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I Cry

The following post may be on the fringe of the mission of this site, but I think that since it addresses what so many chaplains do (and feel) many will relate to it. It comes from a Christian chaplain’s perspective so may be most identifiable to those of the Christian faith, but many of the feelings identified are shared with other faiths as well.


I Cry

At the risk of being perceived as less-than-masculine or even a wimp, I have a confession to make: I cry.

That’s right, I admit it, I cry.

Gold Star bannerSure, I cry at times when you would expect me to, like when a family member dies or when the Holy Spirit moves in a worship service. But I also cry at times when you may not expect (or even notice), like facing the flag while the National Anthem is being played or during war movies when Soldiers are getting shot and killed.

I cry when I visit veteran’s cemeteries and when I see a flag flying at half-staff.

I cry when I see a notification officer and chaplain getting into a government vehicle, aware of where they are going; and I cry when I see a gold star pennant hanging in the window of a home.

I cry when I see battle-weary Soldiers returning from war, and Soldiers returning with wounds seen and unseen.

graveside flag presentationI cry when I see an NCO, down on one knee, presenting the flag from a Service Member’s casket to the widow of that Service Member.

I cry when I see families saying goodbye to their Soldiers when they deploy and I cry when I see Soldiers greeted with open arms when they return.

I cry when I see monuments to the victors and to the fallen.

I cry when I hear about a veteran robbed at gunpoint or denied service and I cry when I read in the news about a homeless vet who died of exposure on a cold night.

I cry when I see new recruits, volunteers to serve and –if need be- die for their country.

I cry when I see units preparing for a mission, realizing that some of them may not come back alive.

Why do I cry for these things? Because I am an American. I am a patriot. I am a Christian.

Don’t think that the State has become my religion or that the emotions that well up inside of me are a substitute for my relationship with God. Don’t accuse me of “Americanizing” my Christianity and fusing my patriotism with my faith. That is not what I am doing.

American and Christian flags flyingI am a Christian first, with my primary allegiance to God and his Kingdom. Any other allegiances or commitments are second to my commitment to my Creator and Savior. However, even though secondary, I have still pledged my allegiance to my country, and I confess that this allegiance is born from my allegiance to God.

Many people reading this will not understand. Some will think I’m ignorant of what God really thinks. Others will think I’m ignoring the “clear” teaching of Scripture.

But some of you will understand. Some of you have been where I have been.

It is this secondary allegiance, to my country, that has taken me to places where most people do not (or will not) go, places where it seems evil is unstoppable and life is disposable. It is this allegiance to my country that has taken me to the brink of eternity, where the warning signals blare through the speakers providing just seconds before hearing the explosions as they land closer and closer to our position, wondering if they’ll eventually hit their target, while seeing the fear in the eyes of hardened Soldiers.

It is my allegiance to my God and my country that compels me to leave my family to minister to those Soldiers –who are also leaving their families- who go into harm’s way to defend our freedom and the freedom of people they’ve never even met.

Because I have gone; because I have left home, family and friends; because I have seen death and faced the possibility of my own death; because I have returned to the welcomes, knowing others haven’t returned; because I have gone to homes as they’ve been told their loved one has died; I cry.

Maybe you cry too.






Photo credits:

Gold Star banner in window from

Kneeling Marine presenting flag from Wasilla, Alaska, by300

American & Christian flags flying from The Cloud Animal



Originally posted at Here I Sit, 24 January 2016.



A Soldier Death Notification I’ll Never Forget

I want to share with you a death notification I was recently part of.  I share it partly for therapy but mainly so you know a little about the experience of both the families of Soldiers who die and the Soldiers sent to notify those families of their loved one’s death.

2-PrayingSoldierworkA chaplain is usually half of a notification team when a  Soldier dies and their family members are notified.  The chaplain never (or is never supposed to) give the notification, but is rather there to be spiritual and moral support for those now suffering loss.  If the chaplain makes the notification (which sometimes happens when the notifying officer is unable to, being too choked up for example–though the notification officer who I went with did an excellent job!) the chaplain is then saddled with the bad news that he/she just gave and then finds it hard to be received as a comfort agent. The family equates the chaplain with the bad news he/she just gave.

This notification was to the father of a Soldier who died of suspected self-inflicted wounds. A suicide. Suicide deaths, for me, are harder than combat deaths. In combat, at least the Soldier died for something they believed in or for a cause greater than themself. A suicide is a death which is so much more difficult for us to understand. Nevertheless, as a Soldier on active duty, the Soldier’s family members deserve the honor of an “official” notification of their loved one’s passing regardless of how they passed. Even under these circumstances, however, being part of a death notification team is still an honor as we acknowledge the service of that Soldier as well as the memory of the soldier which the family holds onto. One of the primary roles of the chaplain is to “honor the dead” regardless of how that death occurred.

