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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Through the Valley
December 3 , 2006

      I’ve now been in Fort Riley, KS for a week of processing and the start of our standardized training sequence.  We started in individual rooms when we checked in, and now we have been moved to an open barracks, where we share a large open bay with about 40 other men.  It’s a bit cramped, but there is a huge amount of respect and tolerance for each person here.  After all, we’re all on the same mission, ultimately.

      Our check-in consisted of going through all our records and receiving new equipment: 3 duffel bags full of gear, including flak vests, helmets, new uniforms, packs, and weapons.  Lots of new toys for us to play with.  Thousands of dollars of taxpayer’s money spent on each of us.  Besides the personal cost for each one of us, the fiscal cost for equipment is enormous.

      Each of us now tends to think more about “us” than about “me” - you think in terms of what the team needs, not just your own personal wants, although your personal wants don’t go away… they just get pushed into the background.  Everyone sacrifices for the good of the group.  Even the senior leaders put themselves behind the junior Soldiers, carry their own equipment, work alongside everyone else.  It’s the Army way.

      The Army has a saying: “Train as you fight.”  We will wear the full body armor (about 25 pounds when properly outfitted) every day we train, from sunup to bedtime.  The training will become much more physical, because this equipment will be worn all the time in Afghanistan.  It may save our life one day, and so we wear it now to get used to it.  Aspirin at night helps with some of the aches and pains of being a bit older for this game.

      Yesterday was our first day of actual training.  We went to fire weapons on the rifle and pistol ranges, wearing what the Army affectionately terms “full battle rattle,” meaning all your gear.  The temperature outside was about 20 degrees, meaning we got pretty cold.  Once again, we need to get used to it, because Afghanistan gets cold in the winter, just like Ft. Riley.

      Unfortunately, I had some problems with weapons qualification, so I’ll have to go back for some remedial training.  Although I don’t have to become a rifle and pistol expert, I do have to show proficiency by scoring well with the targets.

      Our team has started to develop that warped sense of humor - the ironic outlook - of the regular military.  We joke about things a lot in small ways.  It’s a way of bonding, in a sense - we understand how we share a common heritage, a common destiny, and a common interdependence on one another.  No one complains - it’s the ultimate sin in the military.  After all, we all volunteered for this, in one way or another.

      A couple of us had a bit of a scare during the medical review when we were checking in - for one reason or another, it seemed we would be turned away and sent home, due to some medical issues.  The scare was that this would prevent us from being able to go.  Even those who did not volunteer initially now want to go and be part of this team.  (By way of a little background, our mission was originally fulfilled by Army Special Forces/Special Operations.  Being able to fill in where Army regular SpecOps/SF has gone is no small distinction.)

      Today is Sunday.  Most of us went to church somewhere this morning.  The sermon was on the 23rd Psalm.  What captured my attention was the fact that the Psalmist linked God’s leading (He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, vs. 3) with the shadow of death, in the very next verse (“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me,” vs. 4).  It gave me the feeling the Psalmist saw God leading him righteously into the valley of the shadow of death.  It gave me pause.

      Righteousness always involves personal sacrifice.  Always.  Our team has a righteous cause, and we are willing to sacrifice together to achieve a just end.

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.