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Praying for peace: A chaplain's perspective

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael S. Tinnon
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Chapel
In light of the United States' heavy involvement in overseas contingency operations, it has not been uncommon to see or hear of civilians protesting the war at front gates of military installations around the world. 

A few years ago, in the United States, one female college basketball player captured the attention of national and international media, refusing to address the flag during the National Anthem and instead turning her back to the flag. 

In civilian life many people misunderstand the military mission. Many have challenged me as an Air Force chaplain questioning, "How can I wear the uniform which symbolizes war and also wear the cross upon it which symbolizes peace?" 

It is very easy for me to tell them that, by law and by statute, the primary mission of the military of the United States is, first and foremost, to preserve peace; second, to provide for the security of our country; its borders and internal security; and third, to implement national policy as it pertains to peace treaties with friendly nations which of themselves cannot repel the aggression of avaricious neighbors. 

I see nothing in this mission that does not appeal to the highest ideals of any man or woman regardless of his/her religion. Indeed, it was Cardinal O'Neal, the great churchman, who once said, "If I had not become a priest, I most certainly would have had to be a soldier, because they are both called to identical missions; that is, the preservation of peace, the establishment of justice when it has been lost, and the providing of security with protection for the weak and innocent." 

Yes, every citizen is entitled to the right of personal freedom of speech, a right guaranteed by the sacrifice of thousands of courageous military service members who risked their lives to ensure freedom of speech. 

Army Gen. Roland M. Geszer once said, "People seem to forget that the Soldier - not the journalist, has preserved the freedom of the press; the Airman - not the poet, has preserved freedom of speech; the Sailor and Marine - not the campus organizer, has preserved the freedom to demonstrate." Thomas Paine said, "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it." 

The Bible does not always give simple, ready-made solutions to the complicated moral issues of nuclear war, the threat of brutal dictators using weapons of mass destruction, the fight against global terrorism or counteracting insurgencies around the world. These are issues with which we must struggle individually and with one another. 

Few recollections from the time of the Vietnam conflict captured the emotions of the period as well as those of a civilian minister from my hometown of Lexington, Ky. He was attending the funeral of a 19-year-old Army Soldier, one of the nearly 57,000 American servicemen who were killed in Vietnam. 

"This whole business of war disturbs me," he wrote. "I have never felt compelled to enlist as a chaplain. The truth is I am not eager to see war firsthand." He didn't know the Soldier, his family or anyone at the funeral. In fact, he only attended on an impulse. 

Surveying the grief-torn family, he could tell they were poor and common people - faceless people who put gas in your car, or sell you shoes, or fix your gutters or deliver mail; nobody to me ... or maybe more to me than I ever could realize. He followed them in his car to a country cemetery. "I was going to see the boy buried because I felt indebted to him. He died for me and my children - he deserved some respect." 

As the procession passed people busy at their daily routines, he thought, "Heroes die so little boys can play baseball on vacant lots, and men and women can go to work and support their families and students can learn or demonstrate." When the quiet and simple service concluded, he walked over to the grief-stricken mother and father and took them by the hand. "I wasn't acting the preacher," he wrote. "I was just a man with two children of my own. I came today because I'm grateful" - he told them. "I did not know your boy, nor do I know you - but thank you! Thanks a lot!" 

Today, as we carry out our nation's business as usual at Hurlburt Field and on Air Force bases and at deployed sites around the world, Airmen pray for peace. On aircraft carriers, destroyers and nuclear submarines carrying out the nation's orders on the high seas, Sailors pray for peace. On dark, unsettling patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan and other unnamed places, Soldiers and Marines pray for peace. 

Gen. Douglas Macarthur once said, "The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he/she must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war." 

In times like these - it seems that our faith in God and our universal need for prayer serve as a common denominator. Let us all continue to pray for peace.

(This article includes a collection of ideas, thoughts, and quotes based on the experience of Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael Tinnon as well as selected excerpts from a National Prayer Breakfast speech given by Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Norris Einertson, Army Chief of Chaplains, February 1987).