Letting sight shine through… regardless


During June 0f 1997, I was serving with a unit of Marines 4/14 out of Bessemer, Ala. I was the Navy Reserve Chaplain assigned to this command and believe me they were a great group of people to serve with in training and in other endeavors.

Allow me to highlight some historical background.

4th Battalion, 14th Marines (4/14) was a United States reserve artillery battalion comprising three firing batteries and a headquarters battery. The battalion was based in Bessemer, Alabama and its primary weapon system was the M198 Howitzer with a maximum effective range of 30 kilometers. They were part of the 14th Marine Regiment and the 4th Marine Division.

4th Battalion, 14th Marines started as a direct support artillery Battalion utilizing the M109A3 (SP) Self Propelled Howitzer, then transferred all (18) M109A3 SP’s to the Army and converted to the M198 Tow Howitzer. 4th Battalion, 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division was the last Marine Corps unit to use the M109A3 SP Howitzers.

Headquarters battery and Lima battery, both based in Bessemer, Ala., were recently disbanded. Concurrent with this was the formation of the 4th Anti-Terrorism Battalion, an infantry unit, headquartered in Bessemer. Kilo Battery was reassigned as a Himaars Battery and reassigned to 2nd Battalion 14th Marines. Mike Battery was reassigned to 3rd Battalion 14th Marines and has since transitioned to the M-198’s replacement, the M-777 lightweight 155mm howitzer. Mike Battery was activated again in 2007 for a 2008 deployment to Iraq.

As you can see, this artillery battalion has had an illustrious career. Most of the people in this battalion, when I knew them, were 19-20 years of age, both men and women. Now 26 years later, for the ones who are alive they are in their 40’s moving through early middle age.

Over the years, I have thought about them a lot and I wonder how they are doing, how are they getting along in life.

But back to 1997, our battalion was doing a two-week training exercise at Camp LeJeune, N.C.   For those who are familiar with the area, the training area at Camp LeJeune has a lot of brush, there are some areas where there are bodies of water. Above all, you need to on guard for the heat and the bugs.

Make that almost 100-degree heat, when you factor in the humidity, its stifling, particularly if you were wearing the old green camouflage uniforms that made one look like a tree. This was before the advent of the ACU uniform which was much cooler especially in the heat.

One night one of the batteries was assigned to do a shooting exercise with live ammunition. I remember the Humvees were lined up where the command field headquarters were located. The battery unit was out ahead at a significant distance blowing up rounds. As the sun was setting the night sky was getting lite up by the flares. 

I was laying on top of the hood of a Humvee with my back against the Windshield.

There I was for hours watching this artillery fireworks display, sweating profusely, drinking canteens of water and finding any place suitable to relieve myself.

Finally, the explosion of the rounds were over, it was after 11 p.m. A lot of the Marines were going to call it a night and go back and sleep in their Humvees.

I have to confess that I don’t sleep well in a Humvee. Even with a mattress, the metal floor is just too uncomfortable on my back.

So, I decided to stay up. There were several young Marines with their weapons who were patrolling the perimeter protecting the vehicles. I decided that I would walk with these young Marines as they patrolled the area.

 “Chaplain, you don’t need to do this! Go to bed!”

I replied to them, “You’re right I don’t need to do this, but I want to do this. I’ll keep you company tonight. Besides, I can’t sleep.”

So, all night I made lap after lap with these young Marines as they guarded the vehicles. They talked about everything, their families, their partners, their questions about God and religion in general, their struggles with pornography.

I know that these young gentlemen were taken aback, shocked that I wasn’t dismissive nor judgmental regarding what they were saying.

I thought when morning came and it was all over, that they appreciated my presence, my walking with them through the night and into the dawn.

My confirmation was right when on Sunday morning

I went and lead church services to all of the batteries. I used the hood of a Humvee as the altar for the service.

Right before one service started with one of the batteries (I think it was Kilo battery). I stood before 50 Marines, all looking worn out like I felt. Many had camouflage paint on their faces. The thing that humbled me was that all of them had taken a bended knee to show homage regarding worshipping God. This felt like a scene out the Mel Gibson movie “Braveheart.”

I was left speechless and almost in tears. I never had any hesitation that if need be, I could trust my life into the hands of these Marines to protect me and others.

When you experience genuine heroic service, you notice it.

During the same deployment, right after one of the Sunday services that I lead in the field, one of our Marines was having a very difficult time. He was sitting on a cot at a field medical station.  I went over to him and sat on the ground next to him and talked.

He grew up in a small town in Alabama. He was going to school, working and serving as a Reservist in the US Marine Corps.

This is a lot of responsibility for a 20-year-old young man.

Yet, despite all of this, he was very depressed. All he did was stare and look down at the ground, not making any eye contact and barely saying anything.

I remember as we talked, I mentioned about the possibility about tsking him over to Naval Hospital at Camp LeJeune, N.C. to see if we could get him hospitalized.  

He was in agreement with the recommendation. I briefed the Commanding Officer of the Battalion, got his approval and got a Humvee with a driver and we set out for the hospital.

We walked into the hospital emergency room. I talked to the attending ER physician and briefed him regarding the situation.  

Next thing I knew, we were both standing at the Nurse’s Station writing up the admission note for the chart. Our Marine was admitted to inpatient psychiatry.

I went upstairs and paid a courtesy visit to the Command Chaplain.

He had a big spacious office which included a big walk-in bathroom with a shower!

After being in the field for over seven to eight days seeing that sight made me really envious.

The Command Chaplain looked at me and he asked:

“Would you like to take a shower?”

“Oh my God, I said, that would be heavenly.”

So, I took a long hot shower in the Command Chaplain’s bathroom wondrously thinking about the miracle of indoor plumbing.

Afterwards, the Command Chaplain invited me to stay for a luncheon that he was hosting for his fellow Chaplains and Religious Program Assistants. 

There was almost a biblical feeling to this encounter, like being invited to be baptized, to be washed clean and then sit down at a welcoming banquet.

We are called to be consistent with what they say and what they do. This may mean acknowledging terrible injustices that have occurred in the past liked slavery or confronting how churches and denominations have contributed to economic and environmental injustice.

Doing the right thing and being people of the light does not mean that this will happen without some pain.

It’s been said that light is the great sanitizer, the gift that helps people to see what important and meaningful in life.

We are challenged to live our lives generously. The light we carry can be a torch of hope and promise to others this day and always.

May we remember that as we have seen the light, that in turn we can bring light to others.

May it be so.

Rev. Peter E. Bauer is a United Church of Christ minister. He is the Interim Minister for First Christian Church in Lockhart. Rev. Peter E. Bauer has been a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Medium.Com.


Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.