Danger, Dust, and Death

When they told me where I was going, they said it was the Safest Place in Iraq, but by the time I got there, things had changed. On a Tuesday night, the dining facility was crowded, bustling, with hardly an empty chair, when mortars landed on the building.

People were stunned, walking around like zombies. Most avoided eating in the DFAC, even after it was repaired and they started serving meals again. From that moment, incoming mortars and rockets became part of the routine that was soon to be my daily life.

Men from Diwaniyah would drive to a vacant field on the edge of town, bringing their rockets and mortars to fire at us. They did this in the morning on their way to work. Sometimes it was mid-day during a lunch break, and other times in the evening on their way home from work. Occasionally it was in the middle of the night. Some of the people shooting at us were teens or even younger. Often, they would launch their missiles-of-death just before, or right after their prayers.

I volunteered to go. My philosophy as a chaplain was that I wanted to be wherever soldiers had to go, and if they were at war, I wanted to be there with them. Not because I enjoy fighting. We all know that a chaplain is a non-combatant. I wasn’t there to fight.

I was there to encourage, counsel, and pray; provide worship opportunities, friendship, and guidance; nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead; and guarantee the constitutional freedom of worship to men and women of all faiths, and the same freedom to men and women of no faith. Camp Echo was my home, my parish, my fiery furnace.

I knew from the start that I could be wounded or killed. It was a weird feeling, and I came to accept it. How or when, I had no idea. But every time there was another explosion, I wondered if this was the day.

My wife also knew I might not make it home alive. Or if I did return, I might be a broken man–crippled, blind, psychologically damaged, or all of the above. With that possibility in mind, she told me before I left home, “I don’t want to find out after you get back or after you’re dead that you were in danger. I want to know right away.”

The first time I mentioned during a phone call some of the dangerous things that were happening, she said, “I already know. I saw it on TV and in the newspaper. They’re mentioning Diwaniyah and Camp Echo by name.” She scanned and sent me an LA Times article. I took it to our staff meeting the next morning, and discovered that many on our leadership team didn’t know what was going on outside the wire.

Danger, dust, and death formed the context for the job I was sent to do. Operating from the philosophy that “ministry follows friendship,” I built relationships among the men and women at Camp Echo: military, civilian, American, and Coalition. This allowed me to be there when they were at their best and when they were at their worst, in their strongest moments and in their weakest.

In the heat of the battle and the heat of the desert, hours turn into days, which transition to nights, and add up to weeks and then months. The conditions wear you down, leaving an imprint on your mind and your soul: images that will be seen in dreams for months or years, sounds that reverberate long after you’re home, people you befriended and cared about and stared at death with, but will probably never hear from again. For many of us, it’s only memory now. But for others, the war continues … on the inside.

An excerpt from the book, Safest Place in Iraq, published by Morgan James Faith.

Captain Interrogative

Several years ago, when I was a brand new Active Duty Army Chaplain, I got a call from an Army chaplain recruiter. A pastor of a Baptist church in Southern California had called to ask about becoming a chaplain. Although the pastor was in a wonderful church and was doing a great job as their pastor, he felt that the Lord might be leading him to redirect his pastoral and discipleship efforts to Soldiers, instead of among civilians.

I asked the recruiter why he was telling me about the pastor, and he said, “The guy’s wearing me out with his questions. He literally calls every day of the week with another couple of questions. And after I answer the question, he has ten more. I’m not exaggerating here!”

I agreed to take on the challenge of staying in touch with the pastor, and I called him. He admitted that he always has lots of questions, even to the point that while he was in seminary, classmates referred to him as Captain Interrogative.

“Here’s the deal I’d like to make with you,” I said.

“Deal?”

“Yes, deal. I’m willing to answer every question you come up with, on two conditions.”

“Conditions?”

“Yes, conditions.”

“OK, what are they?”

“First, you may call me or email me up to three times a week, Monday through Friday during the workday. Second, you will keep a record of every question you ask and every answer I provide.”

“Oh yeah? Why?”

