The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger; Heroes and Spiritual Convictions

leave a comment »

Nathan Geist is currently serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, has studied for 3 years at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Promotion. Sgt. Geist has appeared as a periodic contributor to The Seeker since last September as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Note: this posting is over a month old; I’m still getting over the burnout from writing my thesis… my apologies for old information… Jeff

Hello from the aching body of SGT Danger!

In the past recent months, I’ve been visiting the medics every now and then, as my back has becoming ever weaker. When I put on my body armor, I feel the weight of this entire war on my back. On Easter morning, I woke up and my lower back was aching, and my feet felt so heavy that I was almost walking with a limp. I had pain from the bottom of my back through to my right hip and down the leg. The pain stopped at the knee, but began again just below my ankle in my foot. My ankle was numb, which is at least less agonizing than the pain in my body. So, I went to the doctor on the FOB and was diagnosed with a bulged disc, also known as a herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc, also known as a really screwed up back. The doctor gave me some medicine, and that’s helped so far, but it still hurts to lie down at night. I may be 22, but my body feels like it’s 72.

But, on a more positive note, I am currently alive. As a Christian, I’m not particularly afraid of death, but after talking with my Muslim friends, I realize that not every religion has an idealistic view of what happens after you die. My Terp has expressed great fear towards death, and after he explained why he’s afraid of death as a Muslim, I can’t really blame him, because it sounds less-than-pleasant: when a Muslim dies, they believe that the walls around them will begin closing in, and eventually their body will be crushed by the walls. And, as they’re pinned against the walls, animals surround them and begin eating their bodies as punishment for their sins. As the Muslim is being punished in the spiritual world, families are quickly notified that their loved one has died, and they immediately drop everything they’re doing and travel to their loved one’s funeral, which occurs just hours after they have died (keep in mind that Islam countries don’t have the same embalming procedures that we do). And unlike other religions that see death as an immediate escape to your body, Muslims believe they are present for their funeral. As they are lowered into the ground just hours after they’ve died, their head is tilted to look towards their holy land of Mecca, and the soul within the body begins screaming out for the family to hear them. The Muslim yells as loudly as he or she can without moving their physical body, “Please don’t leave me! I’m here! Don’t go!” Yet, the families that are still alive in the physical world are unable to hear them. If someone were to hear their loved ones’ screams, they would die instantly and join them in the afterlife. But, as for the animals, they can hear perfectly the shrieking of the soul, yet they keep the cries they’ve heard to themselves, unable to communicate it to humans. Later, the soul departs to its judgment, and if the Muslim has more good works than bad, then they will enter paradise. For the average Afghan, their life expectancy is 45 years old, and though that seems like a young age, it certainly has greatly improved from recent years. However, that life expectancy average will mean nothing if the end of times arrives, because in that case, you will die anyway. And unlike the Jewish and Christian religions, if you are alive when the end of times arrives in the Islam faith, then you don’t get to bypass this experience of death, because everyone is destined to endure physical death. However, like Christianity’s end of times is great news for Christians and awful news for non-believers, Islam’s end of times is great news for Muslims and awful news for non-followers of Muhammad.

And how exactly does the end of the world occur in Islam? Though there are a few variations depending on the specific Muslim sect you’re looking in, it’s generally accepted that a very important figure in the Islam faith, a man named the Mahdi, will appear on earth in the last days, right after an angel blasts a trumpet to sound the arrival of the end times. And interestingly enough, the Mahdi will be bringing a very powerful sidekick: that of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they believe did not return to heaven (nor that he was crucified), but instead Jesus has been in some kind of suspension since his death. After Jesus reappears, he will come and destroy many evil-doers, including the anti-Christ, and will confirm Islam as the true religion. After 40 years, Jesus will die and be buried next to Muhammad. And, Allah will have a large role as well when he destroys all non-Islamic nations, and even destroys all the angels in the spiritual world.

However, a few signs will accompany the Mahdi in preparation for such devastation to the world, such as the arrival of violence and plagues, the sun rising from the west, a star appearing in the east that shines as bright as the moon, Arabs taking back their land, a caller calling from heaven, Syria suffering a great war until it’s destroyed (which is similar in some ways to the Bible’s take as well), and death and fear afflicting the people in Iraq, especially Baghdad.

