Staying Up Late

by CH Don Williamson, USA

I have a confession to make. I don't sleep very well in a single bed.

This past September, Sue and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary. Sleeping next to someone that long, you get used to having them next to you, feeling their warmth, hearing them breathe, reaching your arm out to hold them. So when you are away, it's much harder to fall asleep.

As a result, I wake up often or it takes me a while to drift off. Recently I've found that if I go out for a late night walk, it calms me down enough that I can get some needed rest. Being in a combat zone makes it hard to shut down your brain. There is always the chance of an attack, either direct or indirect, and if I let my mind wander, it could give me insomnia.

Last night was one of those nights. It started out great. My daughters had been wanting me to call and tell them a bedtime story, so I made sure to stay up a little later than usual in order to call back home and tell them one. Sue put her cell phone on speaker in the middle of the room so the girls could hear the story. And I had a lot of fun telling it. Hannah has often told me that whenever I do that, "It's like you are right here telling it!" But I have to admit, it also made me a little homesick, and I couldn't fall right to sleep.

I decided to go for a walk around the forward operating base (FOB). At several locations along the wall, we have guard towers that are manned 24/7. I made my way over to one of them for a visit. As I got closer, one of the guards shined his red lens flashlight at me.

"Who goes there?" he asked.

"It's the chaplain," I responded.

"Oh, hey sir!" the soldier said, surprised. "What brings you out here so late at night?"

Climbing up the ladder to the tower, I said, "Well, it's a nice night out, so I decided to check up on some of my favorite soldiers."

Barely able to make out his silhouette in the darkness, I could sense the soldier didn't quite know how to react to that statement. Then he said matter-of-factly, "Yeah, but sir, we stay up so you don't have to."

I smiled and clapped my hand onto his armor-vest protected shoulder. "I know buddy," I replied, "but it never hurts to get a visit of encouragement, right?"

"You bet, chaps," he said, obviously appreciative of the company. "It's always good to see you."

For the next fifteen minutes, these two soldiers and I (there are always two on duty at night at each tower) talked about a myriad of things. I learned that one of them was going home in a few weeks for leave. His baby was not quite a month old when he deployed. The other soldier was only nineteen years old. Man, did I start to feel my age then! Towards the end of our time together, I asked if I could say a quick prayer for them.

"Sure, sir," the guard said. "Always love it when you pray for us."

I put my arms around their shoulders and prayed for them. I asked that God would be with them throughout the night and help them stay awake and alert. I prayed for their families. And as always, I prayed that all of us would make it through this deployment safely and return home to the ones we love. We all said, "Amen" and with that, I climbed back down the ladder, and headed towards my hooch.

As I was walking back, I was reminded of the famous scene in A Few Good Men where Lieutenant Weinberg asked Commander Galloway why she was so adamant about defending two Marines who were on trial for killing a fellow Marine in a "Code Red" gone bad.

She wheeled around and looked him right in the eyes and responded, "Because they stand on a wall each and every night and say, 'Nothing's gonna hurt you tonight, not on my watch.'"

The comment of that young soldier, all of nineteen years old, still echoed in my head. But sir, we stay up so you don't have to.

How many times have I heard people back home talk about this generation of kids? How often have people said to me, "These kids don't care about anything. They are so selfish. We've become a society that simply gives kids everything nowadays and places no expectations on them. They'll never amount to anything."

How I wish they could these young service men and women over here! They would see teens and young adults who are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for many in their country who've written them off as selfish, immature leeches of society. These soldiers often tell me that I give them inspiration, when, in reality, they are the ones who inspire me. They inspire me to be a better chaplain and a better servant. They inspire me to pray for them without ceasing. They inspire me to be a better soldier.

We stay up so you don't have to.

As I crawled into bed and started to drift off to sleep, I thought of the psalmist when he said the Lord "will neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalm 121:4). And I was grateful for another day to serve Him who protects and cares for these unselfish, untiring, dedicated men and women who protect our freedom.

CH(CPT) Don Williamson, USA, is currently assigned to the US Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina attending the Captains Career Course. In January he will move to Fort Carson, CO to be assigned as the 759th Military Police Battalion chaplain. Join him in praying that God will sustain soldiers who are growing weary.

Originally printed in the Summer 2008 issue of CONNECTED.