted 08-31-2011 04:19 PM

Hello Paul, You are truly an honorable member of the next Greatest Generation. Your selfless service to country and countrymen is not forgotten back hear on the home front. I can say with utmost certainty that your prayers are our prayers. We truly appreciate the sacrifices our servicemen and women make every minute they are in the ‘sandbox.’ Know that your prayers for support are not going unnoticed. The media and our self-serving government may be doing their best to divert public attention for the purpose of fulfilling election goals but, we are not distracted by that. In a word, “we get it.” We are all on-board with the need to support our troops not only in words but, deeds! I SUPPORT THE TROOPS! You are not alone! God bless you and all our service members for doing what’s necessary to deny evil any victory. Stay safe and keep your head on a swivel. God bless. Maxwell

-- Max the "night janitor" at www.hardwoodclocks.com

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DLCW

530 posts in 2114 days


#3 posted 08-31-2011 04:39 PM

Paul,

I pray for our soldiers AND their families everyday. Soldiers go through hell and their families are living through another version of it back home – worrying and wondering everyday if their loved one is OK.

What you and our service men and women are doing is nothing short of heroic. I pray for yours and all of our service members safe return to their loved ones.

Thank you so much!

Don Thomson
USCG Retired

-- Don, Diamond Lake Custom Woodworks - http://www.dlwoodworks.com - "If you make something idiot proof, all they do is make a better idiot"

View Rick  Dennington's profile (online now)

Rick Dennington

5171 posts in 2654 days


#4 posted 08-31-2011 08:37 PM

Thank you, Chaplain Ganther, for seeing after our boys, who are Pilgrams in a strange land. I know they are grateful for you being there with them to help them through this miserable war. Be safe, and keep your head down…Come back home so you can get back into woodworking and making saw dust….Thanks again.

Rick Dennington
U.S. Army—-Retired
Viet Nam Vet

-- At my age, an "all--nighter" is not having to get up and pee...!!!

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TheOldTimer

226 posts in 2546 days


#5 posted 08-31-2011 08:46 PM

Thank you Paul for your dedication and service to our troops in arms way. My grandson returned from a 15 month stay in Afganistan. God Bless you and all our troops who have sacrificed so much.

-- TheOldTimer,Chandler Arizona

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Paul

660 posts in 3552 days


#6 posted 10-02-2011 01:18 PM

26 September 2011

It was 6:55 p.m. and I rushed through the gathering darkness in Afghanistan to a tent packed with 20 computer stations and 10 phones. The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) tent provides an important connection for soldiers in Afghanistan with their families and friends back home. I was anxious to be on time for a 7:00 p.m. appointment with my wife Rachel to “chat” by instant messaging on Facebook. It was 9:30 a.m. back home. If lucky, I may even find one of the two computers with a camera available and be able to “Skype.” Then, I could see her beautiful face and hear her voice. I needed this “date.” When we “chatted” on FB three or four days earlier, we had set the next time we would be on-line together.

I stooped through the low tent door with the flap pulled to one side to see that there were just three remaining open stations and two people in line in front of me. At about the same moment I heard, “Sir! Sir!” called out behind me. Focused on “chatting” with my wife, I continued into the tent and was beginning to feel fortunate that I would get one of the three remaining stations. Moments later, two young soldiers from my battalion came in behind me. After a quick greeting, I realized they had been the ones calling out, and they had been calling out for me. “Sir, we were just coming to try to find you.” One soldier looked over to the other and said, “He needs to talk to you. Is that okay?”

“Sure,” I responded. So, I stepped back outside with the soldier while at the same time replacing the cap on my head with the black embroidered Christian cross on the front. We had a seat on a nearby bench and began to talk in the dark with only the dim light of the open tent door illuminating our faces. It was 25 minutes later when we closed our conversation with prayer and I looked up to see the line now extending outside the tent.

So, I walked quickly to the only other MWR tent on base and barely caught Rachel still on-line. But, the constant dust of this land had so mired the keyboard at my station that only about half my “chats” were getting through. I was very frustrated. When we were able to actually connect again 10 hours later (this was the next morning for me & that night for her), we were able to “Skype.” And one of her comments will stay with me throughout this deployment. She said, “This is tougher than I ever thought it would be.”

