By Lisa Morgan
The face of the average American soldier has changed. Now sprinkled in with the faces of young men and women fresh out of high school or college, are men and women in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s being newly deployed to the front lines from our military reserves. These growing numbers of reservists are being called into active duty, leaving civilian jobs, growing families and an established civilian life to do so. One such soldier is United States Naval Reserve Lieutenant, Frank Riley. Leaving a devoted wife, a son in high school, a daughter in the midst of leaving for college and a church family that calls him pastor, Frank is serving on the front lines in Afghanistan as an unarmed chaplain to America’s finest. Frank, a very dear friend of mine since our college days, has given me permission to share his stories. They are a stark reminder of everyday life for these men and women. We have been at war so long; it seems to have become a fact forgotten by some, ignored by others while neither of these are options for the families and those people who are actively honoring their commitment to this great country of ours.
“We wear that Chaplain cross…people notice it right away and know what you’re there for. It’s not uncommon for people to pull you aside and, all of a sudden; you’re having a spiritual conversation. Because you wear the uniform, you’re going to have access in a way that no one else has. You can go anywhere as a Chaplain. That is a great gift. But with that comes a great responsibility….We want to make sure that each person has the right and the ability to worship as their own faith dictates. And for me, that’s a sacred duty.”
— Chaplain Frank Riley, LT, USNR (Deployed August, 2012)
September 6, 2012
“The lone Afghani was approaching me as we walked toward each other on the same side of the street. Drawing closer, I noted the longer loose fitting clothes very much unlike my military wear. Even as the distance lessened and very different from my normal thoughts back home, I found myself thinking ‘there could be hidden explosives under that garment.’ Calmly, yet warily, I began to move to my right and slightly away from this oncoming pedestrian. Not much distance between us, I grinned and raised my hand in greeting. Even as I did so, this Afghan national did the same and as our eyes met, a misstep caused a quick veering toward my person. Still watching each other, a look of alarm must have crossed my face as I wondered, “How long until the blast?” For my Afghani ‘friend’s’ part, a look of horror was returned together with a quick look to see if I was drawing my weapon (Chaplains Don’t Carry weapons). On another street in another place, I would have moved in quickly with my own hands extended to prevent a fall. On another street in another place thoughts of embarrassment at tripping over one’s feet would have replaced those of danger or imminent death. On another street in another place we both might have laughed together instead of walking on… each thankful to still be among the living.”
September 10, 2012
“Nearly a quarter mile from the blast site, the steel doors to our quarters are bent, windows that were shattered are boarded up and the interior walls bow out from the concussive force of a blast that was the defining moment of the deployment of so many here. Seeing the evidence of such a blast, I am amazed to meet personnel who were just a few feet from the initial impact; testament to the resiliency of our bodies to withstand such force. Even so, the mood remains upbeat even as all here serve with a heightened sense of vigilance. On this day before 9/11, we find ourselves within sight of the Pakistan border ringed by mountain heights which while picturesque, also represent places from which fire can be targeted upon us. In this place it seems we are never safe while the words of the old blessing take on more imminent meaning ‘The Lord Shield and Defend you.’”
September 15, 2012
“The gym on this forward operating base deep inside Afghanistan and some 7,000 feet above sea level is alive with the sounds of metal on metal as weights rise and fall. TV monitors above the cardio equipment give us the daily news or allow us to view Major League Baseball as workouts continue. Suddenly I am aware of the gym growing quiet as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines quietly stop lifting and focus on the TV monitors. Taps is playing…a half screen of Arlington National Cemetery is depicted even as the names and places of loss flash on the screen, naming those killed in action thus far, this month in the service of our nation. The somber moment ends as the American Forces Network (AFN) screen flashes the post script, ‘Lest We Forget’. Thousands of miles from home, the screen here is different from CBS or NBC or any number of networks back home. Thousands of miles from home on this Saturday afternoon, we take time to remember, even as some here wonder if those back home will do the same.”
If you have a story from the “Front Lines” of people making a difference in service be it military, volunteer organization, police, fire department or the like, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would like to share their story.