The Margin of Others 2

Refrain

 

When America sings

it must be Carl Sandburg

that I hear.

But Mr. Rogers

 

writes the lines,

and Billy Graham

is right on target.

Again.

 

John Denver picks

the guitar,

but he’s playing

in LA or Las Vegas,

 

far from

the simple places

Carl Sandburg knew

and loved and sang about.

 

I think I should

like to hear

America sing again.

 

Ft. Monmouth, 1982

United States Army Chaplain Center and School

 


 

We’ve All Been There

Ft Dix.  Chaplain Officer Basic Course (CHOBC) 1975.  Being new at anything required a sense of humor, especially if the chaplain was the easy butt of the jokes.  At Ft Dix—the “field” training of CHOBC—included the “PT test.”  The new chaplains practiced the Army’s sit-ups, push-ups, overhead bars, something called “the crab crawl,” the two-mile run, and an event aptly named the “run, dodge, jump.” The timed requirement was to RUN a course with a couple of ditches and JUMP the ditch.  After jumping the ditch, one had to maneuver (DODGE) around a stanchion anchored into the ground, jump another ditch, dodge around another stanchion, etc. and having reached (successfully) the end of the course, spin around another anchored stanchion to jump another ditch, etc.  And do it all again.  The event required 2 complete revolutions of the “course” in the required 2 or 3 minutes allotted time.  I was confident in both my time and ability to do it.  I finished the course and looked at the SSG who was timing my efforts.  He grimaced and said, looking at his stop watch, “You missed a stanchion.  It’s a no-go.”  I couldn’t believe it!  No way!  There was no arguing with the NCO with the stop watch.  I lined up at the far end of the course to begin again, determined that no stupid mistake—if there had been a mistake–would be made this time!  I began again:  one time down, return, spin around, come back, down again, spin around, come back again, and finish!  The NCO held the stop watch in his hand, looked at me and said, “You missed a stanchion…again.  It’s a no-go.”  This time I knew that the so and so with the stopwatch was playing games.  The NCO’s pawn was me, a captain, and a chaplain at that, and he was determined to get his pound of officer flesh.  Admittedly, I was winded from the previous go-rounds, but I lined up again at the far end of the course to begin a third time for the infamous “Run, Dodge, and Jump!”  When I finished it, the NCO said flatly, “Good time.  Pass.”

First Duty station.  1975.  Ft Carson, CO.  Division Support Command (DISCOM) of the 4th Infantry Division.  The chaplain assistant came to my office in the back of Wrangler Chapel and told me that the PT test was forthcoming.  He probably told me the date and time.  I remember telling that assistant that I’d already had my PT test—and passed it—back at Fort Dix, thinking to myself, “Why would I ever need another?”  The assistant probably swallowed hard to keep a straight face and informed me—the new chaplain—that a PT test was required every 6 months.  Looking back on it, the green chaplain thought that he knew more than he actually did.  And I’m sure that the assistant enjoyed relaying my naivete to the other assistants—and to the other chaplains!  One PT test on the calendar…and one every 6 months for the rest of my time in the Army!  Whoa!  Lesson learned!

Life in the military is full of training.  I began to understand training in the life of soldiers when I heard a Brigade Command Sergeant Major comment about the bad weather—dusty or muddy, wet or bone dry, hot or chilling cold.  “Good training!” was his comment.  Down range Ft Carson had it all!  Sometimes on the same day! Soldiers needed to learn to operate in all environments.  The kid from the city who’d never been camping trained  as did the farm girl who’d always had a bed to sleep in.  They’d learn from experience and know what to do the next time.  And the next time.