Twelve hours later, I was out in the dark again. This time, I greeted and encouraged soldiers as I walked among ten to fifteen very large armored military vehicles with their lights on and powerful diesel engines rumbling. A large convoy from my battalion was preparing to transport needed equipment and supplies to a mission underway elsewhere in the country. Weapons, radios and maps were checked and re-checked. Loads were tightened down a little bit more. Trained responses to every conceivable scenario were quietly reviewed in each soldier’s mind as they packed and prepared. This was a long trip on mostly unimproved roads with vehicles and loads literally weighing many tons. The possibility of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices or road side bombs) is always present. There’s very little room for driver error because the same vehicle design features that work to protect the soldiers from IED attacks also make them more prone to dangerous roll-overs. Most large convoys like this travel with skilled drivers at night in order to minimize the impact they have on the use of the roads by local Afghan citizens.

Near the scheduled time to leave, the soldiers gathered for their final brief from the convoy commander. As usual, mission overview, rules of engagement, safety, diligence and encouragement were the themes of this final brief. And then I heard, “Chaplain?” That was my cue to step forward, wish them well and invite the soldiers to join me in a prayer for the mission. No one is required to participate, but most do.

I first prayed for the families and loved ones of the soldiers. I asked God to give the families peace, strength and comfort in the absence of their soldier. I asked God to help the soldiers place their families in God’s hands so that the soldier may have a confident assurance of their family’s well-being and can concentrate on the mission before them. I prayed for alertness and a special measure of intuition for hidden danger. I prayed for a shield of protection and the defeat of any evil that may seek to harm them. After closing the prayer and a few final words from the commander, the soldiers moved to their trucks and prepared to move out. Finally, as incredibly heavy armored doors closed and seat belts were secured, I walked silently to each truck in the convoy. I laid my hand on each vehicle and said one last brief prayer of blessing and protection for the soldiers within. This is my normal pattern as convoys roll out.

I know there were soldiers on the convoy who were struggling in their marriages and other significant relationships. I know because some had talked with me about their struggles. Imagine, if you will, the struggle of the young spouse at home alone with one or more young children. Some of the soldiers have been gone on deployments for well over half of their young marriages. This is my first deployment and my wife of 25 years has said, “This is tougher than I ever thought it would be.” Yet, I have absolutely no doubt that she will be there when I get back. I wish every soldier had the same unshakable confidence. Deployment is hard on marriages. It is hard work to communicate effectively, and stay connected, over a long period of time using only the phone and the Internet. For some, the chasm of separation is like the Grand Canyon.

Yet, if you know a spouse with a soldier overseas, don’t pity. The last thing spouses want is a pat on the hand and to hear, “O, you poor thing!” Spouses need upbeat positive encouragement. Spouses need their friends, families and communities to proactively give them support. Be specific. “Call me if you need anything,” doesn’t usually help because they don’t want to burden you. Invite them to a meal with you. Call and see how they’re doing. Spouses need someone to listen. Ask what’s broken and needs repair. Then, help fix what needs to be fixed. Offer child-care or a play date with your kids, so the spouse can have some down time. Ask to come by and help clean house, mow the lawn, or walk the dog. Express your commitment to serve the spouse. Help as you would like to be helped, if you were in the same situation. The spouse may claim to be perfectly fine, but don’t assume that’s “the whole story.” Do what the bumper sticker says and pray for the troops. Yes! But pray for, and serve, their families in your community, too.

In Service, CH (CPT) Ganther Battalion Chaplain 111th EN BN Afghanistan

-- Paul, Texas

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gfadvm

14940 posts in 2150 days


#7 posted 10-03-2011 05:30 AM

God bless you and the rest of our troops. You are in our thoughts and prayers.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Paul's profile

Paul

660 posts in 3552 days


#8 posted 03-24-2012 01:58 PM

Coming home soon.

-- Paul, Texas

View HamS's profile

HamS

1809 posts in 1849 days


#9 posted 03-24-2012 02:28 PM

Chaplain,

God be with you and your soldiers on the way home.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou are with me.”

I was married to my beautiful wife thirty one years ago by an Army chaplain at the Presidio of Monterey. You and your brothers and sisters are truly doing God’s work.

PLease people, if you know a military family go and help. When I was first married my wife and I had eleven separate households in the first ten years we were married and we were in peacetime (relatively). These people are young and there are many things that we take for granted that soldiers and their families just can’t enjoy.

-- Haming it up in the 'bash.

View Mickey Cassiba's profile

Mickey Cassiba

312 posts in 2491 days


#10 posted 03-25-2012 01:15 AM

God Bless You Sky Pilot.(our callsign for the Chaplain). Your service goes above and beyond.

-- One of these hammers oughta fix that...

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