27: In the Line of Duty
Stories in this episode: As a newly enlisted soldier in the Royal Canadian Navy, Warren finds himself and his faith at odds with military tradition during a fancy dinner; Verdi makes a surprising traffic stop on a late night policing shift that changes his perspective about human dignity; Nicole learns what it really means to trust God when she is left to hold down the fort during her husband’s military deployment.
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Welcome to This Is The Gospel—an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
When I was living in South Korea, the branch I attended was part of the US military district. And in my second year of teaching, I got a calling to be the young single adult representative for the whole district, which meant that I was often required to travel from my little corner of Seoul to all the other branches and a lot of those were located on American military bases.
This was just as much a culture shock to me as my new life in an Asian country. I mean, I didn't grow up in a military family and my dad had served in the Air Force but it was long before I was born. And by the time I was even old enough to know what the Air Force was, his crew cut was replaced by a respectable 80s rock star mullet and a Tom Selleck mustache. So, to say that I knew very little about military life was a total understatement. Truly. If you don't count the sweat pants and t-shirt that I wear religiously on the weekends, then the closest I've ever come to a life in uniform was that one ill-fated year I spent as part of the high school marching band... where I played the only instrument that didn't require any marching at all. So I was really grateful for the opportunity to learn from these new military friends who were as far away from home as I was but had a different focus and duty. And I was especially grateful that because of my calling, I got to see the way that their dedicated service to their country intersected with their dedicated service to God.
Well, whether you're part of the military yourself or just as clueless as I was, today's episode will give you a glimpse into the spiritual lives of service members and the families who support them. We've got three stories from three people whose experiences in the line of duty are totally different from one another but in each case, their understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ was strengthened and changed by their service to their community and country.
Our first storyteller is Warren. During his time with the Canadian Navy, Warren learned an invaluable lesson that would help him when he served a full-time mission after his military service was over.
So in 1985, I joined the Canadian Naval Reserve. That was in high school.
It started out as an opportunity to earn some money to help me actually from my mission. Me and four or five other friends joined the Navy at that time the naval base was called HMCS Tecumseh, which is Her Majesty's Canadian Ship in Calgary, Alberta, in the middle of the prairies.
I liked the structure of the military. I liked learning about how to follow instructions as a young high school student. I remember being put in positions where I had to respond to my superiors in ways that it was kind of rough.
I remember one experience where we were asked to do some work on the Canadian Armed Forces base. We were asked to move a whole bunch of beds out of some barracks and it was a really hot summer day. We were in full dress we were sweating after we got a bunch of these beds moved. We had a break for a few minutes so I sat down and I actually fell asleep. I was tired we had been working all day and it was hot.
I awoke to Master Wren Saxby yelling in my ear, screaming in my ear asking why I had fallen asleep. I stood to attention and I was made to go run quarter-mile laps over and over and over and over again in full green uniform boots in very warm temperatures. I might bet as it was 80, 85, 90 degrees.
The repercussions of not obeying orders can be severe and embarrassing, quite honestly. In fact, the experience of working in that setting, there was a degree of intimidation. You obeyed orders. You just, you obeyed orders. You did it precisely. You did it accurately and if you didn't, then you paid for it.
So, in the Canadian Navy, they have a series of different kinds of dinners and one of these is like a formal mess dinner. In that dinner setting, all officers and non-commissioned officers alike they come in on equal rank. The dinners are a very formal setting. You dress in your nicest uniform: polished boots and shirt crisp, hat perfectly on.
I was quite nervous because it was very formal. I was also very excited because we weren't going to have any rank. I knew that I didn't have to salute anybody and that I wasn't going to be asked to do anything per se, right? That an order wasn't going to be given to me because it was level—the playing field was level.
But yet, in this setting, I learned quickly that there was incredible structure. There was a head table and then three tables followed off of the head table. The head table had a president of the mess so there was actually an appointed president and three vice presidents. When you wanted to speak or wanted to do anything in the dinner you actually had to address Mr. Vice President or Mr. President who would only be addressed by the vice president.
The vice president was at the end of the table and you kind of followed these rules that were pseudo at sea kinds of rules, I guess. Other rules that were required is there were certain taboo topics you could not talk about—you could not talk about politics and you could not talk about religion. What else is there to talk about?
So this was the setting. We were given these rules and asked to obey them and if we didn't obey the rules then we would be called out by the vice president of the table who would report to the president. And then you might have some penalties.
In this dinner, I noticed that there were decanters of wine that were on the tables and goblets. The process of the dinner which was served over several courses and included different settings where different wines were poured for toasting and I didn't know about any of that before.
