Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Over the past couple of years, and especially since starting this blog and being deployed to Iraq, I've developed quite a lively and rich online correspondence with U.S. military personnel far from wherever I might happen to be.

At first, it was all by email. These days, at times, we're able to use an online instant messenger service (did you know that the Army has its own internal online instant messenger?), or even talk by phone. Lately, FaceBook and MySpace have become primary venues for this sort of interaction as well.

The list keeps growing, the longer I'm in uniform.

Because of this blog, I've become acquainted with Soldiers and their families whom I've never even met in person (yet). It's been a delight, and an awesome responsibility.

For some reason, more and more Veterans who've been through the wringer of war have been chatting with me online. Perhaps it's the anonymity of the internet (though I do know the names of most of them), or the personal security of vulnerability at a distance. I'm not sure.

But even with the geographical separation and the lack of having met in person, something good happens.

For both of us.

For example, one young man (I'll call him Chuck) whom I'd never known before contacted me via email quite some time ago. He was in the process of separation from the military after many years of courageous and honorable service, and two combat deployments to Iraq. Like many Veterans of the Global War on Terrorism (or whatever we're calling it these days), he had been wounded in combat -- both physically and psychically.

When we started our correspondence, he was drinking heavily and taking rather large doses of medication for pain. He was very depressed, and I feared for his safety. Jobless, living alone, wrangling a seemingly uncaring and uncompromising V.A. Hospital system, facing the immanent break-up of yet another relationship, he fought the demons of his past and present, alone.

It broke my heart.

I'm grateful that my friends who go to a lot of Al-Anon meetings have kept reminding me -- about every aspect of my life -- that "messiah" is not part of my job description.

That's a very painful lesson to learn, and it's taking me a lifetime to learn it!

Chuck and I began to speak by phone, tentatively at first, and then almost daily. For more than eighteen months we communicated via technology, having never met in person.

Slowly Chuck began to move away from the dark place which had almost engulfed him. Over the past three years now, he's overcome much of the agoraphobia which held him hostage to Iraq and a prisoner of his fears and resentments. I tried to speak with him from Iraq as often as I could (the time difference was a real pain!), and we emailed each other several times a week.

He's managed to rejoin society and has found an interest which captivates his attention and may grow into a rewarding career. Chuck still experiences frustration with a V.A. system fraught with delay and dereliction of duty. He still struggles against physical and psychic pain, soldiering ever onward in the midst of wounds still in need of healing, but with a lighter heart and a more hopeful spirit.

I'd hoped to be able to visit him after my deployment to Iraq ended, but with only a few days before having to report in for the train-up for Kosovo, that's just not to be.

I expect we'll continue to email one another, and I'll call whenever I can from Kosovo, and someday we'll find ourselves in the same place at the same time.

Until then, I'll keep praying, and ask that you do, too.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

View My Milblogging.com Profile

1 comment:

Donna F. (Richardson Springs retreat) said...

"For some reason, more and more Veterans who've been through the wringer of war have been chatting with me online."

My guess is that they reach out to you for the same reason the rest of us do - because of your willingness to share your experience, strength, and hope with others. And, Captain-Doctor-Father-Person in recovery-Tim, you have a lot of experience, strength, and hope to share! That's something many of us are grateful for.

Thank you for being of service.

Powered By Ringsurf