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‘Daddy, Don’t Go Back’—My Personal Story of Deployment

Last Updated on July 13, 2018 by OCF Communications

War is not fun. Worry, anticipatory grief, and taking care of others, all take their toll.

Tears streamed down her face. Her daddy said, “What is the matter, Honey? Why are you crying?” She said, “Daddy, don’t you know?” He said, “No darling, what is it?” She pressed into his big chest and sobbed, “I don’t want you to go back!” Many of us who have gone through a deployment have probably witnessed this with our own children and husbands.

I was that little girl 35 years ago, telling my dad that I didn’t want him to go back to Vietnam.

Years later, tears flowed in our house when my husband, Eric, was preparing to return to Iraq after having been gone for a year. The day Eric left will always remain vivid in my mind; as moments ticked away, we videotaped Eric with the kids. They clung to him, and we said heart-wrenching things.

With this being our second yearlong deployment, we knew all too well the dangers that lay ahead. This time, though, as a battalion commander, Eric would be out daily in his HMMWV (High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) in an area that includes the town of Tarmiyah—part of the Sunni triangle. I knew all the facts and figures; how many lives the previous battalion had lost due to IEDs, the hours of casualty notification, and also that Eric’s predecessor had been targeted by the very same people he was meeting with to help democracy take hold.

War is not fun. Worry, anticipatory grief, and taking care of others, all take their toll. Thankfully, Eric returned in late January of ’05, but he had lost brothers in arms, and some heroic Americans’ lives were forever altered due to serious injuries. The human response is to say, “We have served our country and done our duty (the whole family), maybe we need to rethink all of this and consider getting out.” We will have a high school freshman this year, an eleven-year-old, and our youngest, a girl, is eight. Will there be an end to this, or does the Lord want us to continue to do this to our family?

The answer is—PERHAPS. The longer I live, the more I realize that life is not about us, and that most of life is difficult. God will not waste hardship or suffering.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6-7).

Our Children Learn that Life is Not About Temporal Satisfaction, and It is Not About Them

Recently, when we had lost three soldiers in eight days, one of my children complained about something that I couldn’t do at the time. I said, “I am sorry; a soldier has just died, and his family is very sad and I need to be with them. You will need to be patient–I can’t be with you now.” That may sound harsh, but it was the reality of the situation.

Looking back on the last year, I get emotional at what my children have experienced. But, I truly believe they were all life lessons that the Lord will use in their lives in a powerful way.

We get into some very good discussions with our oldest children about the geopolitical situation in the world, and what is occurring. They realize that we are in the fight of our lives, much like we were in WWII against the Nazis and fascism, and in the Cold War years against communism. Now, post 9/11, it is against Islamic extremism. (I recommend you read Tony Blankley’s book, The West’s Last Chance—Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?)

Going Deeper

I do not wish deployments, danger, or hardship on anyone, but I cherish the sweetness that comes in my relationship with the Lord when Eric is away. We military wives are blessed because we are forced to come to the place that Jesus is enough. As I would read Scripture every night, I would pray the Psalms for Eric and his men. Doing this gave me restful, peaceful sleep, not knowing what the next day might bring. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).

Listening to praise music and focusing on the Lord in times of difficulty is healing and therapeutic. “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness” (Psalm 89:15-16).

“Each day has enough trouble of its own,” as the Lord said, so I would try to focus on each hour at first, and then each day—one day at a time. If I looked much beyond that I would be overwhelmed with the uncertainty those days could bring. One of my favorite verses that has sustained me during Eric’s absences, particularly in combat, is from Lamentations: “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).

The Field is Ripe and Souls are Hungry

I wonder what people who don’t know Him, and don’t have the hope of eternity, do in our circumstances. I am not sure how they survive. But one thing is certain—they are hungry for hope, prayer, words of comfort, and spiritual things.

