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Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger Checks In

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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 Interview. Sgt. Geist will appear as a periodic contributor to The Seeker throughout the next year as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

October 31, 2008

Hello friends. I hope this email finds you well. Things are going okay here right now. Just a head’s up, this email is a very long one, so I would encourage you to read it when you know you have time to if you choose to read it at all. There are a lot of facts about Afghanistan in this email that will surely give you a better perspective of why I am being deployed. Also, if you did not receive my last email, please let me know, and we can get that remedied.
Last time I asked you all to pray for better training for the mission ahead, and the prayer was received. Though we only really have small spurts of truly useful training, those spurts are extremely educational and helpful. For instance, we had training where we searched a house for IED’s (for those of you that are unfamiliar, IED’s are Improvised Explosive Devices, and are one of the most efficient ways to kill soldiers… they are bombs that don’t really look like bombs until you get up close, at which point it’s too late to tell anyway). Also, we’ve been kicking down doors and searching houses for cardboard cut-outs of insurgents and shooting them with live bullets, which was a little nerve-racking because it only takes one idiot standing next to you to point their rifle in the wrong direction. Then, the same night we did that training, we went back to that house and put on night vision goggles and did it in the black of night. What was especially cool about that training was that there was a camera overhead, and it recorded us clearing the house, and we got to watch ourselves and evaluate what we did later.

There are a lot of soldiers that die overseas when their humvees roll over and the soldiers get trapped, so we also did this training where we sat in a humvee that rolls over, and we have to escape. It’s just like a roller coaster, except it’s obviously a little more dangerous, considering you’re hanging upside down and you fall when you unbuckle yourself, not to mention that other people fall on you, too. But it was extremely useful training.

We’ve also been training on hand-to-hand combat, specifically how to choke someone to incapacitation. While that training may be slightly useful, it really was no fun because we did it at 5:30 in the morning outside, when there was still frost on the ground. Not to mention, if you have to get in a real hand-to-hand fight with an insurgent, chances are that’s going to be a really bad day, anyway.

Also, we’ve been learning the language of Dari, which is the most used language in Afghanistan by the locals. They also speak Pashto, but we will not be working with Pashtuns as much. In Dari, the translation for “Danger” is “Khatar,” so I’ve been getting called SGT Khatar now.

We’ve had a few soldiers already taken out of the fight for the year, as the medical check-ups have been discovering soldiers with a few diseases. For instance, two soldiers were found to have leukemia when they did blood tests, so they are now non-deployable. In fact, our head chaplain, CH Guy, went to go see one of the soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital in D.C., and ran into Robin Williams in the hallway. It turns out that Robin Williams often goes to see soldiers when he has time; no media, no hidden motives, just to go make hurting soldiers laugh. Needless to say, I was very jealous of CH Guy.


As far as the chaplain assistant job goes, the issues have finally begun hitting full-force. We’ve been having soldier issues to deal with on a daily basis, from genuine problems at home to whiny soldiers who want to give up and go home (as if there is any soldier who doesn’t want to give up and go home!). On the bright side, I’ve been able to meet a lot of different interesting people, and it is extremely odd the number of soldiers I meet who live in the Zion area or Edwardsville area. In fact, when I talk to the Zion-area soldiers, I ask them if they remember the Potty Protest at Zion-Benton High School, and when they do and I tell them that I was the leader of that movement, they get pretty excited and treat me like a celebrity. (For those of you who are scratching your head, check out this web-site: http://squirtzman.tripod.com/id36.html)

