Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Puppy

I have a great boss here, who's doing his best to overcome the fact that I was sent here to be an office pogue. In addition to having been able to get outside the wire via air assets, I've now been able to visit four small outposts in one day, via ground transport -- convoy. They're located in the heart of neighborhoods, and are composed of US and Iraqi personnel. These joint operations don't have space for air assets to land, so the only way to get there is overland.

The morning we went out to visit them we were fetched by that Battalion's Chaplain and Sergeant Major. (As an aside, I never knew until I joined the Army that the word "Sergeant" is actually a one-syllable word.) When we got to the Start Point, and moved from the non-tactical vehicle to the tactical ones, that's when I noticed that Sar'nt Major has a puppy, Scout.

She's really cute: almost all black, with three white paws and a white-tipped tail. She's so small she can't get into or out of the tactical vehicles by herself. The contrast between these large men, made even larger by our bulky body armor, and this tiny puppy, became even more apparent -- and heartening -- as one of the Soldiers caught her in his arms as she eagerly jumped up so he could help her into the vehicle.

This was my first time on the road, and my first time in one of those vehicles (so much for "we train as we fight," I guess). One of the first things I noticed about the vehicle I was riding in was that both the other Chaplain and the Dismount who were in the back with me had two rather large foam pads secured together by 100 mph tape (mere mortals would call it, "duct tape") to sit on. I did not. After we got moving, it was clear why they did.


Because of the configuration of that vehicle, I could not see very much of what we passed by. There were date palms (did you know this was one of the largest date-producing areas of the world at one time?), and signs in Arabic on buildings, trash on the roofs of many structures, pock marks (I'm presuming from weapons fire) in some walls, and what looked to be homes abandoned after the collapse of roof or walls.

Much to my surprise, as we traversed the day's route, I felt totally at ease. I'd never have thought that possible, that's for sure!

It's amazing what can happen when one's Higher Power is very, very, very big -- after all, what or whom is there to fear, ultimately? At the end of the eighth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, Paul writes: "...there is nothing in all the created world that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus." I suspect if more Christians truly believed that, this world would be a very different -- and much better -- place.

The congregations for the Masses were very small, as I'd expected. Their gratitude for being able to receive Sacraments seemed boundless. I felt very humbled and grateful. The living conditions at those places are much more Spartan than what I experience "at home" here Down Range. But I heard no grumbling about that at all.

Some of these guys are on their third combat deployment in five years.

They have spent more time away from their wives and young children than with them.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of America is at the mall.

Or watching American Idol.

Or sitting at their computers in their mother's basement, cheering able-bodied-yet-civilian Sean Hannity on the TV, and ranting online about how unpatriotic *others* are because they don't "support the troops."

Two of those outposts had dogs of their own. One of those other dogs is much older and larger than Scout, but was clearly intimidated by her. (I wonder if he knew that she belongs to the Sar'nt Major?) Everywhere we went, Scout was eager to be petted by any Soldier she encountered, and it seemed as though she was "making the rounds" as much as Sar'nt Major was.

Any on whom she imposed herself -- even, or perhaps especially, the men returning from a patrol -- clearly very dirty, tired, glad to shed the body armor -- would immediately smile as her tail would shake her whole body with its enthusiastic wagging. Grimy faces brightened at her approach, even before the wet kisses.

She got so excited at one point, she had a rather imposing 'accident,' which occasioned a lot of laughter. (I think SGM had a PFC clean it up....)

After our last stop, as we were mounting up to return, Scout was in the vehicle I was riding in. Without hesitation, she hopped up into the empty seat beside me, and proceeded to stretch out, and then curl up as if for a nap. It turned out, though, that she was actually eying the Dismount, biding her time. As soon as he got up to do something in preparation for our departure, she sprang up and hopped into his seat with the cushion on it.

Smart doggie.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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1 comment:

Mary Coady said...

Hi, T.
Rafe* sends tail wags, licks and encouragement to La Scout who sounds like potential girlfriend material for Raphael Oro Cxxxx(and a few other fancy names).

You're lucky to have her on board. They're smart. They notice things. And if she needs a long term home, we should have a discussion.

Best from Mary and Raphael*
(her incredibly smart, incredibly wired, red headed Golden Retriever). Hugs from Mary, licks from the Rafer.

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