“You have a right to know everything you possibly can know before making the decision to transition from your church ministry to the military. Since you and your wife need to pray over this potential move together, you need to keep a notebook that you can both review from time to time. And after you have the answers to all your questions, you’ll have a large notebook full of information about ministry in the military, and who knows, maybe you’ll be able to help someone else someday.”

The guy agreed, and boy did he have a ton of questions. In the process of Q&A, he and I became good friends. My wife and I even visited his church to see him in action and meet his wife. After about six months, he had a fat notebook filled with everything he needed to know about military chaplain ministry. He made the decision to apply and was selected.

It’s important to keep in mind that ministry in the military is in many ways the same as ministry in a local congregation. Men and women in the uniformed services have the same needs as those who are schoolteachers, plumbers, mechanics, or salespersons. The context is different and there are some issues particular to the military, as there are in any field. But Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines need someone to teach them the Bible, provide pastoral counseling, visit them when they’re sick, model effective relationship styles, and set an example for how to live for Jesus, just like anyone in any town in America.

The above is an excerpt from the book titled Military Ministry: Chaplains in the Twenty-First Century, written by Paul Linzey and Keith Travis, published by Wipf & Stock.

Gazing at the Destruction of Pearl Harbor

It was more than half a century ago that I stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and gazed in awe at the recent destruction of Pearl Harbor. My sailor friends and I were very young then, but a few months later, the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway would make men of us quickly.

Since those decisive days, many fine accounts have been written about those key battles but generally in a secular context for the historian’s interest. They have enhanced our knowledge of the war in the Pacific and particularly of those great battles, and we are indebted to them, but there was another side to the story that never has been told.

During that early period of World War Il, I was in the U.S. Navy serving as an enlisted musician on the aircraft carrier Yorktown, which was a major player in the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. From my experience in the ship, I observed the supernatural intervention of God that played a vital role among both officers and enlisted men. I wish to bring some of that story into focus for the families and friends of the Christian religious community whose loved ones served so heroically in those critical events of the war.

I am writing for all the military personnel who served in those actions and particularly for the survivors of the Yorktown and their families and friends. The Yorktown (CV-5) Club, which I currently serve as chaplain, meets annually to relive the events and to keep alive the spirit for which we served. I am grateful to the club members for the camaraderie and spirit of fellowship that have endured through the years and are ignited each year anew as we meet together.

I am writing for those many Christians who may not pursue secular history as such but would appreciate reading history that takes into account God’s intervening force in the lives and events of the people involved. Many prayed for their men and women during those dark hours of World War Il and believed that God heard and answered their prayers, and those of us who benefited from their intercessory prayer continue as witnesses to God’s grace.

Divine providence is as relevant today as it was in Bible times. Events do not “just happen.” The Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway are cases in point, for we did not win those battles by our wits alone. The odds were stacked against us at Midway, but in answer to the prayers going on back home in our great nation, the enemy forces made crucial mistakes at Midway. Those errors cost them the loss of ships and men, which resulted in their defeat and the turning of the tide in the war.

I am writing to give testimony to God’s presence in the most difficult of times and to witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. My hope is that this testimony might be an encouragement to others who find themselves in uneven circumstances. Also, I wish to encourage others to be faithful to God and to one another in any and all eventualities, good or bad.

I am writing for my children who have not known what their father went through during the war. One of my daughters wept as she read the account of the sinking of the Yorktown and remarked that her brothers and sisters did not know these things.

Finally, I write to remind myself of God’s divine favor and providence lest I forget the time when I felt so alone and helpless. Lest I forget. Lest I forget.

This is an excerpt from the preface of my dad’s book, Dead in the Water. It is available on Amazon and on this website. Captain Stanford E. Linzey was a sailor on the USS Yorktown during WWII. After the war, he served as a pastor for a decade, and then returned to the Navy as a chaplain. The image below was provided by Pixabay.com.

USS Yorktown: The Fighting Lady

Built from 1934-1936 and commissioned in 1937, the USS Yorktown was involved in some major battles in WWII and received the nickname . . . The Fighting Lady. There were four announcements that the crew of 2,217 sailors and about 300 aviators didn’t want to hear.

