Denfeld News

Dec. 16, 2006
Minneapolis Star Tribune

War and faith
By Pamela Miller

As debate rages in the United States over Iraq, Americans in that country soldier on. In the crucible of war, their faith is shaken and shaped.

We invited Minnesota soldiers to talk about the beliefs they carry.

Excerpt from an e-mail interview:

Sgt. 1st Class Troy Smith, 35, Duluth
Infantryman, Minnesota Army National Guard, Tallil, Iraq

This is the second base I have served on in Iraq. I have been a "jack of all trades." I've worked in what amounts to an Army version of a 911 center, rushing emergency resources to troops the roads of Iraq, whether it is air support and medical choppers to the site of an IED blast or a wrecker team for a broken-down vehicle. I have ridden in convoys throughout Iraq from north to south, assisted with rewarding civil affairs missions and been a shoulder to lean on for my soldiers while they are away from their families.

Unfortunately, I have also been a representative for the Minnesota Guard Guard on casualty affairs, mortuary affairs and critical-incident stress management, the leader who has to look a group of MN soldiers in the eye after a really bad night in Iraq and notify them that despite all of our combined efforts, their buddy was killed in action.

I have laughed and cried with some of the finest people from Minnesota. I have sat at the bedside of some Minnesota soldiers at the combat support hospital, ensuring that one of their comrades in arms was beside them even though they were fast asleep and didn't know me personally. I have seen true American heroes rise in the young soldiers of the Minnesota Guard and learned to appreciate the opportunity to represent such a great state during this epic campaign of good vs. evil for a cause that is just and worthy of our efforts. Those of us here in Iraq see the real war, not the fallacy of the American media.

I was baptized, confirmed and raised Lutheran. I must say in all honesty that although my faith has never wavered, my participation in organized religion has not been what it should be. Despite that, I am internally of deep faith. Since coming to Iraq, my faith has been strengthened by the things I have seen, the situations I have encountered and the people I have met. I suspect that almost all soldiers feel that way.

This is indeed a war of faith -- on both sides. There will always be evil to fight and madmen to stop, so there will always be war. There will always be the need for young Americans to go forth and fight that evil on some foreign shore. It is not a bad thing; it is an honor. Despite the potential horrors of this endeavor, we must be steadfast, as it is certainly better than fighting them inside the Mall of America tomorrow.

Yet war wears on you, and faith is a must when fighting radical Islamic fundamentalism. What makes a man or woman strap on a bomb vest and walk into a market and blow themselves up? What makes a Sunni drive a car bomb into a Shiite mosque? How in the name of religion can you kill children? Spend some time in Iraq and these questions race across your mind as your head hits the pillow at night.

We struggle to understand it all. This is where we lean upon our faith, some moments leaning a lot harder than others.

One experience that deeply touched me came late one night while rolling down IED alley. A bright orange flash from an IED came so fast. One of the civilian tanker trucks stopped. I volunteered to get out and raced to the driver. I opened the cab, thinking he was just unconscious, because his hands were still on the wheel and he was sitting upright. But the angel of death had already paid a visit to this man.

He was a Pakistani civilian, a Muslim who had come to Iraq to provide for his family. He was certainly no "infidel." I pray for his family still.

At the end of the day, war is a matter of love. We soldiers love our families, communities and this greatest of nations. We sacrifice today in hopes that our children won't have to in their day. This is the honor we are fortunate enough to experience, and truly our finest hour.

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