The advance of technology with cell phones, rapid texting and social media has made the need for the notification team to get to the next-of-kin quickly even more important. To hear about your son or daughter’s death from a Facebook post or a phone call can be devastating and does not give the Soldier or the family member the honor which is deserved. But many times, we arrive to make the notification only to discover that they had already received a call from another family member or friend so have been able to process the news a bit before our arrival. While this is never ideal, it does make the notification a bit easier just because the family members aren’t hearing from you the news for the first time. However, the goal remains that the families are first notified of their loved one’s death by an official notification team representing the Secretary of the Army.

When we arrived at the home of our Soldier’s father and knocked on the door he came out onto his porch very friendly and introduced himself. My thought was that he had already heard about his son’s death and was trying to put us at ease realizing the difficult situation we were in. We introduced ourselves and confirmed that he was the man we were looking for, saying that we were there from Fort Leonard Wood to speak with him. He then proudly said with a smile the words that caused my heart to drop, “I have a son in the Army!”

He didn’t know.

We asked if we could go inside and sit down, so he called into his wife to put the dog into the kennel, that a couple of Soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood were here to see them.  After she did, he invited us in and offered us a seat. My partner asked if his wife could join us but she said she had to get the ice cream put away first, that she would be there in a minute (they had just returned home from the grocery store as we arrived). While we were waiting for her, the father talked more about his Soldier-son, about how he was trying to get him to Fort Leonard Wood to be closer to home.

Again, my heart sank and I could barely hold back the tears knowing the news we were there to share with him about his son.

Still waiting for his wife, I changed the subject to his hobby of amateur radio and asked what his farthest communication was, to which he answered, “Belgium” and that when he gets back on he expected to talk to someone in Hawaii.

Finally his wife joined us and the Master Sergent with me started sharing the news. Slowly and respectfully he began with something like this:

The Secretary of the Army has asked me to share with you his deepest regrets . . .

He then went on to give as many of the details as we had surrounding his child’s death. I watched as tears welled up in the father’s eyes, as they did in mine.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, you never do in these situations, but he took the news calmly and with dignity.

soldier-and-flagHe explained how his son had been going through some tough situations and that he had seemed depressed lately. He said that he told him he could always call if he needed to talk, and seemed disappointed that he hadn’t called but instead took his life. I tried to assure him that knowing that his father was there for him was most certainly a comfort to him, to which he agreed and added that his son really loved the Army, though.

I asked if there was anyone we could call for them but they said they would call their minister later. They went on to describe their faith as something that was a vital part of their life. I suggested that it was that faith that would help them through this difficult time.

One of the hard things that must be done during the notification visit is to try to confirm and get as much information as possible to aid in the rest of the casualty assistance the Army provides to the family. The Notification Officer did a good job going through the paperwork and asking the important questions while being very respectful of the family’s feelings.

Finally, with the  notification complete and the information gathered, I asked if there was anything at all that I could do for them, to which they thanked me but said that they would be fine.  I assured them that as God brought their faces to my mind that I would say a prayer for them, so they were not alone. They seemed to appreciate that.

We left the house and got on our way. The Notification Officer called the Casualty Assistance Office and let them know that the notification had been made … then we were finally able to breathe.

On our way home, an interesting discussion ensued. The Notification Officer that I was sent with is a black man. He told me that when he saw the father, a big guy with a bandana tied around his head who lived out in the backcountry of Missouri, he was concerned about the response he would receive when giving the news. This Master Sergeant has been the brunt of some unfair hate and prejudice in the past and admitted he expected the same from this man by the looks of him. I then confessed that I had thought of the same thing when I laid eyes on him. We both quickly agreed, however, that this couple exhibited anything but hate or prejudice. They were loving and compassionate, even as they were receiving the worst news you can receive about your son. The father even thanked us for coming, and for our service.

god-sun-rays-god-the-creator-10683289-600-653So while this was a very tough notification as I watched a father learn of his son’s death, I was also encouraged. I was encouraged because it is always a privilege to honor men and women who have served their country. I was encouraged because this couple could testify that their faith in God can -and will- help them through this most terrible time. I was encouraged because in the midst of tragedy, these people could still express love to us- the bearers of such bad news. Maybe there is still hope for us.




Photo credits: Praying Soldier from; Soldier in front of flag from; Garden with sun rays from



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