1. “Battle Stations!” That meant they were about to enter combat.

2. “Fire!” This didn’t mean to shoot at anyone. It meant there was a fire on board the ship. The ship was home, and there was no front or back door to leave a burning inferno, so fire was a dreaded enemy.

3. “Stand by for attack!” In battle, everyone from the captain to the newest recruit knew he might be killed.

4. “Abandon Ship!” This one was nerve-wracking because the nearest land was three miles away–straight down! And sharks were not the kind of company they preferred.

Dad was on the Yorktown each time it engaged the enemy. With headphones on, he heard the blood-curdling words, “Zeros at 50 miles out!” These Zeros, sometimes called Bandits, were Japanese fighter-bombers and torpedo planes.

“Zeros at 25 miles out. Stand by for air and torpedo attack!”

Dad’s mind raced back to the battle of the Coral Sea just four short weeks earlier. It seemed like a year ago, yet it felt like yesterday. An armor-piercing bomb hit the flight deck and sliced through three more decks before exploding in the room next to his station. It immediately obliterated 35 of his shipmates, but if it had been eight feet closer, it would have also splattered Dad.

Dad’s job was to pass reports to damage-control crews who then fought their way through the rubble and did their best to put out fires, make repairs, and keep The Fighting Lady afloat.

But he did much more than that. Through his interaction with men of all rank, he taught them how to face adversity, face hardship, and even face death with head held high and without fear. He revealed his faith in God when the world seemed to be falling apart, and shared emotional and spiritual strength through personal conviction.

2nd Class Petty Officer Stanford E. Linzey, Jr., loved the Lord, loved life, and loved people. He never hated anyone, including the Japanese. But he was a man with high integrity, and to the best of his ability, he did his job to help his country.

The above is an excerpt from the introduction to the book Dead in the Water. The book was written by Captain Stanford E. Linzey, Jr., CHC, USN, Retired. The introduction was added by my brother, Stanford E. Linzey III. I plan to post several excerpts leading up to December 7, also known as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

Pearl Harbor

I’ll never forget what he said, or the look on his face as he relived the hell of battle. Dad’s words were bathed in emotion. Hardened by the intense heat of battle, he still choked up at times as he remembered Guadalcanal, Gilbert Islands, Coral Sea, and Midway. He repeated “Coral Sea,” hesitated, breathed deeply and said, “Midway.”

Did I detect anger? Or was it sorrow?

Dad won the Texas State High School Championship as a clarinetist in the school band, then joined the navy in 1938 as a musician. In peace time he played the clarinet in the USS Yorktown Band, and the saxophone in the jazz band. But in battle he was an intra-ship radioman, assigned to the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown CV-5.

Dad was a Texan, as was Admiral Chester Nimitz, and often told me of battles in Texas history. Sentences we read without emotion in history books became commands bathed in blood and tears when Dad said them. If you’re not a Texan, Remember the Alamo! and Remember Goliad! could mean almost nothing to you. But it sometimes brings tears to my eyes and raises goose bumps on my arms because my Dad was a Texan! No, he didn’t fight at the Alamo in 1836 or at Goliad in 1835, but he made sure that I, his oldest son, knew about them.

Dad didn’t join the navy to kill people. He didn’t even want to go to war. As a nine-year-old boy, when he had the privilege of seeing John Philip Souza on Souza’s last tour with the United States Marine Band, he was inspired and dedicated himself to music. Becoming an award-winning musician, he wanted to join the United States Navy Band. Fighting a war was not on his radar screen. However, personal plans and goals don’t always develop to our liking. In this case, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The above is an excerpt from the introduction to the book Dead in the Water. The book was written by Captain Stanford E. Linzey, Jr., CHC, USN, Retired. The introduction was added by my brother, Stanford E. Linzey III. I plan to post several excerpts leading up to December 7, also known as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

A Divine Call to Ministry

The call of God is one of the most important points in your thinking about becoming a military chaplain, and this call has professional, personal, and spiritual dimensions.

