It is my regrettable duty to inform you of a grave shortcoming I encountered in my first days at the Divinity School. I hope my honesty may be a gift for our DDS community, an invitation to grow in the Spirit of Christ. Upon ‘giving’ this gift, I look forward to eagerly returning to ‘receiving ‘ from this community, a dualism that you so eloquently spoke of in your introductory remarks during new student orientation. I come to DDS after many years in.service not to God, but to our country, as an artilleryman in the United States Army. I deployed to Iraq in January 2004, spending fourteen months in an infantry platoon, ·conducting numerous direct combat missions throughout the region. After returning home, Christ bid me drop my weapon, and I obeyed our heavenly Commander to the best of my ability. I was called a coward and a traitor for refusing to carry a personal firearm to what would have been my second combat deployment in 2006.
Though I had applied to be a noncombatant conscientious objector, I was honorably discharged from armed service without any fanfare. It took nearly two years for the VA to recognize the PTSD that had emerged not long after my 2004 combat tour. As a former “frontline” combatant, I wrestle very deeply with my moral proximity to fratricide, having been in many firefights and combat operations throughout Iraq. I have since dedicated my life (academically and personally) to wrestling with others like myself who find their arms stretched between the sword and the Cross.
It is with great sadness, then, that I must report to you an overbearing ignorance on the part of at least the incoming class of M.Div, Th.M, and MTS students. I was made aware of this during a presentation by CAPS, the campus psychiatric service offered to students. The speaker, midway through his presentation, made it a point to share with the new class that they could tell counselors in CAPS anything, even, as he said, “That you have killed someone.”
At this, the room erupted in laughter.
Service members like myself have been embroiled in the morally ambiguous position of being expected to kill our nation’s enemies. In the last decade, we have born the awful burden of armed service at immense physical, mental, and spiritual cost. The overwhelming weight of which has crushed a great number of my compatriots under its pressure, 18 of whom killed themselves every single day in 2005. Obscenely, this past summer saw more soldiers kill themselves than were being killed in combat. The greatest fear in combat is not being killed, but being asked to kill. This expectation is the single greatest predictor of soldier suicides and combat related PTSD (Dave Grossman, On Killing Boston: Back Bay, 1996).
I felt compelled to speak up because I know many others like me often cannot find the strength to do so. I am very aware, however, that I am my brother’s keeper. There are many who camouflage their scars beneath a thin veneer of collegiate credentials. That knowledge calls me to be an advocate for those members of the martial fraternity that we call the Armed Forces.
At the end of all this, unfortunately, we are left with the question of why I am telling you all this. There is inside me a residual feeling that something should be done about the lack of sensitivity expressed. Tragically, I have no plan of action, or even suggestions for improvement. I have only a smoldering pain that serves to simultaneously impassion and afflict me. That “something” that must be done remains a mystery to me, and perhaps also to you. I know only that in my silence lay the seeds of betrayal that would force the suffering I endured onto the shoulders of another like me. If nothing else, I hope my experience has illumined for you, as the standing dean, one area in which the DDS community has much growing to do (as does, I suspect, the greater Duke community). Thank you for your attention and concern.
God’s servant and yours,
SGT/E-5, USA, 2000-2006