But, let me bring you back to earth for a second, because we’re still here, and the end times hasn’t come just yet. If you’re wondering how our “ministry” portion is going here in Afghanistan, here’s your answer: SGT Bandee has had quite the discouraging month. Bandee intended on going to three fairly remote locations to visit with the troops that don’t get many visitors: Command Outpost (COP) Zormat, COP Herrera, and COP Curry. Well, Bandee arrived to COP Zormat just fine, but quickly found that his efforts were in vain because 1) the troops he intended on visiting were out on a week-long mission, 2) for those that remained on COP Zormat, there was a chaplain already present when he arrived, and 3) the troops that were out on a mission had a chaplain with them the whole time. And so, the command made it fairly clear to Bandee that his presence was not needed, and ultimately, Bandee wasted 4 days getting stuck at the COP. Bandee cut his losses and headed back towards Gardez, Afghanistan. To get there, he had to get on a convoy and go down what is known as “IED Alley,” but Bandee fortunately made it without firsthand having to learn why that route is nicknamed as such. Unfortunately, the convoy led Bandee to Gardez, Afghanistan… just not the same FOB within Gardez that he wanted to get to. The FOB he was trying to get back to is my FOB, FOB Lightning. The one he ended up at was FOB Goode, which is less than a mile down the road from Lightning. While he was there, he told me:“I found myself waking up in Goode this morning, trying once again to find a means back to Lightning. Again, I’ve had no luck today. There were no convoys that were able to take me, and so I’ve spent most of my day at the helipad, trying to catch a chopper to go one minute out of their way. I even found myself once on a chopper, but just before I sat down and prepared for the 30 second trip, I was told to get off, and that they’d get me later because Lightning was not on their way.

“I became very frustrated at this point, and walked to the Entry Control Point (ECP), also known as the front gate. I looked across and saw the mile ahead to my home FOB, and thought about just walking the mile back. But, preferring not to become a prisoner of war (POW) at my tender age, nor wanting to feel the fury of an angry commander for me endangering my life, I decided not to walk out there by myself.

“That being said, I still wanted to find a way across the road to get to my home FOB by any means necessary. As I was contemplating how to get across, I came across a local Afghan who was in his car leaving FOB Goode to go home, wherever he lived. I told him my predicament, and he knew enough English to understand what I was saying and offered me a ride. Again, the idea didn’t pass the common sense test that went off in my head, but I still got in the cab with the man, desperate to get back. It seemed like the idea would have worked well had the Team Chief at the ECP stopped me from doing it. And so now I’m again at the helipad, waiting for a flight that is supposedly going to come in and take me to FOB Lightning, which is close enough that I could fart and you would be able to smell it from where you stand.”

Eventually, Bandee made it back to Lightning late that night, and the next morning he was again on a helicopter, riding toward new adventures that never actually happened. He arrived at COP Herrera, but found a similar situation that he ran into at Zormat: the soldiers were out on a mission and wouldn’t be back before he left. And so, Bandee did a service for those that were present at COP Herrera, then left the next day to Salerno.

Salerno is the same place where Bandee got mortared, and the reason he had to go back there was because it’s a main hub for flights that go out to the distant bases, like COP Curry, which is where he was headed next. However, Bandee never made it to Curry. He got on a flight to Curry, but along the way, bad weather rolled in and so the chopper wasn’t ever able to land at the base. So, instead of meeting soldiers, he spent all day flying around Afghanistan in a helicopter. The next flight to Curry wasn’t going to happen for another 6 days, and so I told him to abandon the mission and get back to FOB Lightning. The next day, he arrived back to this home FOB after a 4-hour flight, and he looked absolutely worn out as he walked off the chopper. He also told me he was nauseous from the chopper’s fumes and the constant turbulence.

Speaking of Bandee, let me just say first that I like him. I really do. And, often, I get emails from some of you calling him a “hero” and that he’s brave for what he’s doing. But for me, it’s funny, thinking about this hero stuff. I look around, and I don’t see heroes. I see a bunch of guys I eat dinner with and talk to. Yeah, they go out and do things that might kill them, but they don’t feel like heroes to me, just because we’re us. Heroes are things of stories, not our realities. Say there was a story in which a guy goes out, gets shot at, saves a buddy’s life, and kills the enemy. The story would seem a lot more heroic if it didn’t have one of our names attached to the story. It just feels like here, no matter what we do, we can’t be heroes. When we go home, people are going to call us “hero,” no doubt. In fact, people called me a hero before I even stepped foot in Afghanistan, when in fact I may be a coward. How can I know? I haven’t been tested. But the reason I say all this is because so many people speak of Bandee as being brave, as being a hero, and I don’t see it at all. I see him as my friend that I eat and pray with. Bandee is a guy who has the same blood as me, just a dude that I share exactly the same thoughts with. He’s exactly the same as me. He’s not a hero, he’s just my friend.