The professional side of the call has a lot to do with how the military looks at you and your work as a chaplain. When a minister goes to an accessioning board to apply for for Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard for the Army, Air Force, or Navy, one of the topics each candidate will have to respond to is “Tell us about your call.” An applicant should be able to communicate a definite experience when the Lord called him or her to become a military chaplain.

There is also a personal side to the call to military ministry. Fulfilling the call of God on your life isn’t easy. There will be tough days. There may be times you feel like quitting or throwing in the towel. You have to do physical training when you’d rather be relaxing with your family or spending time with friends.

There is also a spiritual side to the call. In 1994, Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song titled “Burn the Ships.” The song tells the legendary story of Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador who sailed from Spain with a fleet of ships to conquer the Aztecs in Mexico. After arriving, some of the men were homesick, fed up with being away from family and the life they knew, and threatened to return to Spain. Cortés responded by ordering the ships to be destroyed so his men had no way to leave. The lyrics include the devotional application that when we make a decision to follow Christ, there’s no going back. In essence, sometimes we have to “burn the ships” in order to remain faithful to the Lord and his call on our lives.

The point is this: if you obey the call of God to minister as a military chaplain, the Lord will strengthen you. God called you to the work, God will prepare you for the work, and God will sustain you in the work.

A specific divine call to any ministry will change the direction of your life. It will motivate you and lead to new behaviors and habits. It will give you the strength, stamina, and tenacity that you’re going to need if you’re to run the race and finish the course. And just as important, the call will come with a divine anointing, and the promise that the lord will be with you every step of the way.

The call of God, therefore, is undoubtedly one of the most important points in thinking about becoming a military chaplain, and this call includes the professional, personal, and spiritual dimensions of your life. If you aren’t sure, then take more time to pray and seek God until he confirms his call for your life’s work. There must be no doubt. There’s no room for wondering whether this is where you are called to serve. You don’t have the luxury to guess or assume. You have to be certain.

This is an excerpt from the book Military Ministry: Chaplains in the Twenty-First Century.

Jesus, Peter, and a Centurion

Jesus was not in the military and did not routinely go out of his way to minister to soldiers. Yet a Roman centurion who needed help came to Jesus.

Jon Bloom, a staff writer for an organization called Desiring God, makes the following observation: Luke 7:9 and Matthew 8:10 use the Greek word thaumazo (thou-mad’-zo) which is translated as “marveled” or “amazed” to describe Jesus’s response to the centurion’s faith. The only other time this word is used to describe the Lord’s response to other people’s faith is in Mark 6:6, when he marvels at the lack of faith in the people of Nazareth, his hometown.

Bloom calls this centurion a “firstfruit and a foreshadow of what Jesus had come to bring about.” It may be that Jesus Himself was the first in the New Testament to minister to people in the military, and the “firstfruit and foreshadow” refers to thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who will come to faith in Christ through the message of the Gospel.

Peter also had an encounter with a centurion. Acts chapter ten tells of Peter’s vision about eating unclean food. In the dream, the Lord told him to stop calling something unclean if the Lord Himself declared it clean. Peter woke up and was thinking about the experience when Cornelius’s representatives arrived. The Lord told Peter to go with the men, so he went to the home of the centurion and proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:44 says everyone who heard Peter’s message received the Holy Spirit and became believers in Jesus.

In this account, the representative of Christ went to where the soldier was in order to minister to him. This is exactly what a chaplain does: after praying, going to where the people are, spending time with them, and paying attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who opens a door for sharing the message of the Savior.

The significance that Peter attributes to his experience is that the Lord has opened the door for Gentiles to come into the Kingdom of God. But there’s another, more subtle significance that we can’t afford to miss. In the same way that the Church must no longer think of the gentiles as bad people who are outsiders, the Church must not think about people in the military as being unclean or bad. It’s not an accident that the gentile who Peter visited was a military man.

