Dec. 16, 2006
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,
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
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.