I arrived here Sunday, at 1000. Early, I thought would be the order of the day. After all the motto goes: “Early is on time and on time is late.” That’s all well and good but someone forgot to tell the lodging office of this great high calling towards punctuality. Our rooms would be ready around 1400, our ability to excel, our strive for excellence had backfired. And now I had to wait. Myself and two other Chaplains who would be in class with me wandered Fort Jackson on foot on a blistering Sunday that seemed at odds with the past 5 weeks we had experienced in New Port, RI. Down here it was HOT.
Four hour later we checked into our room. Correction, this was not a room but rather a small mansion compared to the lodgings in King Hall. I had in my possession now a small studio apartment complete with a kitchenette. This was the high life indeed. After a short run to the commissary for basic groceries that would take me through the first week I hid away in my room working on my uniform and getting it ready for Monday morning. Turning in early I wondered what the next day would hold.
I found out soon enough as the day for the most part held paperwork. The Navy was at it again, trees were dying and I was the cause of it all. Well myself and 24 other chaplains (25 in all) who would be joining me on this grand adventure through Basic Chaplain Training. Monday was for the most part a day of administration, Paperwork, weight-ins and drug screening. Basically; are you getting paid, are you healthy and, “lets make sure your not using your pay to buy illegal substances.” We met our Gunnery Sergeant, who has been in former days a Drill Instructor for both Marine Corp Recruits and Marine Corp Officer Candidates, (I began to channel Full Metal Jacket, before I actually met the man). While he strikes me as a very likable individual it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see him turning up the intensity to epic proportions when required to motivate some lost wandering soul, who happens to have stumbled into his direct line of sight. He will make Marines, err I mean Sailors out of us yet. Monday ended well enough with the first order of business the next day being our Inventory Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA), bright and early at 0530.
At 0530 Tuesday Morning 23 of us gathered in the darkness at the appointed place. Now if you happen to have an eye for detail (and in the military you must), you’ll notice that the class was comprised of 25 students and yet only 23 of us were gathered there. Interesting that you should pick up on that. The fact did not escape us either, nor did it escape our GySgt, or the Class Officer, or the Director of Training, or the X.O. Nor in fact did it escape the C.O. Two our numbers were lost, so lost in fact that it took them 45 minutes to find us. Have you ever had a Monday that would never end? I think for me going forward Tuesday is my new Monday. That incident compiled with a few other “mishaps” put our class in a very deep hole digging our way out, striving to prove that we belonged here. To say that there was some level of disappoint in the staff concerning our initial impressions would be an understatement of almost biblical proportions.
Our crimes? Failing to look out for fellow classmates, failing to maintain proper military bearing and failing to find out need to know information before the appointed time.
Our Punishment? Off-base liberty secured. PT days moved from 3 day per week to 5. Uniform of the day on Weekends, NWU until farther notice.
The Lesson? Rise or fall as a team. In all honestly though I hate being restricted one thing the Lord has taught me and helped me see in all of this is to find the good in every thing. In every trial, ask the question, I mean seriously ask it; “What are you teaching me in this Lord?”
So what have I learned? I’ve seen two sides of a Chaplain now, the compassionate one, which is easy for most of us called to this, and the Standard Bearer (which was modeled astoundingly well by the reaming we received Tuesday after noon chow), the one who holds your feet to the fire when necessary, and I’ve filed it away for future reference. I’ve also seen what can happen when one person is different from the unit, chaos can ensue. I’ve learned that freedom is a privilege that can be taken as easily as it is given, and must be earned, watched, tested and fought for. I’ve learned that P.T. is good for you, and a GySgt’s idea of a brisk workout is vastly different from my own (though I admit I think I will love the results if I live that long). I’ve learned that above all however, His grace is sufficient.
And so trial aside, I am joyful. My days begin with the shaping of my physical body in a type of arduous routine that will harden me for the days ahead. After a quick bite and a shower the rest of my days are full of briefing that apply directly to my call. In ODS I was learning about the GI Bill and Divisional Leadership which though they may abstractly help are hard to connect to my current call, now I’m learning about Chaplaincy in its core which absolutely fits every part of who I am.
This week alone I’ve learned about: Constitutional Authority, Founding Documents, Chaplain History, Ministering in a Pluralistic Environment, Deployment, Command Religious Programs, and much more. I’m surrounded by men (there are no women in my class) who like myself feel called to this purpose and yet as I am, are strangers in this culture learning the customs and idioms with the help of a certain GySgt, and the ins and outs of what it mean to be light and salt in a culture apart from the one we grew up in from a staff of chaplains that have “been there, done that.”
I am very much a stranger in a strange land now, but with time I will make this culture my own and while I may one day be a standard bear of those customs, even now I am a Standard Bearer of His.
Not I But Christ