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S.C. priest reflects on his ministry in Iraq

Editor’s Note: Father Gary Linsky, a priest of the Diocese of Charleston and a U.S. Air Force chaplain, is currently stationed in Iraq. He wrote this letter in January to share his experience.

Dear Friends/Family:

My sister had written asking for some reflections on the war to share with members of her Bible Study.  While this does not exactly address the questions her friends had raised it may put into perspective what many of our young men and women are experiencing here in Iraq.

I had a powerful experience last night. I was called on my radio at around 3:30 a.m. and was told that a chaplain was needed at the hospital. I tried to raise my hospital chaplain on the radio, but he’ll sleep through anything so I just decided to respond myself. It took me about 20 minutes to get dressed, hit the bathroom, walk to the office, open the combo lock on our office door, retrieve the keys, walk to the vehicle parking area and find the vehicle I had the keys to and then drive to the hospital. 

The young Army specialist (sharpshooter) was waiting for me on a gurney in the emergency room. He wouldn’t allow them to take him into surgery until I had come and accompanied him to pay farewell to his point man and best friend who had been shot down by an insurgent during a house raid. The specialist was himself shot by the insurgent in his left hand, but was able to react as he had been trained and shot the insurgent before acknowledging his own pain. 

After giving us a few moments alone to talk and to pray, the nurses and doctors wheeled his gurney to an adjacent tent where his sergeant’s body lay on another gurney. The living and the dead were side to side, head to head. The sergeant’s eyes and mouth had been sewn shut and his left arm was exposed above the covers and laid across his chest.

As the medical staff withdrew, I said prayers of commendation for the sergeant’s soul, simply asking God to have mercy on him, to forgive his sins and to bring him unto Himself. After making the sign of the cross on his now-cool forehead, I led the specialist in a prayer for his friend, his friend’s family and fiancée and for himself. After more tears were shed and we had prayed for the success of his own surgery, he was at peace enough for the medical staff to take him away. As they wheeled him forward, I looked back as the remaining staff zipped the black rubber body bag shut.

This afternoon I had the opportunity to see the specialist both at the hospital and the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility where he awaited transport to Germany. Thankfully, only two of the fingers of his left hand were amputated. We spoke some more about the attack. He was deeply relieved that he hadn’t killed the insurgent’s son as he had feared when we spoke last night.

His dreams had been tormented as he recalled over and over what had happened. However, his commander told him what he had seen was the insurgent’s son covered in his own father’s blood. This young man is only 22 but has seen extremes of good and evil that most his age should never have to witness. His appreciation of my spiritual intervention was profound. In my mind what I did was simply my duty. I am only thankful that I was able to give him some peace. 

In our encounters, the specialist admitted that he wasn’t a religious man prior to coming to Iraq. He wasn’t raised to be. He wasn’t even sure how to pray. But he’s now ready, after losing four buddies in this war, to search for God. I told him that God himself will help him because God has always been near to him, waiting for him to be ready. I told him I wouldn’t proselytize or tell him, in the few minutes we had, what to do. I simply told him to ask God to lead him and then for him to follow. 

The Army Mortuary Affairs staff just stopped by my office to inform us that the sergeant’s remains and that of a British soldier will be flown out tonight. Chaplains on my staff will conduct what we call a “Patriot Ceremony” on board the aircraft. We’ll send their physical remains on to their loved ones with dignity, prayers and honor.

Only this morning, the New York Times indicated that the leader of the insurgency predicts a much protracted war. It is the young men in the Army and Marines such as this specialist and his sergeant — kids in their prime, with dreams and hopes that either end here or will be altered forever — who will bear the brunt of this war. On the day after the inauguration, we can only continue to pray for peace and for a new reign of reason in a land so conflicted and unable to grasp the virtues and vision we seek to provide. May I end by asking your continued prayers for these valiant men and women and all who serve in our Armed Forces throughout our troubled world!

Fraternally,

Gary S. Linsky, Ch, Lt Col, USAF

Wing Chaplain






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