Lately, an area that has proven difficult to me is the amount of ageism I’ve been facing. I am extremely young for the rank that I have, and so many soldiers don’t take me seriously as a Sergeant. Lately, I’ve been reminding myself “don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12), and have made a conscious effort to go above and beyond to win the confidence of my commanders. The chaplain assistant job is a very odd responsibility, because instead of dealing with people who are a rank or two higher than me, chaplain assistants generally advise Lieutenant Colonels, Sergeant Majors, and sometimes even Generals… if you’re unfamiliar with those ranks, those are the big-whigs of the Army. One of the chaplains here (CH McGinnis) has encouraged me to pray that my commanders’ hearts open up to me, and he told me to keep in mind “the king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; He guides it wherever He pleases” (Proverbs 21:1). Basically, it’s out of my control in a sense, and I have nowhere to go but my knees in order to receive the trust of my commanders.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about Afghanistan (and Iraq, too, for that matter): When it comes to sexuality, men are used for fun, whereas women as solely used for reproduction. That’s a huge paradigm difference than America, where opposite sexes are generally used both for fun and for reproduction. Instead of going to a female strip bar for quick sexual pleasure like Americans do, the Afghan men take the young boys from their villages and rape them. In fact, each village designates a few boys to be their designated child whores, and paints their pinkies red as an indicator of who it is acceptable to rape. The children, being raised with this culture, accept their responsibility as the town whore, no matter how sore they become. When children are not available, Afghan men often use chickens or donkeys instead. I know many of you are like me while reading this, asking yourself, “Why doesn’t the U.S. stop this crap?” Well, it’s very simple: not too long ago, Russia was threatened by Afghanistan, just as the U.S. is now. Russia invaded Afghanistan and tried setting up a civil government, much like the United States is now. However, Russia enforced Marxism ideals upon Afghanistan, which angered the Afghans, and the Russians lost that entire battle, solely because they did not have the support of the locals. The fact of the matter is that the Russians killed 30,000 insurgents per year during their war with Afghanistan, and even with a number that high, the Afghans’ operations were not slowed down the tiniest bit, all because the local people rebelled against Russia. The U.S., on the other hand, is focusing on winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, and in order to do that, we can’t be enforcing U.S. morals and standards because that will surely anger the Afghans. The only thing we won’t allow is strapping IED’s to kids, or training to be terrorists against the United States. Basically, we are trying to enforce freedom as best we can, and so far, that much has worked (and that’s an objective observation), because the Afghan locals support us tenfold more than they did back in 2003.

If you want to learn a few more facts about Afghanistan in this email, scroll down and read the facts at the bottom. I guarantee you will find one thing at least that surprises you.

A common question I have been getting for the past few months is what my shipping address is for Afghanistan, to send letters and packages and stuff. However, after much internal deliberating, I have come to the conclusion that I really would prefer not to release my address to receive packages; let me explain why, though. Basically, this deployment is very unique compared to other Operation Enduring Freedom missions, as we are in Afghanistan, not Iraq. In Iraq, mail is easy: the terrain isn’t overly difficult to trek across and no destination is too far from European Army bases. In Afghanistan, it is extremely difficult because of the terrain: unimproved roads, snow-capped mountains, and unreasonably high altitudes dominate the country. Beyond that, almost all of the mail in my area gets shipped through the Pakistani border (it is simply the easiest point of access), which is on the east side of Afghanistan. So, not only does it take up to 3 months for mail to arrive (which makes food a very bad idea to send anyway), it also creates a lot of danger for the mail carriers who have to deliver the mail. Also, I’ll be quite honest about it: I am not all that interested in receiving anything but email anyway because anything I receive is just one more thing I have to account for, and moreover, there simply isn’t a lot of space for my personal items at all. So, here’s what I’ll ask of you: as much as you would like to send me mail, please do not, not just for the sake of the limited room I have, but for the safety of the poor sap who may have to go through Pakistan to get it to me. However, I understand that some of you are dying to send me stuff, and if that’s the case with you, send me an email, and we can talk about how to work the situation. Otherwise, I appreciate you understanding that the mail situation is not ideal, and it is simply 10x more convenient to just email me instead.

For those of you who did not hear, I am getting a 4-day pass the week of Thanksgiving, which is incredibly awesome. I will be home on Thanksgiving, and any of you are invited to drop in and say hi if you will be in the Zion area. I leave the morning after Thanksgiving back to Fort Bragg. After that, I will be leaving sometime between December 4th and 9th to get on a plane to either Kuwait or a small country north of Afghanistan for two weeks, then will arrive in Afghanistan around December 22nd. CH Todd and SPC Fentress left this morning from Fort Bragg to Afghanistan, so they will be the first iteration from our chaplain team to hit the Middle East.

My prayer right now would be that I become more established in my role as chaplain assistant on this deployment. As I said, my commanders don’t seem to take me seriously, and I often feel like a Sergeant who gets treated like a Private. So, my prayer request is that I am able to more fully accomplish my role, not just for the use of the United States Army, but for the people whose lives I am to be touching on behalf of Christ.

I have a couple attachments with this email; two of them are pictures of me out on the ranges.

If you are reading through my entire emails, know that I appreciate it, because it isn’t easy to send these updates, but I know there are some who really want to hear from me. So, for those of you who find use in reading these emails, thanks.

