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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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