Peter understood that Christians should accept, love, and serve all people, all demographics, and all ethnicities. Nobody is to be considered inferior, less valuable, or unworthy. The same is true for those serving in the military. They are people who need God, need to be loved and accepted, need someone to tell them about Jesus, need someone who’ll be an example of Christian faith and lifestyle.

Military chaplains have an opportunity almost every day to speak about faith, hope, love, and the grace of God. They develop relationships and friendships with the people in the command, and let their light shine. And the fact that chaplains come from all backgrounds and all walks of life allows for a wide variety of methods and opportunities to teach, disciple, and represent the Lord.

This is an excerpt from Military Ministry: Chaplains in the Twenty-First Century by Paul Linzey and Keith Travis.

Veterans Day Books

If anyone is interested in a good read for Veterans Day, or perhaps getting a gift for a friend in the military, here are several books worth considering.

This book focuses on the role of the chaplain, but also takes a good look at religion in the Armed Forces. It answers a lot of questions about the rights and restrictions applicable to people of faith, and presents an accurate picture of what it’s like to be a Christian in today’s military. Containing a lot of anecdotes and real life examples, it also shows that there is an open door for genuine sharing of faith when done correctly and respectfully. Click on the book to see it on Amazon.

Being in Iraq in 2007 was scary and dangerous. Yet, the Lord was doing some fantastic things in the lives of the men and women I served, loved, and ministered to. Written as a combination memoir and testimony, it tells stories of answered prayer, overcoming fear and temptation, and experiencing the presence of God.

My dad wrote this book about what it was like to be on the USS Yorktown in World War II. He survived the Battles of Midway and Coral Sea, experienced the amazing presence of the Lord during the toughest days of his life, and shares what it was really like. Originally published with the title God Was at Midway and then as USS Yorktown at Midway, last year my brother wrote a new introduction and I added an epilogue.

These books may be purchased on Amazon by clicking on the images of the books. You may also click on the Books tab in the menu above. And if you’d like to listen to my podcast conversations with Richard Blackaby (Blackaby Ministries International) or with Randy Zachary (Family Radio) scroll down to the bottom right and you can play them.

Legal Basis of Military Chaplaincy

Before he became our first president, General George Washington was keenly aware of our need for military chaplains. He understood that chaplains, through their life, influence, and preaching, could help his men morally and ethically. He knew the impact chaplains would make by instilling courage and discipline. And he wanted chaplains to counsel the soldiers, visit them when they were sick or wounded, honor the dead, and write letters home for those who could not write.

Apparently, the Founding Fathers didn’t question whether a military chaplaincy was needed. It seems they merely adopted the British practice without debate. On July 29, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized a chaplaincy for the Continental Army and decided that the chaplains would be paid. In 1777, they authorized a chaplain for each Army brigade. By 1791, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of religion for every citizen, including people serving in our military.

These early actions by the United States Congress in the late 1700s served as the legal foundation and paved the way for further refinements as we shaped the military chaplaincies. When he was a congressman, James Monroe had voted in favor of a military chaplaincy on several occasions. Then as president, in 1814, he signed the explicit authorization for military chaplains. In 1818, a chaplain was authorized for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1838, congress passed more sweeping legislation providing military chaplains at frontier forts, military hospitals, and other military schools. Also included were chaplains for the Navy and for Congress itself. By that point, the legal grounds for a military chaplaincy were firmly in place, and they endure to this day.

In 1861, Congress directed military commanders to weed out undesirable or unqualified chaplains because not everyone serving as a chaplain was qualified or was behaving properly.

It wasn’t until 1917 that Congress authorized minority faith groups to have military chaplains. Previously, all chaplains were Christians, the vast majority being Protestant. This new legislation, however, allowed Jewish rabbis to serve as military chaplains, and eventually let representatives of other minority religious groups serve as well, such as Buddhists and Muslims.

Following WWII, the Geneva Convention established the Law of Armed Conflict, which designated chaplains as noncombatants who are not allowed to fight, and who should be protected during battle. The United States was one of the first to sign the agreement to the Geneva Convention guidelines.

