This week, a team of Communicators is spending a few days on Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, meeting with chaplains and the people for whom they care.
A young man with a short haircut and two arms full of tattoos sat next to me on the flight from St. Louis to Dallas. He didn’t say anything . . . just put his head back and fell asleep. I was caught up in my own reading until the flight attendant came on, announcing our impending arrival in Dallas. Before the second syllable left her mouth, my seat mate jumped out of his seat, fully awake, and threw his hands out, the bag of airline peanuts in his hand flying across me. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Habit,” and then closed his eyes again.
I figured out why on the next leg of the trip: Dallas to San Antonio. His name was Jason. He’s been deployed to Kyrgyzstan, and he’s redeploying in two months to Afghanistan.
He grew more open then, telling me about his past deployment, his parents back home in Rochester, Minn., and the MBA he was working on thanks to the GI Bill.
“Does redeploying scare you?” I asked him. “You seem so chill.”
“It’s my job,” he said. “I don’t get to freak out. At least, not outwardly. Not now.”
It seemed like a natural segue.
“So, what’s your opinion of chaplains?” I finally asked. “Do you talk to them about what you’re going through?”
“I’ve talked to a lot of chaplains,” he said quietly. “I’d talk to my chaplain for hours on my first deployment. Now I go to chapel on base every week.”
I stayed quiet.
“The great thing is,” he said matter-of-factly, “is that they’re here for us. They’re not here for the military. It shows.”
We talked for the remainder of the flight and walked to the baggage claim together. He retrieved his camo luggage and shook my hand. “Just know we pray for you,” I told him as we walked toward the USO. “That’s what the Church does; she prays.”
He smiled just a little. “I appreciate that,” he said, wished me well, and then turned to walk away.
On the back of his right arm, I spotted another tattoo: a sword with a Bible passage wound around it.
“Hey!” I piped up, pointing as his tattoo. “Why Isaiah 41:10?”
He turned back around. “So do not fear, for I am with you,” he said. “Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” He stopped, thought for a second, and then said, “Oh yeah, and ‘I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’” He smiled, gave a little wave, turned around, and was gone.