Thank you, and God bless!
love Nate KHATAR! Geist

Some quick Afghanistan/Islam facts that you may find interesting:
– 80% of Afghans are Sunni Muslims, while 19% are Shi’ite Muslims. There is 1 registered Jew in all of Afghanistan, and no registered Christians (though there are underground churches).
– There is approximately 0% humidity in Afghanistan, so even though we will be elevated about 8,500 feet above sea level, it will take no time to dry when we get wet. I hear it’s a weird sensation to sweat, and then be completely dry in moments’ time.
– March 21st is the New Year in Islam. However, they are still in year 1387. Just like most common calendars revolve around the birth of Christ, the Islam calendar revolves around the year that Muhammad traveled to Medina from Mecca. They have been at war literally ever since then.
– Islam looks kindly upon Jesus, and in fact believes Jesus will accompany Muhammad at the end of times. Muslims accept Abraham as their great ancestor, just as Jews and Christians do. The only difference is they believe that Ishmael was the chosen son of Abraham, not Isaac. For more background, read Chapter 16 of Genesis in the Bible, knowing that Ishmael is the ancestor of Islam, and Isaac is the ancestor of Christianity and Judaism.
– There is an 80-85% illiteracy rate in men, and a 90-95% illiteracy rate in women.
– Afghans do not know their birthday. It is not important to their culture, so when Afghans decide to travel to the United States, most of them must just make up a date to use as their birthday for their passport. In fact, there are even many Afghans who are unaware of the year they were born, so they sometimes have to guess how old they are as well.

Written by seeker70

November 17, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger Prepares to Deploy

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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 will appear as a periodic contributor to The Seeker throughout the next year as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