Use this time to speak into people’s lives about the hope you have in Him. Remember there are no atheists in foxholes and none at home either, desperately waiting. We have heard countless stories of men coming to know God while in combat, and being baptized. Who is planting seeds with the wives and families back home so that they are receptive to their loved one’s newfound faith? I challenge you to reach out! Help bring a Spiritually Smart Family conference to your installation, or offer to start a unit prayer group and open it up to everybody-you may be surprised by who comes.

I knew of one young lieutenant’s wife in our OCF group at Fort Stewart who invited a different family (the wife and children) in her husband’s platoon over every Friday night—no matter who, not matter what rank. That is reaching out, feeding their lives and hearts and souls—and giving them hope. Women are hungry to be listened to and drawn out during a combat deployment; they are just as lonely and scared as you are. Let your kids catch your vision of being “Jesus with skin on” to other families.

Renew and Revamp

One thing that aided my outlook profoundly was taking time to exercise. Not only did exercise help my physical frame and keep my stress in check mentally, but it also gave me a great time to talk to the Lord and meditate and pray. Many of my friends have gone back to college, learned something new, or picked up a new hobby. You will grow and change while your husband is gone—make sure it is for the better. Be intentional about it. Make him proud of how you used the time he was gone.

Final Thoughts

I try to view my husband’s being in the military as not just a job but as a calling, and something to which our whole family has been called. This is our portion. And while it might not be the “life of my dreams,” it is the life God has given us—all of us in the Wesley family.

The Steven Curtis Chapman song “Bring It On” has challenged and inspired me when Eric was deployed. It talks about how troubled times can drive us to the One who is strong. May we (the Wesley and OCF families) continue to be salt and light to a military that is giving over and over again—sometimes at great personal cost.

Military dad hugs his children.

Cindy Wesley is an Army brat and a second generation OCFer. While her husband, LTC Eric Wesley, was in battalion command she served as the Family Readiness Group’s senior advisor. Eric recently changed out of battalion command at Ft. Riley, where he now serves as the 1st Infantry Division’s G3—he also is the OCF area coordinator. They are blessed with three children.

‘Go for the honey muscle!’

Last Updated on June 26, 2018 by OCF Communications

The advice came from a master barbecue competitor when asked about the secret to winning with pulled pork.

Honey muscle is a small, tender, and very tasty portion of the pork shoulder. It’s not easy to recognize, but if found and liberally distributed within the sample submitted for competition, a high score is very likely.

Jesus taught often through parables. Every listener could garner solid adages for life. Yet there was a special category of those Jesus taught who received the deep and rich gems that would transform them and enable them in fruitful service to the Master. They were the true disciples; they were not the casual followers.

Immediately after recording four successive parables we read, “With many such parables He spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to His own disciples He explained everything” (Mark 4:33-34, ESV). They were treated to the “honey muscle” of the parable, those deeper and power-filled truths.

Footnote: Jesus gave eight clear marks of the true disciple. They set a high bar indeed.

‘Mr. Tok’ remembered as spiritual giant

Last Updated on June 26, 2018 by OCF Communications

Longtime Bible teacher, speaker and friend of OCF, ACCTS and Christian Military Fellowship, Charalambos Nikolaou Tokatloglou (Mr. Tok), went to be with his Lord on 15 December. He was 97. Though the self-described “little Greek” viewed himself as a “preschooler” spiritually, those who knew him saw a spiritual giant whose legacy spanned the globe.

“His faithfulness and service to the Lord were legendary, and I couldn’t help but be amazed and blessed in his presence,” said Brig Gen David Warner, USAF (Ret.), OCF’s Executive Director.

“My dear friend, mentor, and humble man of God has finally, to quote his biography, stopped ‘kicking in the womb.’ Mr. Tok has now seen the face of the Savior whom he faithfully served for eighty-one years,” said Robert Flynn, Christian Military Fellowship’s president and CEO.

Col Philip Exner, USMC (Ret.), ACCTS’ executive director, said, “Mr. Tok played an immensely important role in the lives of international military and civilian people. His humble and caring personality allowed him to share the Gospel with people from many cultures in a way that attracted them to listen.”

