UCC chaplain in Iraq: 'Thanks for your prayers'

UCC chaplain in Iraq: 'Thanks for your prayers'

December 31, 2003
Written by Staff Reports

U.S.Army Chaplain Tony Ciomperlik (left),a UCC minister,says the invocation at a change of command ceremony for the 104th Military Intelligence Company, with an unidentified soldier at right. Ciomperlik's unit, the 4th infantry division, was responsible for the capture of Saddam Hussein. After the capture, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, Ciomperlik preached from Luke 1:39-55. His sermon title?—Leaping for Joy. U.S. Army photo.
Air Force pastor describes a long day's ministry among the wounded

The Rev. Janis Dashner is an active duty UCC Air Force Chaplain serving in Iraq. From the field, she wrote the following account to friends and colleagues on Dec. 12:

Today is a quiet day. I slept most of it away. I was supposed to start my 12:00 noon to 12:00 midnight shift yesterday. Instead, I came in yesterday at 12:00 noon but did not fall into my bed until 7:00 this morning, because last night around 10:00 p.m., 47 patients came into the Casualty Air Staging Facility (CASF)—a place where "litter patients" are "collected" from various treatment areas, field hospitals, etc. so that they can be made ready to fl y [to other military medical facilities], usually to Germany.

Eighteen of these patients needed to be carried from the ambulance to the CASF and then from the CASF to the plane. Lots and lots of very heavy work.

Of these patients, four came in all from the same site. An explosive device hit the building they were in. It must have been a huge explosion because it blasted through protective barriers before it destroyed the walls of the building they were in. One soldier lost both eyes, two others lost an eye each and both had extensive shrapnel wounds to their faces, the fourth soldier had most of his lower face injured and had to have a tracheotomy in order to breathe.

In addition we saw every other kind of injury and illness. Wounds from a grenade explosion that injured a foot, one young man's elbow was shattered because he had been driving with his elbow on the window sill when a explosive device went off. Then, of course, there is the regular stuff that happens to people all the time—kidney stones, etc. One young women had a miscarriage. She had been in country for not quite two months and didn't know that she was pregnant.

One of the young men with the eye injury and shrapnel wounds became my patient to take care of. He was on heavy medication that caused him to be confused and acting out. The medical staff didn't have time to stand by him, so they gave him to me. When I took his hand to introduce myself he held on and didn't let go. His "good" eye was swollen shut and he couldn't see. He was drugged and scared and still covered with blood from the blast.

My ministry last night was to talk with this guy, wash him off so we could see what were wounds that needed dressings and what were just scratches from crawling through the debris. As I washed the blood away he fell asleep—the first sleep he had had in three days.

A couple of hours later he woke up, he was feeling the stitches that had been placed to piece together his face. He then asked if he could have a mirror to see his face. When he looked at himself, through one blurred eye, he asked me, "Do you think my children will kiss me when they see me?"

Wow, try to stay upbeat and reassuring with that question.

The night ended with our 47 getting on the plane that would take them to Germany—and one step closer to home. While the plane was being loaded, we had explosions on our perimeter. I can imagine how scary it is to be tied to a "litter"—blind and hearing explosions going off not too far away.

Tonight, at least, they are in Germany. Safe from further harm. It has been quiet for us, except for artillery from the Army site down the road—firing out into the night.

As I have been writing this message, I got a call from the mortuary. They are loading several human remains on a plane that is ready to take off. I went out to do a short memorial service—a prayer, a scripture, and with the aircrew at attention, a salute. If the plane is carrying passengers, it is an opportunity to talk to them about the privilege they have of escorting these bodies home and to reassure them, since they will be flying for several hours with the transfer cases at their feet.

Last week, the priest did a memorial service like this. The religious preferences of these three service members were listed as Catholic, Jewish and Sikh. Pluralism in action.

In the midst of this job, we are doing all the other stuff pastors do. Getting ready to light our Christmas tree and Menorah this Sunday, Preaching on Sunday and doing a Bible study on Wednesday afternoons.

Thanks for your prayers.


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