Whether on the home front or the front lines, many LDS military families are making great sacrifices on behalf of their country. As husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters are asked to serve abroad, family members are left behind to carry on at home. Here is a look at some of their personal experiences, as compiled in the book Faith in the Service.
The idea to write the bookFaith in the Service came to me as I was casually going about my normal routine of weekend yard work. As I labored, I noticed my dear neighbor and her sons working in their yard. I then remembered the reason why her husband was not working alongside them—he had recently been deployed to Iraq. Their ability to take care of items back home while their husband and father serves our country remains an inspiration to me. I realized that both those deployed and those back home that support them have a story to tell.
Desiring to find and publish these stories, I was in Afghanistan within two months, meeting with amazing people and compiling lessons learned in the battlefield. Within minutes of being picked up at the Kabul International Airport, I was fitted with a level-three armored vest and taken to a see a crater on the perimeter of the airport. The cavity and surrounding destruction were created only 16 days prior, by a suicide bomber detonating his explosive-laden vehicle. I spent the majority of my time in the nation's capital city at Camp Eggers. The spiritual highlight of my time in Afghanistan was certainly the two-hour Church service with the Saints. Gathered were 27 members, consisting of soldiers and a few civilians. For me, it was an emotionally powerful experience from the very beginning. Among the words of the invocation was a humble petition to Heavenly Father for the safety and well being of "our families back home." I have never heard a prayer which united those present as much as this one. I immediately thought of the Church meetings in my home ward.
Consistently, group prayers include sentiments to protect those at war and in harm's way. It was an interesting perspective to be among those who were at war and in harm's way, and to hear them pray for their loved ones back home. It was a powerful sight to see worthy priesthood holders, wearing their desert fatigues and side arms, bless and pass the sacrament. In closing, we sang "God Be with You 'Til We Meet Again." I will always be grateful to have been so blessed to have experienced such a gentle, yet significant event.
On the Front Lines
The large volume of experiences I gathered demonstrates how we can all spiritually flourish regardless of our circumstances. This dedication to living the gospel was firmly stated by First Lieutenant David DeMille. "There is no compromising when it comes to keeping the commandments," he says. "There is not a different gospel in a combat zone. Regardless of where you are, there are no excuses." The following are personal experiences of LDS soldiers on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Listen the First Time
CW2 Jared Kimber
U.S. Army, Blackhawk pilot
Iraq, three deployments
During my second deployment to Iraq, we were stationed in Kirkuk. As a pilot of a medical evacuation helicopter, we have to be ready to pick up wounded soldiers and bring them to the hospital at any hour of the day or night. When soldiers suffer injuries, we are the first ones they call.
One night, we got the call to go rescue some soldiers that were shot up pretty bad. It is always better to not be seen when flying in a hostile environment, so we flew this night-time mission blacked out (without any lights on). If the enemy can see us, they can shoot a missile at us, so we take every precaution to be as stealthy as possible. Our night-vision goggles enabled us to navigate at night.
As we approached the area where we needed to make our pickup, I tried to make radio contact with the soldiers. As I diverted my attention down to the radio I felt like I should look up. I knew I needed to make radio contact, so I continued focusing on the radio. I again was prompted to look up. I still ignored the prompting when suddenly it was as if someone grabbed my helmet and forced me to look up. I looked and saw a silhouette of one of our blacked-out helicopters flying near us. I instinctively knew that the oncoming helicopter was flying in a pair and so I immediately looked for the second helicopter. After seeing the first helicopter, I yelled to my co-pilot to turn left. Instead, he dove the helicopter downward.
As we dove, I looked to my left just in time to see the second helicopter upon us and flaring upward. We were so close that when I looked out my window I could see the two pilots in their seats! It was a very scary experience. If I had looked out my window half a second later we would have collided for sure. I have since thought about the experience many times. If I would have looked out after the first prompting it would not have been a close call and we could have maneuvered easily out of each other's way. I ignored the Spirit a couple of times, but thankfully Heavenly Father was not going to let me ignore it a third time. I learned from this experience that I need to quit being stubborn and pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit the first time. I know that Heavenly Father is looking out for me and I need to do my part to let Him take care of me.
Another Zion's Camp?
1st Lieutenant David DeMille
Afghanistan, March '06-March '07
One time our convoy was out on night patrol. We stopped by what was known as a "district center." The district center compound was the location for the area's main Afghan government buildings and police station.