“Though I have been reading the Bible daily since 1931, I am only scratching the surface at best, because it is God’s wisdom. And if I went to heaven right now, I probably will be a preschooler there!” —Mr. Tok, from his biography, We All Knew A Little Greek

“His small stature concealed an enormous and unshakable faith that suffused and directed his thoughts, words and actions,” said Col Exner.

Mr. Tok served OCF as coordinator of ministries from 1964-1986, staff emeritus from 1986-1991, and minister-at-large from 1992-2004. He spoke frequently at OCF retreats, conferences, and leadership seminars, and also served joyfully for many years as a volunteer for membership mailings with his late wife, Carol.

One of the members of the founding committee that formed Christian Military Fellowship, Mr. Tok worked on the governing council and Board of Directors for many years, “lovingly guiding us toward the Cross, always reminding us who we were and to Whom we belonged,” said Flynn.

Mr. Tok’s humility and wisdom impacted others worldwide. In his biography, We All Knew A Little Greek, Mr. Tok spoke of a prayer to God, “Lord, if my whole life on earth is ‘in the womb stage,’ then no wonder I can’t even imagine what enjoying Your presence in heaven will be like. Thank You, Lord, for revealing this to me. Lord, this way there is absolutely no room for any pride here on earth about what I can do.”

About C.N. Tokatloglou

  • Born in Ankara, Turkey
  • Educated at American College of Salonika in Greece, and in Great Britain
  • Missionary for Worldwide Evangelization Crusade in West Africa and Sudan Interior Mission in East Africa and Arabia
  • Fluent in four languages beyond his native tongue and English
  • Lived in the U.S. since 1956
  • Taught New Testament Greek
  • Developed an international students ministry at Michigan State University
  • Developed International Officers and Prayer Partners Fellowship
  • Bible teacher, speaker at chapels and conferences worldwide
  • Wife Carol, who went to glory in 2006; two children, Eunice and Timothy

Col Exner remembered that as a young captain he first saw Mr. Tok at an OCF conference many years ago. Because he was the conference speaker, Col Exner only “looked from afar” at this small man who had such gigantic strength of spirit and boundless love of his Savior. Envious at the time of the unshakably peaceful confidence that shone from Mr. Tok, that desire spurred Col Exner’s search for a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ.

Brig Gen Warner recalls his first meeting with Mr. Tok. The spiritual stalwart “gently grabbed my hands, looked me square in the eye, and gave me his blessing. I’ll never forget the sense of peace and joy that overcame me from meeting him.”

‘Well, who’s looking in on you, chap?’

Last Updated on November 14, 2022 by OCF Communications

During a recent podcast interview with LT Jonathan Gentry, CHC, USN, we were talking about how people can support their chaplains. Once we had stopped recording the interview, our conversation about chaplain support continued and included a brief chat about compassion fatigue.

He shared this insight with me: “Anybody who provides any type of care to others is usually the worst able at taking care of themselves. Sometimes we need people to check in on us. One of our sailors asked about that one time. She said, ‘Well, who’s looking in on you, chap?’”

It was this conversation with Jonathan that prompted us to focus on crafting a variety of chaplain-related content in this issue of Command, both for chaplains and for those serving alongside chaplains.

The following article will briefly examine compassion fatigue, offer ways you can pray for chaplains, share stories of how the role of chaplain is a lonely one, and inform you of OCF’s perspective on supporting chaplains as outlined in the OCF Handbook.

Related Resources

CH(LTC) Todd Cheney, USA, recalls a particularly difficult five-day span while serving as the coverage chaplain for the combat support on a deployment to Iraq in 2008.

“We had a tank rollover that injured four Marines, an infantryman who was killed by a sniper (our med team worked on him for 45 minutes to revive him), and a medic who was going through a very difficult divorce who shot himself through his left shoulder to expedite a trip home because his soon-to-be ex-wife would not allow him to talk to their daughter on her fourth birthday,” said Cheney.