So as I sat at the table and as the dinner began somebody came around the tables, if I remember right, and they were pouring the first wine. I thought, "Well, maybe I could have the wine go in the glass and I'll bring it to my lips and I won't drink the wine." But that didn't feel right. There is doing the right things and there's also avoiding, the scriptures talked about avoiding the appearance of evil. To me, if I was going to take that wine and bring it to my lips, then really what's the difference?
I just thought, "I can do something different." I'd put my hand up and said, "No, I would like water." So until the moment, the time came where they were going to do the toast, I was feeling comfortable. But then we were all asked to stand. And bring our glasses up to toast.
Everyone had wine but me. I had water. Mr. Vice President at the bottom my table stopped. He had a mallet they would pound this mallet I think three times on the table to get the attention of the president. Mr. President responded to Mr. Vice President's request to say something to which the vice president said, "I have someone at my table who is toasting with water rather than with wine."
So the president asked everyone to sit down except for me. I was to remain standing with the water. Some context—now I'm with all these officers and also non-commissioned so that some of them I don't know, I've never met. But some that have been very extreme in their reaction to me when I haven't done something right. I've felt some of the wrath if you will of not obeying an order.
Honestly, I was terrified at that moment. I show my emotions quickly in my face so I know I went immediately red and I started to sweat.
Mr. Vice President indicated to the president that I was toasting with water. Navy tradition was that if a sailor toasted with water, a sailor would die and he asked that my contents, the contents of my goblet that they replaced with wine over the water.
This was the moment that was terrifying for me. I knew that every eye in that whole mess was on me. I indicated that I couldn't take the wine so the president then reiterated the tradition, that you know that tradition has it that if a sailor toast with water a sailor will die.
Also, he reiterated that there were punishments associated with not following the tradition of the dinner, which I acknowledged. I indicated that I couldn't toast with wine and he asked me why. And for me, this was probably about three or four or five seconds but inside it felt like eternity because I knew that there were things that I couldn't say in the dinner. We don't talk about religion, right?
I feel just a calmness that came about me and I looking straight at Mr. President. I said, "Mr. President, to take the wine would go against my religion."
I was expecting laughter. I was expecting some type of, I thought the president might ridicule my religion in front of all these people. I held my religion at that young age very sacred to me as I do today. So I was fearful of that.
He thought about it for a while. I was expecting the words to be that I was going to be escorted out. Nobody said a word by the way and nobody laughed. I think maybe the formality of the dinner forbid it. The president thought about it for again what felt like eternity and then he said, "Well, I don't know of any rule or tradition that would forbid a sailor from toasting with a soda or carbonated drink that's not wine."
And so he asked that my drink be replaced with a ginger ale, I think it was a Sprite, I can't remember the drink and the toast went on.
To me, that was an answer to prayer. I don't ever recall really honestly saying a prayer but I remember pleading for help and expecting some type of, hoping for some type of help. And it came.
The rest of the dinner went by and we had additional toasts. My contents of my goblet were always filled with non-alcoholic drink. And guess what, everyone knew it. Everyone knew that Able Seaman Rosner did not drink wine and he didn't because of his religion. I didn't say what religion I was at that moment but I tell you I had an opportunity many, many times over, over the next two years to share with people who had come to me in private or in settings where we were in the mess hall so tell me about this no drinking thing to was? What church do you belong to? Many discussions about religion ensued.
That experience opened the door for those that perhaps wanted to learn more. Or it opened the door for them to just even have a desire to learn more. They weren't fearful of coming and talking to me about my religion. It ended up being a marvelous experience and such a blessing in preparation for my mission.
I always was fairly bold and high school. I had one of my dear friends that being baptized, but there was always that fear of being ridiculed in a setting where everyone is there a senior to you. And there were significant potential ramifications. This experience taught me that it didn't matter. The most important thing was to be true to the truth that you know and I knew absolutely without any doubt in my mind and heart that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true and I had a testimony of the word of wisdom and I had a testimony of living the gospel by the example the Savior taught. And this experience reinforced that so when other experiences came where I was put in challenging kinds of situations I didn't shy away.
That was Warren.
Be true to the truths you know. While I've never been to a formal military dinner like the one Warren delightfully describes in great detail, I do know what it feels like to want desperately to fit in to just go unnoticed in a sea of conformity. I mean, I was a middle school girl after all.
But what I find most interesting is that our Heavenly Father often presents us with opportunities to stand out in situations where our human nature literally begs us to sit down. And honestly, Warren's fear of being called out, which is a totally natural protective response, was not wrong to make an appearance in that moment.
He'd been punished for stepping out of line before, but to trust himself and his God and His truth more than he trusted that fear in the moment, maybe that's the place where miracles can happen and lives can be transformed.
