I want to share with you a moving account by an ACC priest in Alaska, Fr Terrill Heaps, who visited some young soldiers on Saturday night to say good-bye to them as they prepared to leave for Iraq.
It is now way past Midnight. I just got home a few minutes ago. Here in Fairbanks, Alaska we are home to Fort Wainwright. This Army post is where the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division is based.
I had the privilege of spending this evening with about 16 of these fine soldiers. They are deploying to Iraq on Sunday. When I walked in, one of them spied me and called out, "Hey, Padre! You actually came to our place. Hey everybody, the Padre's here!"
The bar was crowed with these guys having a little merriment. They played pool, they fed money into the juke box, and some of them -- well most of them -- had a little too much to drink. And a few were really sloshed. One guy got emotional and misted up, and said, "Hey Padre, it's just so great that you'd come out late on Saturday night to our bar to be with us--I mean, you being a priest and all."
How could I not go out to be with them. Sure, it was late on a Saturday night --
and a cold rainy one at that -- but these guys are going to Iraq in just a few hours.
"Hey Padre, how bout havin' a shot with us?" I was presented with something called a Jager Bomb. It is a mixture of something called Jagermeister and Red Bull. One is supposed to quaff it down in one gulp. It tastes sort of like cough syrup flavored with turpentine. But, that was what these guys wanted. They seemed to think that I had done a favor to them because I drank the thing with them. Fortunately, I had a mug of draft beer in front of me to sip, to get the taste of the turpentine tasting stuff out of my mouth.
There was a lot of boisterous bravado. They were going to go over there to "take names and kick ass." One guy took me aside and told me he was scared. We shared a few moments and had a few words together.
All of these soldiers are from places other than here, and none of them has any family or relatives here. I am just so honored that these Soldiers sort of "adopted" me, and wanted me to be with them on their last night, before they deploy. When I walked in with that white collar around my neck, they were glad that I came. I guess it's like when Teddy Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet around the world, to show the American flag and the power of America to the world. That white collar shows the flag for God, and for the Anglican Catholic Church.
Odd, you know. None of these guys is Anglican Catholic. I don't know what they all are. I do know that one is a Baptist, and I think that another one is a Roman Catholic. I know the one is a Baptist, because he said that his Baptist preacher would never darken the door of a bar that a bunch of Soldiers were having a party at. I felt so honored that they asked me to come. Yet, they indicated that they felt honored that I came. How could I not?
This is the second deployment to Iraq for a few of them. The last time the 1st Stryker Brigade went over to Iraq, not all of them came back alive. Gee, I remember Joe. He was sent back early. For medical reasons. This was in early 2006. Joe and I were chatting. Joe said, "I'm still on light duty, since I got shot." Yes, Joe got shot.
He told me all about what he and his squad were doing, what happened, and then he said he felt a hit and he had been shot. Fortunately he was recovering. He wanted to get back over to his unit to be with his buddies. It didn't happen. His unit returned here, before he was finished with his physical therapy.
I wonder if any of these guys I spent the evening with will be killed or wounded.
This was a special night for me -- in more ways than one. I got to spend this evening with some of your sons, brothers, boy friends, or husbands, who are on their way to Iraq. The pride of American young men. It was a special night. It was special too, because this is the 28th anniversary of my ordination as an Anglican Catholic priest. I'm glad I was asked to spend my special day with these Soldiers, on their last night. It seems like such a short time ago that I was their age, and wearing my Country's uniform.
We should be praying for all of our Armed Forces. But, now that it is past Midnight, and it is already Sunday, please pray especially for the First Stryker Brigade (of the 25th Infantry Division), as they leave Fort Wainwright, here in Fairbanks, Alaska, and deploy to Iraq.
More of them will be deploying over the next several days, until the whole Brigade is in Iraq.
Tonight, these guys were rowdy; these guys were loud and full of bravado; these guys were a little drunk; these guys are a little scared; these guys are American Soldiers; and these guys are wonderful.
Thanks be to God for having me spend the evening with them. May God watch over them.
Terrill Heaps +