Soldiers Find Faith in Iraq
November 4, 2009
MOSUL, Iraq - The water looks calm and clear. A hand wraps around the metal railing of the step ladder. A foot dips down to test the temperature before committing to full emersion. A smiling face awaits the person preparing to enter the pool of water.
But this is no ordinary pool, nor ordinary people waiting to take a dip. The cool, calm water is a baptism pool, the people are Soldiers who have been deployed to Mosul, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the smiling face awaiting them is their chaplain, who has personally helped each of them at some point during their deployment.
On Sunday, Nov. 1, Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd "Greywolf" Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division took their first steps into a world of faith at the Forward Operating Base Diamondback chapel, in Mosul, Iraq by being one of the last groups of Soldiers to be baptized during the 3rd HBCT's year-long deployment which started in December 2008.
For these Soldiers, however, it wasn't about being the first or last group. Their reasons were as diverse as they were personal.
As the Soldiers took the short drive to the chapel, they laughed and joked about the water being cold and getting "dunked." Through their laughter and jokes, they reaffirmed their decision to become baptized; an act that is, according to Capt. Will Alley, the chaplain for 3rd Bn., 8th Cav. Regt., an "outward symbol of an inward commitment."
"There is no magic or power in the act [of baptism] itself," said Capt. Alley. "All of the important decisions were made before baptism. This is just the next step."
Although the baptism process yields no special powers, it made a significant impact on Spc. Brian Adams, a gunner with the 3rd Bn. Personal Security Detachment. It was a culmination of many nights of discussion with Capt. Alley and soul-searching on his part.
"Before this, I was Pagan. I never felt really fulfilled there," said Spc. Adams. "[Afterwards] I had a feeling of being complete again."
For Spc. Adams, a Tyler, Texas native, it was also a chance to gain some closure for the death of his daughter, who died earlier this year.
"After my daughter died, I spent a lot of time with Chaplain Alley. I needed something more. In working with him, I felt a sense of peace," said Spc. Adams. "After the third or fourth time we met, I had a dream about my daughter. I could feel her in my arms. That sealed the deal for me."
He pointed to a small, silver bracelet that held a cylindrical capsule to his wrist as he said, "I also took this time to baptize what I have left of my daughter, her ashes." He wore the capsule filled with her ashes into the baptism pool as he committed to his faith.
It wasn't a matter of stepping into faith for the first time after a death for Sgt. Thomas Jones, a squad leader with Co. F, 3rd Bn., 8th Cav. Regt. as was the case with Spc. Adams.
"Getting back to faith is a matter of time," said Sgt. Jones, originally from Corpus Christi, Texas. "This was just the right time."
He also said that there was one event that sealed his decision to get baptized and return to his faith.
"Before we deployed to Iraq, a Soldier died at the railhead. He was crushed to death while loading up boxes of equipment on to the trains." said Sgt. Jones. "That kind of hit home for me. If I had to take my decision back to one event, that would probably be it."
But the main motivation for Sgt. Jones was his family. He said that he felt like his family was going in the wrong direction and it was his responsibility to guide them back to faith.
"My family needs to go back to church," he said. "I lead Soldiers. Why not lead my family as well'"
Sgt. Elson Sandoval, a team leader with Co. A, 3rd Bn., 8th Cav. Regt., agreed with Sgt. Jones that they needed to bring faith into their families and took it a little further.
"I've been married two years. It's been a rough two years. I've needed to bring God into my family," said Sgt. Sandoval. "In order to be a better husband and father, I need to work on my relationship with God first."
Sgt. Sandoval, who is from San Antonio, Texas, said his inspiration was drawn from a book called, "The Shack," where the main character is angry with God for allowing his children to die. Eventually the main character finds his way back to his faith through a series of events that change his life.
"I had a lot of the same feelings that the main character in 'The Shack.' I was angry with God," said Sgt. Sandoval. "As a kid I never knew God. Now I don't feel alone anymore. I feel welcome."
Despite the all differences that brought these Soldiers to the same decision, all three of them had one thing in common, their chaplain. Each one of the Soldiers entered the lukewarm water of the baptism pool and accepted their faith as Capt. Alley guided them, with a smile, down into the water.
Capt. Alley was honored to have the opportunity to share the baptism of each of these Soldiers as well as their experiences which led them to the water.
"With them sharing their stories with me and having the opportunity to do this out here, it is very humbling," said Capt. Alley. "It is a reminder that God loves us and works through us. I didn't do anything special. I was just there to witness what God is doing for these Soldiers."
Each of the Soldiers thanked the chaplain for being there for them. After their baptism, they all said that they felt a sense of peace. They also realized that this was just the beginning for them but felt ready to return home with their newfound faith as their deployment draws near its end.
"The fact that I could do this here with Chaplain Alley was great. I have a lot of respect for him," said Sgt. Jones. "But, this isn't my salvation. This is just the first step."