Our next story is from Verdi, whose lesson in the line of duty came in the form of a routine police stop during a graveyard shift.
It's late at night. In fact, it's early in the morning about 2 a.m. and I'm out on patrol working the graveyard shift out on 2100 South near Tooele [Utah].
There was nobody around. There was no, really any backup because it was late at night. There only a few cars out usually at that time and they're spread all over the county. And I watched a car, I came up upon a car that looked like it was kind of moving around its lane.
I thought maybe the person was drunk, honestly, or whatever. So I made the traffic stop and called into the plate before I went up there because that's what we do at night. Make sure that if we're out on a traffic stop everybody knows, my dispatchers etc.
When you are alone as a police officer and you're out in a situation where you are going to be enforcing the law, there is, always a certain there's a certain focus that you have to be on top of your game.
There can be some fear there, especially when you are by yourself. I mean, you, you learn how to work with that, actually, and make it a strength. And make it, just keep you, to keep on the top of your game right.
But there are times when you, when you want, like this was an example, where you walk up to a car and there's a little something in the back your neck comes up. And then you know, "Okay, something's up here." And you don't even know what it is. And I experience that a lot. And I believe that that was the Spirit saying, "Hey, there. Be careful here."
This particular night, I felt that, that feeling on the back of my neck that something was up. But I didn't know what it was.
I walked up to the car and there was a male sitting there.
I said, "I am just checking on you. It's a welfare check. Make sure you're okay and you're not falling asleep so you don't crash on your way home tonight." And, "Are you awake? You are you doing okay?"
He said, "Yeah." I said, "I'll be right back."
So I went back, I had his driver's license at that point. I went back and by the time I got back to the car, patrol car, the dispatchers had already run everything and they found a stolen plate. And you know, one thing led to the next and we identified this fellow's having a $300,000 bench warrant out of Louisiana for murder.
A bench warrant is that you have to take them in, you can't release them on their own recognizance you have to take them to jail. So they have to be taken into custody.
And so of course, they're trying to get back up there because this is a serious guy, a serious criminal, right. But the backup was a long way away, maybe 20 minutes away.
You know, if you just wait out there, you're inviting trouble. Or they have time to think about this and that and the other, you have to sort of try to take care of everything quickly. So I, and I went back up there and when I got back up to the car, I did ask him to put his hands out the window.
And he did. He was very compliant. What he was doing was what I wanted him to do and I and what I expected him do so I was not worried as much as if they are noncompliant, not putting their hands out the window or doing whatever, you know.
They're out the window. I was standing right there on the side where I could see and where I could see the passenger seat and him. I told the gentleman I said, "You know, I've run your driver's license and you're, this plate is stolen and I know who you are. And there's a bench warrant out for your arrest. So I'm going to have take you, take you into custody.
He looked at me a while and said, "Look over here." And he pointed over to the passenger side seat and there was a 357 Magnum sitting on that seat. And he said, "You know, when you, when you stopped me originally, I planned on shooting you dead. In the head. That was my plan. And the only reason why I didn't do that when you walked up this car is because you treated me with respect. And that's the only reason why I didn't do it."
That got my attention.
You know, I always pray before, before I went to work that I'd better come home. And that was just a kind of a routine thing that I did and so was already that prayer was already out there.
And I just went through what I normally do with anybody else. You know, had him get out of the car in handcuffs on him then get in my car and the rest of it is history.
But at the time when this happened, I was, I think I was maybe two years into it, relatively new. But I learned, of course, from that and other incidents similar to that, I learned that there was great power and safety in treating people with dignity. And if you always let people retain their dignity, then, most of the time, you're not going to have to have an altercation or something.
There's safety in that.
I was a police officer for 23 years before I retired. It's very easy to get cynical because you are in here or in touch with people in the most embarrassing, difficult kinds of times in their lives. And there's, and there's a certain cynicism that can come in into play and so it's, I believe it's a decision where you decide I'm not going to be that way. I'm going to be more philosophical about it my view of society and not judgemental.
Everything that I know about the Savior, I believe that's the way He was. The caveat is is that you can only treat people with as much respect as they will allow you to do. And then there would be a different response if somebody will not allow you to treat them with respect. Most people, almost everyone, you let them have their dignity trained to respect, they're going to treat you back that way because people, everyone, no matter who they are, they're all spirit entities created by, by God. And therefore, by virtue of their very existence of being an extension of God, of being a child of God, they are full of dignity and, and love and peace and all the things that when we were created as spirits.