It was normal for us to occasionally visit this center at night. Normally we would arrive to find everyone except a few guards asleep. This night everyone was awake and in their defensive fighting positions. We asked what was going on and they explained they had received intelligence which indicated they were going to be attacked that night. My convoy decided to stay and help them defend their post. We quickly did our best to hide our trucks in the compound so the enemy would not detect our presence. Since we did not have cots or beds, we slept either on the ground or on the hoods of our trucks.
About halfway through the night, it suddenly started to rain. It was pouring. Within a few seconds, my guys were soaked head to toe. We quickly climbed into our trucks, but we were already drenched and miserable. We spent the rest of the night trying to sleep in wet and uncomfortable positions. The night slowly turned into morning without an attack.
The next day, we continued on our patrol route soaking, smelly, and miserable. A few days later, I had the opportunity to visit a larger U.S. base and actually attend a Church meeting. I cannot remember all the details of the lesson, but it was about Church history and Zion's Camp. The instructor shared how a mob was coming to attack the Saints and that the Lord prevented the attack by sending a fierce storm. I then thought of the wet night I had just experienced. I do not know if we would have been attacked that night, but that same Afghan district center had been hit before, and a few days after we were there. Although the rain made us miserable, it may have prevented a violent attack. No one would have attacked in that kind of horrible weather.
I have since thought that when something happens in our life that makes us totally miserable, maybe it is God intervening to keep us safe. Or maybe He is blessing us in a way we cannot immediately understand. Although we might be miserable for a time, don't worry about it. The trial will not kill us. We might be miserable for a day, but in the long run God might be doing His part to bless or save our lives.
Sacrament Meeting in a Blackhawk
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jared Kimber
U.S. Army, Blackhawk Pilot
Iraq, three deployments
My first deployment to Iraq came during the beginning of the war. We had been working nonstop and under incredible stress. Being witnesses to the brutalities of war began to take its toll on us. As a pilot of a medical evacuation helicopter, I never had days off and was always on call.
One Sunday, my unit did not have any scheduled assignments. One of the guys in the unit who was a Church member suggested that we have a sacrament meeting. Because of my duties in the war, it had been over a month since I had been able to attend any kind of Church service. I was anxious for the opportunity.
We rounded up five other men and decided to gather around our Blackhawk helicopter. We tried to be as formal as we could under the circumstances. After a hymn and a prayer, we placed the bread and water on the helicopter's external fuel tank and blessed the sacrament. I learned that you do not have to be in a perfect setting to feel the spirit of the sacrament. We read from the scriptures and shared our testimonies about what a blessing it is to hold the priesthood. To bless and partake of the sacrament in such an ancient and holy land was truly amazing to us. It was great to share that memorable experience with some wonderful guys who were trying their best to honor the priesthood—even during a war.
The Power of the Priesthood
Major Henry D. McCain
U.S. Army Chaplain
Iraq, February 2004–January 2005 and March 2007–February 2008
The main military hospital located in Baghdad is the Combat Army Surgical Hospital (CASH). It is located in "The Green Zone," which is a well-fortified, secure area where high-ranking U.S. and Iraqi officials are located. As soldiers are wounded, they are driven or flown to the CASH, where they are stabilized and prepared to be flown to the large military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.
For the first three months of my deployment, I visited wounded soldiers at the CASH every three days. When I arrived at the hospital, I would immediately start looking for the LDS soldier among rooms that contained three or four recuperating soldiers each. When I found my soldier he would often say, "Chaplain, I want a blessing; I need a blessing; please give me a blessing." Nearly every time I performed a priesthood blessing, the other soldiers of different faiths in the room would each ask, "I know you are not my chaplain and are busy, but would you please give me a blessing too?" On many occasions I would use up the entire bottle of consecrated oil in one hospital visit.
To my knowledge, the soldiers recovered to an extent they never thought possible. If their ability to walk again was in question, they were able to walk again. If they were worried about a large scar, the scar healed and was barely noticeable. If their extremities were damaged, they were able to function again. Those soldiers had faith in the blessings, and the subsequent healing was due to their faith as much as mine.
On the Home Front
As we know, soldiers are not the only ones who are making sacrifices to serve their country. Countless families are left behind to carry on as they pray for the safe return of their loved ones. Here are some experiences of those families.
Supporting Our Son
Father of Corporal Loren Haller, U.S. Army
Iraq, March 2004—March 2005
April 4, 2004, is a day that has become known as Black Sunday. [Eight U.S. soldiers were killed and about 50 wounded in Sadr City, Iraq.] On that particular weekend, more than 10,000 miles away in Anchorage, Alaska, my wife and I were attending a series of televised sessions of general conference at our stake center. I recall that a melancholy feeling overcame Sister Haller and me that Sunday morning, though we were not able to understand why.