Downrange.  My first opportunity to brief the DISCOM commander in the field during an exercise didn’t go well.  I had been in the unit long enough to feel confident that I knew what was expected, etc.  I sat and listened to the briefings that the other officers gave to the colonel about personnel, logistics, operations, etc.  The chaplain always followed the S-1 who briefed personnel matters.  The S-1 laid out the play/actions of those who had been “wounded and killed” in the simulations of enemy action.  My turn came, and I confidently briefed the colonel on religious services for the weekend.  I said, “Sir that concludes my briefing.  Do you have any questions?”  It was a by-the-book scenario.  And there was a pause, and I began to realize there was going to be more.  The colonel asked, “Chaplain, do you have anything planned for memorial services for the KIAs?”  It had never dawned on me to roll play the simulations from the previous briefing!  I did not know what to say and the colonel knew it!  A friend in the back of the briefing tent, the Division Ammunition Officer (DAO) had a grin on his face from ear to ear as he pantomimed a shuffle dance to let me know that he knew that the colonel had played his game of gottcha, and I’d been gotten!  The same colonel—later in another exercise—asked the same DAO about some obscure nomenclature of ammunition, and the DAO, looked at him before answering, and then said, “Sir would that be for the rounds for the x, y, or z firing systems that have been upgraded from 2507 to the 3206 Bravo  or the 3206 Charlie…or did you have something else in mind?”  It was obvious that he knew his stuff and could not be caught like some junior chaplain with his pants down around his clergy heels.  The colonel said, simply, “Thank you, Chief.”  And that was the end of it.

The firsts were innumerable, always a learning experience, and always a trial run for what might come next.  Training—no matter at what level—has always been and will remain the stock and trade of soldiers.  No matter what the weather.  Good training!

 


 

 Holders

 

Soldiers and

time go together,

the young mostly,

for a time,

an era, costly;

for a cause—maybe—where they did not

fully understand what was at stake,

and who were the holders.

 

So, they lived fully perhaps recklessly,

sometimes with abandon

the way Americans have always

been led to live and dare,

and they too lived,

and dared,

and hoped

to be a part of

that which is

greater than all of us.

 

Their part

was the living,

and to be sure,

the dying.

 

Our part

is the remembering,

with the values for

their kids and ours, for

the country’s commitments

they made by signing on,

and carried out to some extent

however little or great,

so that together

we can get it right,

the way they’d have wanted.

 


 

Carson

 

Alone

and pinned

between a deuce

and a half

and trailer

 

on a Ft. Carson

hillside, covered

with pine, sweet

grass, and flowers,

pleasant enough

for a picnic,

 

but no place

to die

as the S&T Bn*

soldier suffocated

 

as Christ

had done

before him

and for him

on a Judean

hillside and a

Roman

cross.

 

 

*S & T Bn is a Supply and Transportation Battalion.

 


 

Carson, II

 

Soldiers are

trained

to take it,

 

the tough duty,

the separations,

doing the

 

hard stuff,

shoulder to

the mission;

 

keep your eye on

target downrange;

head on straight!

 

One soldier

couldn’t take it

anymore

 

—not sure what

or why—

and he drank

 

a can of lye,

taking a full

6 weeks to die

 

with his mother

by his

bedside.

 


 

Carson, III

 

Soldiers are doers,

trained to do;

take charge;

problem solvers,

setting the example;

leaders that they are,

the 1SG missed it,

when he tried to end it all,

going down the path

of least resistance,

with a pistol,

small caliber at that,

and it didn’t do

what he’d intended,

as suicides seldom do,

and I prayed over him,

commending him

to the Lord, for

his wound,

his unfinished life,

his finished career,

the soldiers in his charge,

his unclaimed retirement,

his widowed wife

and what was left of

his family,

and whatever guilt

he may have had,

left over

from what he’d done

or not done,

and the future which God

only could know through

the bandages that

swathed his head,

save for the eyes

that were blackened

by the shot.

 


 

Carson, IV

 

 

Carson, yeah,

but really Vietnam,

the Special Forces CSM

had all the badges

and ribbons,

to prove,

as they say,

that he’d

“Been there,

done that,”

and now what

he was doing

was dying

of a cancer,

eating away

at his innards,

just as other

questions

were gnawing

at his heart,

the heart of a boy,

the heart of a can-do

attitude,

the heart of a warrior,

the heart of a husband

and father,

the heart of a retiree

where the fine print

did not specify

options for

redemption

for all he had

seen and

done.