So I think, I believe, I feel, I don't think that feel that, I treat people with dignity and respect as something that they all deserve. We think they're bad people or we think this whether they do some horrible things, it doesn't matter. They still, at the core, our spirit an eternal spirit that was created by God and are amazing at some level.
You know, I always feel good every day going to work because that was the central thought that I had placed or intention that I had placed to be that way in the world and in the workplace. I mean, I think that changed me.
That was Verdi.
Verdi's a friend of mine and I first heard this story when he quietly shared it in a talk during a sacrament meeting. And I remember thinking, "Man, I have never known that level of danger in my life nor would I want to." And I felt a deep gratitude for the men and women who protect us with courage and wisdom and humility like Verdi's.
I think that takes a special kind of faith.
It's that same kind of faith that helps us choose to see the good in people even when they're at their worst. And even when it would be easier to give in to cynicism. And though I'm not planning to sign up for the police force anytime soon, believe me, you're grateful for that, I do think that I can try just a little bit harder to let that kind of faith bloom in my heart.
Our final story comes from Nicole, who has been holding down the fort during her husband Chris's military deployments over the last several years.
Years ago, before we were a military family, my husband, Chris, was a police officer.
He would occasionally come to me and say, "I'm interested in joining the military." And I would just be, nope, I can't do that. And he came to me a few times throughout his almost 10-year police career. And I always had that same answer: no, I can't.
And one time, he actually asked me why. I said nope because both policing and military have the same danger factor. It was just him being a cop, I knew day to day if he was okay. And being in the military on a deployment, I may not have that. It could be weeks, it could be days, I would never know and that was too much. And I just couldn't handle that. So that was where my nope came from.
He ended up resigning from the police force, leaving him in a spot as he didn't know what to do. We didn't know what to do. We weren't sure financially what was going to happen in our lives. And after a few months of him just searching, he came to me much more serious and he said, "I really feel strongly that I need to join the military." It was like more coming from the Spirit, in a way, it kind of it just felt more powerful. So I was like, "Okay, he feels really strongly about this. I feel nope still. And if I'm going to be a good supportive spouse, I need to be on the same page because there's just so many stories of marriages not lasting."
So I said, "Well, I need to take this to the temple. I need to know for myself if this is if I can support you in this decision."
So within that week, we went to the temple together and as we were in the celestial room. I just started praying and just spilling my heart out, my fears. I didn't want him to leave I don't want him to be in the military. And throughout that prayer, I, I said at the very end, I'm like, "I don't want him to go." And immediately after, I had that thought it was almost like a voice said to me, "You have to let him go."
And not all prayers are answered in such a way. But I really felt like I needed that kind of an answer to be okay with him going because he would, I don't know when he'll leave. I don't know how long he'll be gone, but I needed to have that confirmation to be able to prepare myself for what was going to happen, whatever that was.
When he first started, he went to basic training and when he can make that first call in basic training they have maybe one minute to say this is my address and that's all they can say. Within the first week of him leaving, our oldest daughter, Victoria, had a really serious concussion. I'm laughing about it now because we were ice skating and she wanted one more lap and she wouldn't take no for an answer. And I said, "Fine, just go."
And she came around too fast and smashed off of the plexiglass in front of me. And I was having a meltdown. And I was just like bawling. She was in the E.R., and he was like, "I can't talk. I can't talk."
So it's kind of my first experience with the military on a real level with a family.
Chris and I met when I was about 13 years old and we just became really great friends. We did get married young. I was 19, which would make him 21. So Chris is really been my best friend for most of my life.
So the first time Chris was deployed he went to the United Arab Emirates. He was on a military base. That was the first time we had been apart of that much of a distance.
It was difficult it was like a loss when you have a best friend you tell them everything. And I was in the habit of telling him everything, probably too much stuff sometimes. But we have been married for at least 10 years of that time working on things together taking care of the kids together. And then he wasn't there to help with those things.
Kids act differently when their dad is not around. And if I would call and talk to him about it, his commanding officer would say, "She's gonna handle this on her own. She can't bother you all the time with all of this stuff." It was really hard when he told me that because we've always worked together to take care of things.
After he gave Chris that advice to tell me that I need to kind of step up and take care of things, that I can't bother him about all the little things, I probably bugged a little bit annoyed. What he said was true. Chris really couldn't help me with everything, but it was hard to not have him there to help or to just like another ear to hear maybe get a little bit different view or take on the situation.
I now had to be mom and dad I had to rely a lot on the Lord. We did have a good support in our ward but a lot of it came from having to pray because sometimes it's at a time where there's really nobody around that I could get help from.