As the day went on, our concern increasingly became focused on our eldest son, Loren. Eager to serve in the war, he transferred from his Alaska National Guard unit into the active army's much-honored and much-decorated First Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. A few months before he was deployed to Iraq, he briefly visited home, and I gave him a father's priesthood blessing.
After arriving home from the final conference session that April, we received news of a battle and heavy fighting in Sadr City that involved elements of the First Cavalry Division. Unable to find any real news updates, my wife and I could only wait. Within a few hours of the battle's end, Loren called. He was safe, but his best friend, Dusty, a former Alabama Army National Guardsman with a young family, wasn't. Loren's loss was deep.
A news agency caught video and photos of the engagement. Among them was a photo of Loren defending his fellow soldiers. He was standing in the turret of an inadequately armored, unprotected truck, doing his best to return fire to the enemy. Though he was left with many questions about why he was blessed to survive when others died, he credited the outcome to his father's priesthood blessing and his own Boy Scout training marksmanship. Pondering his battles, Loren mourns for comrades that have died and has concern for those who were severely wounded. He leaves for Iraq again this October, this time as the leader of troops.
The Ward Made It Bearable
Wife of Lieutenant Rick Gabbitas,
U.S. Navy Afghanistan
As my husband, Rick, serves in Afghanistan, each of our four children (Kathleen, age 9; Bob, age 6; Belle, age 2; and Tom, age 1) has learned to deal with the absence of his or her father in different ways. With Rick far from home, we've developed new ways to remain close as a family. A bulletin board near the kids' rooms features pictures, letters, maps, and news articles about Afghanistan. Rick's weekly emails are always featured on the board. Before he left, the kids and I decorated envelopes, with each child having his or her own designated color.
When Rick sends letters, he uses special envelopes so the kids know immediately which letter is theirs. Belle doesn't read, but she does know that yellow envelopes mean she has received a letter from her daddy. She sleeps with those letters. Sundays are the hardest day because that's when we miss him the most. Attending church with four small children is hard enough with two parents, and with one parent it's nearly impossible.
I remember one Sunday when Belle threw a tantrum in the foyer before sacrament meeting even started. I just went home. Rick happened to be online at the time, so we were able to chat online. He was having a hard time too because he was the only Latter-day Saint for at least 100 miles. We made a deal that I would go to church each week, and he would have his own sacrament service each week. I prayed hard that week that things would get better and that I would start enjoying church. That's when I received a call from a sister in my ward. She simply asked what she could do to help me on Sundays. She and others began to assist me during our Sunday meetings, which has allowed me to be spiritually renewed for another week of being both mother and father.
Our ward has helped out in many other ways as well. The young men came at the beginning of the summer and prepared my yard for planting. The young women provided babysitting. One of the most gracious and unexpected blessings came when an anonymous member of the ward hired a girl to help me for 20 hours each week. This sweet gift enabled me to focus on being a mom instead of feeling overwhelmed.
One Sunday, a brother in our ward helped me by scooping up a screaming Belle while I was carrying Tom out to the foyer during sacrament meeting. I had never even talked to him before. This kind man then said that he heard I was having car problems and offered to look at my car for me. When he did, he had the problem fixed in 20 minutes. These are examples of our temporal needs being met, but our spiritual ones are also being fed. We are blessed with a wonderful bishop who has given me blessings and has ensured that my Church callings aren't overly taxing. I have also received many kind comments and inquiries as to how my husband is doing. They have written and emailed him, which I know he appreciates.
Going into this separation, we both knew it would be difficult. We also knew it would provide growing opportunities for everyone in our family. I know each of us has gained more compassion for others as they endure their trials. I'm more grateful for the kindnesses of others. We also appreciate our father and husband more than we ever did before. We're grateful for the gospel and our membership in such a wonderful church. We're grateful for all of the prayers of others on our behalf. As one of my nonmember military friends put it, "You're lucky you're a Mormon because you'll have help and friends wherever you go." That has proven to be the case many times, and I'm sure it will be true for our future adventures in the Navy.
Lead image from Shutterstock
Chad S. Hawkins graduated from Weber State University with a BFA. He has published over 80 temple drawings and paintings. Twelve of his works of art have been permanently encased in temple cornerstones. His painting of the Vernal Utah Temple hangs on the walls within that edifice. He is the author and illustrator of five books including Faith in the Service, from which this article is excerpted, and The First 100 Temples. Chad and his wife, Stephanie, are the parents of five children.