I had an opportunity a while back to interview my brother in Law about his time in the Marines when he served in Iraq. As Christians discussing war and soldiers can at times stir up a lot of debate, but this article is in no way a theological thesis on the theology of war. This is simply an interview with a veteran that impacted me a great deal and helped me to walk in his shoes and understand a bit more in terms of what may be going on in the lives of those that have come back from war and how we as Christians can be there for them.
Donovan wanted to talk about his experiences because he knows that so many soldiers that come home don’t talk about their experiences and they live with the pain of what they have seen and been through. His dream is to end the stigma and hopes to inspire others to be open about what they are feeling.
About My Brother-in-Law | Sergeant Donovan
My brother-in-Law, Donovan served for 12 years in the marines, 2 enlistments, and 3 tours. He served in Fallujah (Iraq) which he described as a place “where all the drama was at”. We talked about the good and bad. He admitted there were terrible things that happened, but he also spoke about the fun parts too. He talked about hanging with the fellas, being on base, and the bonds that he formed between and during missions.
He described the intensity of being in the environment. That although you may be having fun one moment, the next moment you may be bombed. He told me that they were in a state of constant hi-alert. They would go out for a week at a time on missions and as they would be traveling from point A to Point B they would often be shot at. As I was listening, it just sounded like a constant state of pressure. I couldn’t imagine a constant state of “I may die at any moment”.
I was nervous asking him this, because I just always thought you shouldn’t ask a vet this question, but I thought it would be appropriate because he wanted to help break the stigma.
“The hardest part is losing people, the second hardest is being away from family”
He spoke about how hard it was to be away from family. He told me that being away from his sister (my wife), La Micia was one of the hardest parts of his time in Iraq.
He then went on to tell me a story that I know he has seldom told. He told me about his friend, Lance Corporal Bunny. “Bunny left base to switch out troops at a checkpoint right outside the base and a vehicle with a bomb blew everyone up, this was the hardest part of war.” Donovan said.
I thanked him for being willing to share such a hard story with me. My heart just started to go out to him and these guys that are exposed to such tragedy and trauma on a regular basis.
Q: What kept you going through all of this?
Family/Friends back home: Donovan told me about the care packages he received. He came to expect and anticipate these care packages for the encouragement he got from them. He also received letters from friends and from the Church.
Fellow Marines: Donovan said “the camaraderie was dope”. He told me how they would stick with each other, play pranks on each other and work out together. He mentioned how they had a connection with a communication guy who helped them rig an ethernet cable so they could play some Halo on their down time!
Q: How can Christians be there for Veterans?
“Faith can definitely help” because in war you are very aware of the fact that “when it’s your time, it’s your time”. Donovan also mentioned how it is also important not to “bible thump” any veterans and to be patient and compassionate.
Donovan also went on to talk about how “not all wounds are visible” and so many soldiers walk around with injuries that people cannot see and some of the wounds may or may not completely heal and they definitely are not going to heal on someone else’s timeline.
Q: Can you share a little bit about PTSD?
This was a really interesting part of our convo. Donovan told me that during his first tour he didn’t see anything too crazy and there wasn’t any heavy bombing like during his 2nd tour, but he said he still came home from that with PTSD because of “the constant threat of danger”. He told me how every object could be a bomb so when he came home one minute he would be fine and the next second would be overcome with anxiety and it could be at the sight of a trash can because a trash can in Iraq can be a container for a bomb. He also told me about how he can be triggered around larger groups of people because of the need to be so aware.
The next comment he made really stuck with me: “I haven’t been to Iraq since 2007 and it is still something that I think about everyday”
He went on to tell me how his PTSD impacted his life coming home. “It is like a monkey on your back…sometimes even when I know I am wrong I can still feel angry…I used to call my sister in tears because of the depression… irritability, anger, it can be a struggle to love”
Q: What advice would you give to other Veterans?
“Therapy was the best thing I could have done” .
Donovan also talked about the importance of veterans talking about their experiences and what they are dealing with.
“A lot of veterans don’t like to talk about it”
Donovan told me that he came to the conclusion in the last few years that it is important to talk. “We are too silent, too hardcore… it drives me crazy. It doesn’t mean I need to cry about it everyday. I am going to speak on behalf of the people that won’t or can’t speak up. I am not going to tell every war story, but I will speak about it.
Personal Reflection & Thoughts for Christians:
I have my personal thoughts and convictions on war, but when trying to show someone love it is seldom a good idea to bring up all my opinions and theological concerns! I think it is important to not let our theology get in the way of loving people. I think sometimes Christians can avoid veterans because we just don’t know how to engage or we have such strong opinions about war that we avoid them.
The reality is that many veterans are hurting and they need safe spaces to heal. A true christian community should be able to offer a safe space for them to heal. Imagine if Jesus avoided or mistreated the Roman Centurion?:
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
– Matthew 8:5-13
This soldier was commended as having greater faith than anyone else in Israel! The centurion understood authority and it was because of his military background that many of the concepts of faith, duty, obedience, authority came so natural to him.
So many veterans are special people and have incredible gifts. Let’s be who we need to be as Christians to show them that Church needs them and that God has incredible plans to use them and their values (faithful duty, respect, brotherhood, camaraderie, family, mission mindedness). Values that are so needed to permeate throughout Christianity.
Where are the soldiers for the Lord at? Christianity needs you and we salute you!