October 17, 2008

Happy Friday all,

Being deployed has brought so many new experiences, even after this short of time. Of course, there was the whole “saying goodbye to my family for a year and crying all night about it” experience, but besides that, there have been some great things to see. For instance, leaving the armory in Urbana to get on the plane to Fort Bragg was an experience that words don’t do justice for. The entire 5-mile route to the Champaign airport was closed off as we trekked through, no matter if the stoplights were green or red… we had a plethora of ambulances, fire trucks, and cop cars escorting us, lights flashing and sirens blaring. There were policemen lined up along our route, saluting us as we passed, not to mention the bounty of civilians waving to us and giving us blow-kisses goodbye. But, from what I hear, that’s nothing compared to the reception coming home that we face in a year, when you’d be tricked into thinking that we had just won the Superbowl; when the 2-130 Infantry came home from Iraq in 2006, there were 70,000 people linings the streets, and that was a much smaller group of soldiers that deployed compared to the 2,700 we have with this Illinois deployment now. And so here we are now, training for war in big ol’ Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
I received two questions frequently from a bunch of you. The first was this: what are the responsibilities of my job: the chaplain assistant? In a nutshell, a chaplain assistant provides religious support to the soldiers. That gets broken down further into three regular tasks.
The first task is actually something the chaplain is mainly supposed to do, but for several reasons, a chaplain may not be available, so the chaplain assistant often takes on the role. That role is being a counselor. Many issues come up from all across the spectrum: girlfriend issues, financial issues, stress, death of someone back home, etc.
The second role is, basically, being an altar boy. We help set up services for all religions (depending on the faith backgrounds of other soldiers) and get Bibles and Qurans and Bhavagad-Vitas and Tanaks/Torahs for those who request them. Generally, we have mostly Protestant soldiers, a handful of Catholic soldiers, and a few Jewish soldiers. I’ve never had a Muslim or Buddhist or Wiccan soldier to tend to, and I would be willing to bet that I won’t for this deployment, either.
The third (and by far most important) role is that of the bodyguard. If the chaplain dies, then religious support goes down the toilet. Any by the Geneva Conventions code, chaplains are not only not allowed to carry firearms, they can’t pick up firearms in self-defense from a nearby dead soldier. As such, the role of the chaplain assistant emerged. In fact, before it was an official job in the military, people have been chaplain assistants for every war since the Geneva Conventions were set. So, I, as a chaplain assistant, have a somewhat different mission than everyone else: I am to make sure the chaplain survives. We have not had a chaplain die in war since the Vietnam War, although there is one Catholic chaplain who is now in a vegetative state because of injuries. But generally speaking, the Unit Ministry Team has long been thought to be protected by God. We hope to continue that trend when we get home. So far, we have practiced bodyguard techniques only twice, but that training is very intense, so you don’t want to overdo it. There’s a lot of throwing other people on the ground, throwing yourself on the ground, etc. One guy on our team, Sergeant (SGT) Jag dislocated his finger doing the training. Beyond that, we’ve been practicing reloading our weapons without looking away from the enemy, which is extremely tough in our heavy equipment. Let me tell you, this military equipment wasn’t made for a guy like me with such a little frame. I’ve had a lot of lower back pains lately.
The second question I often received from you all was what my mission actually is. Though the mission can change frequently, as stands, unless there is an extraordinary surge of violence in Afghanistan that extra troops are needed for, the 33rd Brigade Combat Team has been activated for the sole purpose of training the Afghan police, so they can stand up to the Taliban bullies on their own, thus allowing the United States to pull out. Because there are so many soldiers that are being deployed for this mission, the Unit Ministry Team (UMT) has sent more chaplain/chaplain assistant teams to war than there’s ever been before. We have 6 UMT’s going, and we have all been training since January this year together. For those of you that care to know the names of all of us going, here they are: the chaplains are Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Robert Guy, Captain (CPT) Greg Moser, CPT Chad McGinnis, CPT Steven Pace (he’s my chaplain), CPT John Todd, and CPT Michael Giese (pronounced Gee-zee). The chaplain assistants are Staff Sergeant (SSG) John Robinson, Sergeant (SGT) Philip Henning, SGT Nick Jagodzinski (don’t try to pronounce it, we just call him Jag), SGT Nate Danger Geist (yeah, they even call me Danger here), Specialist (SPC) Nick Fentress, and SSG David Penny. Ironic that there’s 12 of us going, eh?
Conditions aren’t ideal here, but they could be worse. We have been sleeping in tents, and working long hours. One day we had to be ready at 3:45am, and we worked that day until 9:00pm. Also, the nights are very cold this time of year in North Carolina, surprisingly. The cold hasn’t been too bad, except for the first two nights when our gear hadn’t arrived from Illinois yet, and so I had been using toilet paper as my pillow and my dirty laundry as a blanket. Needless to say, it was one of the coldest nights of my life, if not the coldest ever. Not to mention, we were all shot up with smallpox and anthrax this week, so we are collectively one big infected walking mass of disease. My back has been hurting because of the body armor we need to put on, and it’s gotten worse the past few days, so I’m hoping that clears up. Regardless, I can tell you right now, when I get back from war, the VA Hospital will know my face really well with the number of times they’re going to have to see me for my back.
Obviously, you see that I have Internet access. But what you don’t see is that it takes approximately 3 to 5 minutes everytime I load a web-page, no matter how little there is to load on that page. So it still stands that I ask for your patience if you send me an email, because it could be a month before I reply. I plan on sending an email out about every two or three weeks from here on out.
All in all, things are going well. Though I’m not “excited” to be here, I’m glad that I am, and am slowly getting into the swing of things. Over the past two weeks, I’ve learned what it truly means to take things “one day at a time.”
At the end of every email, I will have a list of prayer requests for those of you who are committed to praying for me and those around me. Specifically this week, if you are going to pray for me, please pray that my mindset becomes battle-ready, as I am definitely not “in the zone” yet. For that matter, this entire operation hasn’t gotten in the mindset yet: this is one of the most disorganized training messes I’ve encountered. Those soldiers who are going to be out and about every day in Afghanistan are getting fairly nervous about the fact that they feel they are not getting the adequate training they expected. Though at the same time, “the horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). We can train all we want, but unless God wants us to have victory, then we won’t. That being said, faith isn’t an excuse for disorganization, so I want to train as best I can.
Attached to this email is a picture of me with my beloved smallpox infection; it’s only going to grow bigger and nastier as time goes on, and in fact, has gotten a lot uglier since I took this picture two days ago (I decided not to include a picture of my anthrax arm… it’s just a raised bruise, that’s all. My smallpox will eventually become a scab, and then fall off soon after. I will still be infected for 7 days after that, though. All in all, I should be completely rid of my smallpox by November 5th).

Keep asking questions! Now is the time to ask them, especially questions in which the answer is a number. After I get to Afghanistan, I will unable to answer any question that virtually has to do with a number, if that makes any sense.

Thank you, and God bless!
love Nate DANGER! Geist

Written by seeker70

November 14, 2008 at 2:00 pm

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