By Ms. Megan Doyle (Chaplain Corps)January 22, 2014
On December, 4 1992 President George H.W. Bush ordered 28,000 U.S. Troops into Somalia as part of a United Nations humanitarian mission to combat a widespread famine. Retired Chaplain Duncan Baugh was a captain at the time when he found out he would deploy to Somalia with the 43rd Support Group out of Fort Carson, CO.
"I was really excited about having the opportunity to deploy because as a young, enlisted Soldier I'd been in Vietnam and I had a vision of what I wished chaplains would do," he said, referring to his service deployed as a combat medic during the Vietnam War.
"When Soldiers find themselves in harm's way, it may very well be the first recognition that they are mortal. When confronted with imminent and frequent danger, there really is no dodging it: you realize that you can die that very day. You begin to think about life a little differently. Having a chaplain present and able to speak to that sense of vulnerability is helpful."
In Somalia, under the United Nations (UN) Charter, Baugh's unit became part of the Joint Logistical Task Force at the Mogadishu University Compound. As a mid-level captain chaplain, Baugh coordinated religious support for Americans across the country, while also providing direct support to American, Swedish, Pakistani, and Nigerian service members.
In the early stages of the deployment in Somalia, the focus was truly humanitarian support. Due to the food shortage, though, there were internal tribal rivalries and raids to attempt to gain control of food and power. In March of 1993, UN Resolution 814 gave the international forces authority to intervene with tribal raiding. In June, Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid attacked Pakistani UN Forces, killing 14.
"From that point forward, it was not even close to a humanitarian effort. It now became a military operation to eliminate hostilities," Baugh said. "Nothing really changed with regards to the religious support mission that we were doing, except its importance and relevance to Soldiers was accentuated. It wasn't just abstractly scary anymore -- it became legitimately scary."
"We were attacked at the university compound every night. You could set your clock by it: we were going to be mortared at seven o'clock and probed later that night. So the whole psychology changed at that point."
The focus for UN troops in Somalia had switched from delivering food to staving off attacks and finding Aidid.
"The thing I remember the most about this time is both the positive and the negative: first, that there truly is an absolutely beneficial role that chaplains play in the military formation in a dangerous and frightening environment. And the second thing that I am increasingly reminded of, particularly as I grow older, is the exorbitant cost of war," Baugh said.
Due to his experience in Vietnam, the young chaplain had recommended to his Soldiers in Somalia from the beginning that they should determine their individual purpose during the deployment. These Soldiers had deployed with the understanding that it was a humanitarian mission. That's what Baugh had told his kids when he left: he was going to feed the children and solve the famine that the world had heard about on the news.
But everything shifted in June of 1993.
"This is not what we were sold," Baugh remembers thinking when the situation escalated. "This is not what they told us it was. This is a combat zone."
"When Soldiers are involved in a situation where they might get killed, or they might kill somebody, you look around, and your whole world has been shaken. You look for stability," Baugh said. "As a chaplain with combat experience I had two things in my favor. One of them is I know what they are going through and second, I know that there's a higher calling."
The tone of his sermons changed when the mission transformed.
"What I thought that they needed was encouragement and hope. Because it's not about 'you're gonna die and you might as well try to get your life in order.' It's that you can live with hope in the moment despite the fearful environment. That's a theme that resonates with Soldiers."
With a father who was a World War II Veteran, and with his own experience in three combat theaters, Baugh today observes that each generation of Veterans has a kindred experience and a common journey: finding some sort of stability to be able to live with what they have experienced.
"A deployment is a very exciting time, especially for younger Soldiers because it's part of the adventure," Baugh said. "But once you have experienced war, how you view life changes."
His father, like many WWII Vets, never talked about the war directly. He and his buddies told "war stories," but these recollections mostly focused on the lighter moments. After his own experience in Vietnam, Baugh began to understand what he had observed in his father. Though Baugh remembers the damage and the danger from Vietnam, his favorite stories don't focus on these serious memories.
"I choose to remember what was encouraging, humorous, and reassuring. That helps me to find the balance --remembering that something good came out of it," he said.
"I wasn't sure if I was angry that I'd lost my innocence…or that I was blessed for surviving," Baugh said about his combat experience. "There's a tension. The absolute very best in people comes out in those environments. And the absolute very worst. It's rich with life…and death. A Soldier in that environment is living off a lot of adrenaline. You are hypernormal."
Baugh compares his experience as a medic in the early days of his career to his role as a chaplain later on. As a non-combatant, a medic is part of the combat formation, but focused on saving lives while the others fight the enemy. This is in some ways a metaphor for what chaplains do, he says.
"Soldiers will talk to the medic or the chaplain about things that are disturbing them about their role or involvement in war," Baugh said. "When a Soldier knows that they have killed someone, a piece of them is changed forever. They will wrestle with that for a very long time wondering 'What now? Or Who am I now?' They will either try to bury it or be overwhelmed by the guilt. Getting it in the open, working through it in your own head is essential to finding your way. Realizing that whatever occurred doesn't define you, that there is more to you than any single experience, is critical in continuing your life in a positive way."
When he left Vietnam in 1970, Baugh said, he was a Soldier in combat one day and a civilian in the San Francisco airport 24 hours later.
"I thought, 'Hey -- I'm home!' But it's not over. Something has changed," Baugh realized. "It isn't over when they redeploy you. There is a process that you have to work through. It takes time."
So, when his unit was preparing to leave Somalia at the end of their deployment, Baugh requested to address the Soldiers for 15 minutes.
"'In the next 90 days,'" he told 2,600 Soldiers, "'You are going to experience the following things…' And I just ran off a list. It wasn't written about then. I just drew it from my own experience [in Vietnam]."
"And I said 'You don't need to remember a thing I'm saying, except this: you are going to experience it. And when you do, it's normal. That's it. And you can come talk to me."
Indeed, Soldiers came back to him a few weeks later asking "How'd you know?"
"Having deployed to Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and then being in the Pentagon on 9/11… there's not as much difference between all of those different events as one would think," Baugh said. "It is a normal human reaction of coming to grips with the kind of experiences war produces. To reestablish and reaffirm 'normal' is what needs to happen…though it may in fact be a new normal."
Right before Baugh's unit was about depart Somalia, an improvised explosive device (IED) killed four American Soldiers in a Humvee. Baugh recalls the packed memorial service at the University of Mogadishu. But the thing that really stuck with him was how international forces lined the streets on their way to the airfield. Huge representations from each of the over twenty countries stood in formation, saluting. At the time, they didn't do ramp services to send off the fallen. These international troops had heard through word of mouth that the Americans were going to be brought there and they showed up by the hundreds.
"The voluntary, respectful tribute paid by so many Soldiers from so many countries helped me realize how much of one world we really were," Baugh said. "We didn't know each other on a personal level but [due to] the shared sense of respect for the joint United Nations mission… they came to pay respect and say goodbye."