It's hard to pinpoint the hardest thing when he's away. There's, it's little things. When I'm having a hard day, he's not there to go and talk to the kids and say, "Hey, your mom just needs a little break." or just, just to be there too just to hold me when I just need a hug. It's that it's not the big stuff to me, it's the little things.
When he came home, no one really tells you what that's like. Everyone just thinks, "Oh, it's so exciting. You haven't seen them for months. It's so great to have them." But a lot of people don't tell you about the transition time. So you go from hard to a different kind of hard because you as a family unit, you've learned how to survive in a way just like for us. It's just mom and the kids and you get in routines and you have Chris and I have different parenting styles. So it was just my style the whole way. It's like getting your way all the time, which I like that.
So when he came back, often they want to just jump right back in. But kids aren't used to that and it's difficult because it's, I don't know, when lava hits the ocean. It's just like, it's not, it's not easy. It's super difficult. It almost seemed easier when he was deployed versus that like transition time.
But since we did that, that first round we kind of figured things out. Then with this deployment, it seemed a little bit easier for me. But Mother's Day was not a good day for me. It was a really tough Sunday. My son Grant has struggled with Chris being gone and it seems to be getting worse and worse. And it was just a really rough morning getting ready for church. He doesn't want to get a suit on. He's almost nine. It was, it was a really hard morning and I was drained. I was emotionally, I was just drained and I went to church and I was sitting there and our youth sang a song "You Are Enough." And my middle daughter had a solo in that song and just listening to them seeing and feeling the Spirit, that just filled my heart because I needed it so bad because I wasn't feeling enough. I was feeling inadequate, that I had to do more while he was away and I just wasn't reaching the goals I set for myself. But hearing that it was one of those tender verses like he knows I'm here. He knows what I'm going through and he loves me in my imperfections like life still goes on.
They're here, they're not and I don't want that to sound insensitive in any way but things are still going to go and trials are going to still happen and those storms are still going to come. I don't want to sound like it's like I'm sacrificing myself for you know this martyr. I'm not like "the model."
I'm just like the mom who is trying to work it all out. And that answer from the temple will just kind of come back at these little moments in my life. And I knew we're going to be okay, whatever that meant. We'll get through whatever it is and we'll be okay.
I am, I'm really excited because Chris is returning from his current deployment in a little less than five hours, 1:45 in the morning. We've went through all of these transitions as we've ebbed and flowed with military life.
The Lord has been present and I've noticed a lot of talks recently in general conference about the, the leaders are telling us as women that we are better than we think we are.
And I've, I've learned that about myself. I never thought I could be this person but I've become this person. I've become a supportive military spouse that I was way not okay with years ago and I've grown a lot.
Heavenly Father had to have known that I could be this kind of a person. Every day that passes and every day as we go through a trial as we learn and grow. We are becoming that person that He knows we can become.
That was Nicole, and after we recorded this story, literally that very night, Nicole and her three kids headed to the airport to meet their favorite servicemen.
I think we can add happy sleep deprivation to the list of military family sacrifices. And honestly, they're probably just so grateful to have him home. They'd go at anytime. We have the cutest picture of that reunion in the show notes for this episode at ldsliving.com/thisisthe gospel so head on over and check it out.
Did you notice that despite the specific nature of these stories, there's something universal in the lessons of each one? Nicole learned that God knows what we're capable of, even when we don't and that He gives us the strength to rise to whatever challenge comes our way. And Verdi learned that their safety and power in allowing every person their dignity and respecting the spiritual nature of our relationship to heaven. And Warren learned that opportunities to share the good gospel news come when we trust the truth more than we trust the fear of rejection. Their unique service to their country and community has definitely put them in a place where they could learn what they needed to learn. But we all get to learn from their experiences and I think that is the beauty and power of storytelling. My friends, that's it. We honor those who are called to or choose military service and feel gratitude for their sacrifice that makes it possible for us to have peace and we also feel gratitude for their stories of faith in the line of duty that helps us all to grow just a little bit closer to Jesus Christ.
That's it for this episode of This is the Gospel. Thank you to Nicole and Verdi and Warren. And don't forget to check out those show notes for this episode to get a transcript and to see that picture of Nicole and Chris's family.
If you've stuck around to the end of this podcast, then you are a true blue storytelling machine. And we want you to know that we have a pitch line. If you have a story to share, we want to hear your story. And we want you to call our pitch line. We listen to every message that you leave on that pitch line and if your story works for one of our upcoming episodes then we may give you a call. So call us at 515-519-6179 and leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story.
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This episode was produced by Sarah Blake and me, KaRyn Lay, with story editing by Davi Johnson and Katie Lambert. It was scored mixed and mastered by mics at Six Studios and our executive producer is, as always, Erin Hallstrom.