The series of events left an indelible mark, draining him “emotionally, physically, and spiritually after a week of non-stop pastoral care.”

The exhaustion Cheney described is known as “compassion fatigue,” which is the result of frequent and cumulative exposure to trauma and stress.

The National Library of Medicine defines compassion fatigue as stress resulting from exposure to a traumatized individual. It’s the convergence of secondary traumatic stress and cumulative burnout, a state of physical and mental exhaustion caused by a depleted ability to cope with one’s everyday environment.
Because compassion fatigue isn’t always evident and often manifests in different ways and to varying degrees, studies suggest the rate of compassion fatigue could range from 40%-85%.

CH(COL) Bob Phillips, USA, has seen and experienced firsthand how compassion fatigue impacts chaplains differently, saying it can span the spectrum from feeling mildly discouraged and slightly disoriented for a few days, to a total breakdown, depression, questioning of one’s calling to ministry, negatively impacting family relationships, and loss of pastoral identity.

“I have seen chaplains who returned from deployment whose lives became totally unraveled,” said Phillips, who also serves on the OCF Council. “Their experience with trauma, death, and combat ministry left them emotionally wounded and spiritually exhausted. Some doubted their faith, some left the ministry. Some recovered, some didn’t.”

Phillips recalled one chaplain friend whom he described as being a very pastoral and caring man before a difficult deployment in which his friend was “surrounded by death” left him overwhelmed and suffering from compassion fatigue.

“Our paths crossed while we were down range and we met for dinner one night. I was completely taken aback at how calloused and hard he had become,” said Phillips. “He was almost uncaring about the deaths of his soldiers. It’s ‘business as usual around here’ was his comment to me. He said, ‘That’s what we do here, we fight and our soldiers die.’

“I knew he was hurting but I also knew that the mess hall was not the place to start a discussion about what was going on,” Phillips said. “I also knew that his callousness was the way he was coping and that was what kept him doing his job.”

Photo by Lance Cpl. Jacob Bertram, USMC

U.S. Navy Lt. Ailsa Harl, left, chaplain for the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, blesses the hands of a sailor during a Blessing of the Hands event at the Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point (NHCCP), MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, May 11, 2021.

Phillips went on to say his own experiences with compassion fatigue were mild, leaving him a bit disoriented and a little depressed for a few days.

One experience occurred while he was enrolled in a one-year hospital chaplain residency at Duke Medical Center in North Carolina. Phillips was the on-call duty chaplain one evening.

“During that night, in a twelve-hour period, I was called to six death visits. Three of them were very traumatic and I can still remember them vividly,” he said. “For several days afterward, I was withdrawn, discouraged, feeling numb, lacked energy, and questioning my ability to be a chaplain. Fortunately, these feelings lasted only a few days and I was able to regroup, focus, and return to my regular routine.”

At other times in his career, Phillips said it was difficult not to take the problems of others personally.

“One night I was unable to get to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about a couple I was counseling through some marital difficulties,” he said. “I came to realize that I was owning their troubles, dysfunctions, wounds, and pain. I was allowing the deep emotion of it all to impact me personally. I also realized that for some of these soldiers and couples, I was working harder to resolve their distress than they were.”

After retiring from 26 years of chaplain ministry, CH(COL) Marc Gauthier, USA (Ret.), says he had fatigue he was not even aware of. “I felt much like a turtle tipped upside down. I knew I was there but didn’t know how I got there.”

He explained that while going through a mediation, the facilitator looked at him and said, “Marc, you need to find someone to grieve with you!”

“It caught me totally off guard and I thought, ‘And who would that be?’” he recalled. “However, I prayed that God would provide someone, and He graciously provided people and opportunities to process a backlog of grief that has accumulated over the years.”

The NLM goes on to say that compassion fatigue can impact standards of patient care, relationships with colleagues, or lead to more serious mental health conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression.

Gauthier recounted another instance in which his unit had experienced a number of deaths through several months and was supporting in a rear detachment capacity.