Let me shift gears for a second here for a moment. It was back in 2002 that one of my favorite movies was released, Signs, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. But, as much as I love the movie, there’s a scene in it that, whenever I used to watch it, I thought it was a waste to have in the movie. Every time I’d have to sit through the scene, I’d get frustrated, feeling like the director had wasted my time with a scene that had no real significance to the movie. The scene is as follows: Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Merrill Hess, walks out of his house and approaches the cornfield on his brother’s property. Lately, there had been several “signs” embedded in cornfields around the world (including his brother’s cornfield he was looking out at), and many people were starting to believe that aliens had been the perpetrators, as crazy as it sounded. Merrill Hess found himself at a point where he just started accepting that so-called aliens were, indeed, the cause of all the cornfield damage. As Merrill Hess looked out at the cornfield right by his house, staring at unseen dangers and the mystery of the unknown, he became agitated and picked up a rock and chucked it as far into the cornfield as he could. And for a young viewer like me, I didn’t quite understand the scene. It seemed a waste of 50 seconds of my life. But now, when I think about that scene, I can’t help but appreciate it, and feel like it’s one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, because I finally “get it.” Merrill Hess is so frustrated because he’s in the middle of something he doesn’t quite understand, but from what he does understand about it, he knows that it’s a dangerous situation he’s in. There’s something extraordinary going on around him, and he knows the situation has slowly been escalating to a climax that will surely soon unleash all its wrath on him. He doesn’t know exactly where the danger is, but he knows it’s out there, somewhere, just watching him.

In the same way, I stand looking out across the gates that keep me “safe” as the sun retreats for the day, and I see the city lights ahead in the distance, just a few miles away. And in just an hour’s time, that sun will completely disappear and I will find myself in the most dangerous time to be a soldier at war: during nightfall, when the enemy can attack while remaining unseen. But, as I look across my gates, I become frustrated, and I speak to the wind aloud, hoping it might carry my questions down to the threats that dwell in the city in the distance: “Where are you? I know you’re out there. And tonight, you’re contemplating attacking my FOB; attacking me. Show yourself and fight like a man. Stop keeping me in constant anticipation of what you might do. Tell me, where are you?” The wind carries my anxieties down to the city, but doesn’t return to give me a response. When I realize that there’s nothing I can do about the enemy that is hunting me at that moment, I become agitated, yet all I can do is throw a rock on the soil just outside my gates.

That being said, it’s amazing that my FOB has not come under attack yet. Though, I found out this week exactly why I haven’t been attacked. Just last year, the FOB I’m at was under constant attack . In fact, there was a 14-day period where the FOB was attacked 12 different times. The last attack this FOB endured was in October of last year, and there’s good reason as to why it was the last attack. You see, it is believed that it was the same two Taliban that were attacking the FOB throughout the course of the year. But, on one October night, a large explosion was heard outside the perimeter gates of the FOB. When the Quick Reaction Force went out and investigated, they found what remained of one Talib, and another Talib who was severely injured. The two perpetrators had accidentally blown themselves up. One of them was killed instantly, and the surviving terrorist was arrested. And now, there’s somewhat of a peace in the immediate area.

I just wish it was like that all over, though. But it’s not. Often, killing a Talib is similar to mowing down a mushroom on your lawn. Yeah, you killed that specific mushroom, but days later, you have a multitude of mushrooms growing right where you mowed down that one. So, in this specific war, the question is this: how can we stop more Taliban from appearing after we kill or arrest one?

In my opinion, there’s two ways to do this: first, cut down the mushrooms at the root. In this case, that’s Pakistan. Most of the terrorists are being bred and arriving from Pakistan, and unless we launch an offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan, the Taliban in Afghanistan may never be completely eradicated. But, that’s unappealing to me for several reasons: the time and money that would be spent on such an offensive would certainly take a toll on our country, and that’s not to mention the lives we’ve already sacrificed. And so, unless it was a war that President Obama knew we could swiftly win, that’s obviously not a great choice.

The other option is to educate the Mullahs of the interpretation that non-radical Muslims have of the Qur’an. The Mullahs could, in turn, preach that same message to the peoples in the villages. As the Mullahs are the most prominent religious Islamic figures in most villages, by having them preach tolerance, they would in turn cause their people to become more tolerant. Again, the thought is not foolproof, and such a task is a lot more difficult than it looks on paper. Yet, at the same time, if we could focus more energy on this idea, then it’s very possible we’d have less radical Muslims wanting to kill us infidels.

That’s about it for now. I know this update wasn’t as action-packed as previous emails… you can blame Bandee for that. Just kidding. (But, no, seriously, it really is his fault. Blame him.)

Thank you, and God bless!

Written by seeker70

June 3, 2009 at 12:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: