How a Military Chaplain is Finding Strength After News in Afghanistan

The importance of seeking encouragement through prayer, connection and camaraderie during these challenging times.

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Posted in , Aug 20, 2021

Kabul, Afghanistan; photo Getty Image/christophe_cerisier

Afghanistan is a hard place. The collapse of the Afghan government and the events that have occurred in the past week because of it have left me irritable, hurt, deeply disturbed and unsettled. News of the fall of major cities—Kunduz, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Khowst, Gahzni, Kabul—awakened memories of sacrifice, aspirations for freedom and hope of a people that now seem shattered. The indignity and dishonor symbolized by the chaos of crowds mobbing our departing Air Force C-17 on the Kabul International Airport runway leave me raw.

From May 2003 to April 2004, I served as Combined Joint Task Force 180 Chaplain, with religious support responsibilities covering United States and Allied Forces in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. At our Change of Command Ceremony on the Bagram Airfield tarmac on April 15, 2004, I prayed: “Almighty God, the Scriptures record, ‘those who wait upon You get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles.’” Now, some 17 years later, I find myself needing some of that strength the prophet Isaiah wrote so poetically about. For me, it comes in the following ways:

Reach out. Life in the Armed Forces is all about relationships. Whether veteran, Active Duty or Reserve, civilian or contractor, family member or deploying spouse, we take care of each other. Extend a hand. Do a “buddy check.” Few things are as valuable as the email I received earlier this week: “...the recent horrors in Afghanistan. I imagine it is hard to reckon with since you invested so much there.” Acknowledging pain and camaraderie through email, text, call, social media, or card, with an Armed Forces member or veteran you hold dear can renew and enhearten.

Pray. I find myself “doubling down” on petitions to God for our soldiers and Marines who are now deploying, Air Force crews and manifests flying in and out of Kabul, departing State Department officials processing Afghanistan citizens desiring exit. Prayers for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is reportedly staying in Kabul to promote dialogue rather than violence, seem especially appropriate. Additionally, following through on the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans to “...pattern our lives after the One who took on the troubles of the troubled,” we can pray in solidarity for and with the Afghan people. Distressing news accounts, photos and videos can be incentives for such prayer.

Process. Voice your heaviness. Vent frustrations. Share feelings of disappointment. Seeking out a trusted friend to serve as an emotional “shock absorber,” someone who can hear bitter, distressing, sorrowful or unproductive feelings, is essential. Battle buddies from the past; esteemed family members; a former coach, teacher, mentor or rabbi, imam, priest or pastor; medical center or Veterans Affairs personnel; all can provide safe, helpful, listening and process-enabling ears.

Take responsibility. Avoid pointing fingers in blame. Shrill, angry, self-righteous “I told you so” pronouncements serve too often to divide and depress rather than unite and enlighten. We are all in this together. Realizing our shared humanity as citizens and friends of these United States of America can promote a spirit of consensus and humility so needed in these troublesome times.

Strengthen resolve. Heavy, sad feelings. Asking, “Was it worth it?” Most of us experience this dismay. Yet, in broader analysis, our individual and collective efforts in Afghanistan have kept al Qaeda from staging global attacks; we’ve offered pioneering opportunities for freedom and development; and together we have shared resources, friendship, treasure, sweat and blood that the human rights of all Afghan people might flourish.

On a deeper level, the sense of calling enjoyed by our Forces to serve and protect with discipline, love and leadership, is a source of profound, healthy pride and respect. The camaraderie of shared hardship, and professional competence to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States...” give meaning to the cause we have embraced. The glory of spirit and nobility of purpose championed by the women and men with whom we’ve served are humbling. They’ve steadfastly stood on watch for us all.

I concluded the Change of Command Ceremony prayer those many years ago with additional words echoing the prophet Isaiah: “...may [those] who follow us experience similar fulfillment—at the end of their tour—as we do now...to possess a deep sense of gratitude to You...and to delight in the fruits of one’s labor and be satisfied.” May we be encouraged, even in these uncertain days, with similar fulfillment and satisfaction, and be blessed.

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