By 1956, Title 10 of the United States Code had been approved. This important legislation significantly expands and identifies the roles and functions of military chaplains. Because of the scope of this legislation, anyone interested in the military chaplaincy should read it thoroughly. According to Title 10, the military will fund and maintain a military chaplain corps and retain chaplains.

There have been some significant policies, instructions, manuals, pamphlets, memos, and regulations prepared by the Department of Defense and the various military departments that shed light on the role, function, and tasks of military chaplains.

Chaplains have to know the law. They’ve got to understand current policy, and must build a good working relationship with the commander and command staff, as well as with officers, enlisteds, and NCOs. All commanders are well trained and knowledgeable when it comes to issues related to religion. However, some of them are “anti-religion,” while some go overboard promoting religion. Others don’t care at all about religion, and want to take funds earmarked for religious programs and use the money for other priorities. Therefore, chaplains have to be well informed and strong enough to tell commanders what is right or wrong when it comes to implementing their religious programs.

If we do our homework and maintain proper relationships, we have an open door for an incredible ministry and an opportunity to impact countless lives on behalf of the Kingdom of God.

Freedom of Religion in the Military

Throughout most of the twentieth century, understanding the Constitution and how it affected the work of chaplains didn’t seem all that important. Today, however, it is imperative for every chaplain in the Armed Services to fully understand the Constitution, the Establishment Clause, and the Free Exercise Clause because there is so much at stake.

The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from creating an official state religion. Although the precise definition of “establishment” is unclear, historically it referred to government-sponsored churches or religions, such as the Church of England, or any of the other officially recognized national religions throughout the world.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The Free Exercise Clause, on the other hand, extended religious protection to individuals, giving them the right to practice the religion of their choice without fear of punishment or negative consequences.

Although the Constitution deals with religious freedoms for all citizens, it doesn’t specify or authorize a military chaplaincy. Our government and military leaders have decided that having military chaplains is the best way for the constitutional rights and privileges of military personnel to be guaranteed, implemented, and supervised.

In essence, citizens of the United States don’t lose their constitutional rights when they enlist or become an officer in the military.

There have been many challenges to having chaplains in the military and there will be more, but each case inevitably comes back to the Constitution’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause. In a nation where people of many faiths live side-by-side, the First Amendment’s free exercise clause protects individuals from government interference in the practice and expression of their faith. The government cannot target laws at specific religious practices or place undue burdens on its citizens who want to worship.

Constitutional authority travels in a direct chain of command: from the Constitution, to the President, to the Secretary of Defense, to the Pentagon, to the Branches of Service, on down to the unit Commanders. The chaplain is the commander’s personal staff officer who is delegated the task of implementing and supervising the constitutional religious freedoms, restrictions, and opportunities. In essence, the religious program in the military belongs to the commander, and the chaplain works for the commander to make sure it is done properly and legally. That’s why every chaplain must understand the constitutional issues.

An important consideration to keep in mind here is that it’s the government that is specifically limited by the constitutional amendment. Because religious freedom is an important part of our national values, the government isn’t allowed to restrict those rights or to infringe on the individual’s free exercise of religion. Nor can the government impose religion onto the individual. This is particularly relevant to commanders and chaplains in the military.

The commander has legal and constitutional authority; the chaplain is the subject matter expert who provides ministry for those of his or her faith group, facilitates meeting the religious needs for those of other faith groups, and ensures that all personnel have the opportunity to practice their constitutional freedoms. And because of the Establishment Clause, the chaplain also makes sure nobody is coerced or forced to worship, and that nobody is subjected to presentations of religion against his or her will.

It’s important to note that the Constitution is the authority that gives chaplains the right to express their faith in a secular and pluralistic environment. But it also provides limitations that chaplains must respect. Otherwise, it is possible for chaplains to find themselves caught between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

These clauses were written into the constitution to protect churches from government, and also to protect individuals from religion, because freedom to worship also includes freedom not to worship.

Christians have freedoms, yet so does everyone else in the Armed Forces, and those freedoms are guaranteed. Chaplains have a crucial role in how religious rights play out in the military, and we need to know our role.

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