“We have our first combat deaths in [Operation Iraqi Freedom], and I was a part of the notification team, providing follow-on care for two spouses and conducting the memorial service. The day after the service one of our chaplain assistants committed suicide. We found him in his room,” he said, adding that his supervisory chaplain made several extra trips just to provide pastoral care to the unit ministry. “He set the standard for chaplains caring for other chaplains when they’ve gone through a dark time. supervisory chaplains need to care for their own.”

When Ch(Lt Col) David Merrifield, USAF, was deployed to Iraq in 2009, his wife immediately noted a change in his demeanor while connecting via Skype.

“We had some very long days with counseling out the door for several weeks in a row as well as a few tragic events,” he recalled. “My wife immediately noticed something and wondered what was wrong with me. We hadn’t had comms in a few days and she could see and hear that I was different.”

Merrifield said he apparently made such comments to her as “I didn’t think I was making a difference and that I didn’t think I cared about people’s problems as much, and that I didn’t have enough hours in the day to walk people through the Word like I knew was necessary for real help and hope.

“Before this, I had never noted a lack of concern for people since becoming a chaplain in 2005.”

“I felt much like a turtle tipped upside down. I knew I was there but didn’t know how I got there.”

Because compassion fatigue affects everyone differently, it’s not always easy to pinpoint a single solution to dealing with or healing from such stress, but self-awareness and the support of a community of believers appear to be good places to start for most.

Several years ago, seven OCF military chaplains were interviewed for an article in Command magazine titled “A Questionable Life.” When asked how chaplains can deal with the gravity of the information that they heard from those they counsel, CH(LTC) Kenneth Stice, USA, said:

“Establish accountability partners to share the burden. Without breaking confidentiality or privacy, it is possible to have others agree to pray and listen to your load.

Pour out your heart and soul to God. I have found the honesty of the Psalmists to be the ticket to ‘getting real’ with God,” Stice said. “I lay it out for Him in my journal—where I can collect and express my thoughts—just myself and Him. Months later, when I flip through those pages, I can then appreciate how God was working on me and through me to do something. It also helps me share private expressions that I don’t think anyone else would understand, but He always does!”

Merrifield says some of his compassion fatigue “symptoms” were mitigated by several intentional steps, which included: “Extended prayer, fasting, time in the Word (usually the Psalms), encouragement from loved ones and mentors who discipled and counseled me. Also, more sleep, additional exercise, and sharing the 24/7 on-call hours with additional chaplain partnerships.”

Gauthier says grieving can be a tricky thing for chaplains.

“When a death or crisis comes, chaplains need to put their emotions on hold so they can provide the ministry that is required,” he said. “Usually, they intend to find a time when things slow down to grieve, but instead, it just gets stuffed.”

It’s also important for those in the military to keep their eyes on their chaplains, said Gauthier.

“When they are aware of times they are redlining in their care for their units and families, reach out, be a listening ear,” he said. “Pray with them and be a Christian brother or sister to them. Grieving is best done in loving, caring community.”

Gentry echoed that sentiment, saying, “Get past the basic pleasantries and really check in on them. Sometimes we need that. We have a lot on our hearts that we can’t share with anybody. Just ask, ‘How are you doing? How can I pray for you?’”

Although he admits he’s just getting started in his role as a chaplain, Gentry offered this advice to other chaplains: “Take leave when you can. Take care of yourself. You’re going to be no good as a chaplain if you aren’t in Christ and if you aren’t taking care of yourself.”

And to everyone else? “Pray for us. Pray for wisdom for all chaplains. Pray that we minister well,” he said. “I have no clue what I’m going to hear when a sailor or Marine walks into my office.”

“On your terms or God’s terms”: Digging deeper into God’s design for the human mind

Got an idea for a guest or topic?

If you would like to share your own story, complete the form on OCF’s “Be a Guest” webpage. Alternatively, if you have an idea for a guest or topic I should consider for a future episode of the show, send an email to [email protected].

Show Notes

CAPT Brent & Nicole Breining, USN (Ret.), return to the podcast today to continue our series on pornography and sexuality. If you haven’t listened to the first episode in this series, I encourage you to check out that episode first, get to know Brent and Nicole’s story, then return to hear today’s episode as we dive into the nature of addiction.

We discuss statistics and real-world case studies regarding the pornography industry that reveal the magnitude of its harmful effects on society and on individuals alike. Brent and Nicole then unpack terms and concepts such as the cyclone of addiction, the shame cycle, and neurochemistry of the brain that all point to God’s intricate design for His creation.

Check out the various resources mentioned throughout this episode:

As you listen to this conversation with Brent and Nicole, here are a few questions to ponder in your personal time, with a small group, or with a mentor:

  1. We refer to the statistic that 49% of rescued sex trafficking victims were forced to participate in the production of pornographic material. How ought that knowledge affect decisions to consume that pornographic material?
  2. How does the pornography industry harm our perceptions of others as individuals made in the image of God?
  3. Why might “rigid, disengaged homes,” per Brent’s description, often become an environment in which many individuals become sex addicts?
  4. What habits can you establish to “live in this world of technology… but do it in a healthy manner,” as Brent says?
  5. What sin struggles have prompted you to feel shame and hide from God and from fellow believers?

About OCF Crosspoint

OCF Crosspoint is a podcast produced by Officers' Christian Fellowship and is dedicated to sharing stories of military life at the intersection of faith, family, and profession.

Be A Guest

We’re looking for guests to join us on OCF Crosspoint. Everyone has a story to tell. Whether you’re a new believer or a seasoned saint, your story can impact and encourage others. Click Here to Learn More

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“Embrace the suck”: Trusting God in all things

Last Updated on April 13, 2023 by OCF Communications


Show Notes:

LT Jonathan Gentry, CHC, USN, discusses the seemingly simple concept of trusting God, specifically within the context of Jonathan’s calling to the ministry and to the military. Since December 2020, Jonathan has been serving as a chaplain at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, but the Navy chaplaincy was not always on his radar.

A Georgia native and pastor’s kid, Jonathan wrestled with the same questions many high school graduates face: What should I do next? Where should I go? What career should I pursue? Based on his own love for theatre in high school, Jonathan chose to pursue a degree in theatre at the University of Memphis while also growing spiritually through leadership roles with his church and Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM).

Later in college, Jonathan realized the Lord was pulling him away from theatre studies toward ministry instead, leading him to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The years to follow were ones of trusting God and waiting on Him with decisions about education, vocation, and relationships. He reflects on past experiences where he can now retroactively see God’s hand at work and encourages other Christians in the military to trust Him in all things from job assignments to work dynamics to personal relationships.

Jonathan answered the call for podcast guests by completing the form on OCF’s “Be a Guest” webpage, and you are invited to do the same if you would like to share your own story. Alternatively, if you have an idea for a guest or topic that should be considered for a future episode of the show, send an email to [email protected].

As you listen to this conversation with Jonathan, here are a few questions to ponder in your personal time, with a small group, or with a mentor:

  1. Describe a time when you wrestled with discerning God’s calling for your life.
  2. What did you learn about God’s character through that experience?
  3. Where can you look back retroactively to see the Lord’s hand at work in circumstances you didn’t understand at the time?
  4. Jonathan describes a hard experience with a church that he “wouldn’t trade” because he can see how that prepared him for the Navy chaplaincy. What challenging but growing experience would you not trade?
  5. What does trusting God look like in a practical sense?
  6. What spiritual disciplines help you trust the Lord in all things?

About OCF Crosspoint

OCF Crosspoint is a podcast produced by Officers' Christian Fellowship and is dedicated to sharing stories of military life at the intersection of faith, family, and profession.

Be A Guest

We’re looking for guests to join us on OCF Crosspoint. Everyone has a story to tell. Whether you’re a new believer or a seasoned saint, your story can impact and encourage others. Click Here to Learn More

Subscribe Here

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Copy/paste the following link into your favorite podcast app:

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