“How are you holding up, Chaplain?” McMaster asked me on the helicopter. He said he knew this must be hard on me and that he appreciated my work. I wasn’t about to tell him I didn’t want to leave my office some days and that I was so exhausted, I often couldn’t think straight.
I told him I was doing fine.
–from Roger Benimoff’s memoir, Faith Under Fire
My greatest pleasure in reading is walking vicariously in the shoes, sandals, spurs, skis, sneakers, and even stilettos of people whose lives are nothing at all like my own. In Faith Under Fire: An Army Chaplain’s Memoir, I’ve now walked in the combat boots of Army captain Roger Benimoff, a two-tour Iraq war veteran and PTSD survivor.
It’s hard to imagine in my suburban existence, where my children’s messy rooms are often my greatest life obstacle, that there is a place in this world where men and women who could be my neighbors are risking all in order to make a simple drive from point a to point b. Never mind the politics of liberation—Americans are in Iraq to fulfill a duty mandated by their superiors, and in doing so, a startling number of them end up sacrificing life, limb, personal security, relational well-being, and whatever sense of peace they had before.
In a straightforward and frank style that leaves little to the imagination, Benimoff (with writer Eve Conant) diaries daily life in Iraq, complete with memorial services, one-on-one counseling duties, post-loss debriefing, and even the grim ramp ceremonies that precede transport of the dead back to the States. As his days in Iraq come to a close, Benimoff longs desperately for home.
When he gets there, though, hypervigilance, unsettledness, and profoundly disconnected feelings (all characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder) emerge, threatening to derail his career and nearly destroying his marriage. He ultimately goes for inpatient treatment of PTSD and finds himself the recipient of the same care and counsel he once delivered.
Benimoff’s portrayal of his journey to Iraq and back was certainly eye-opening. More surprising, though, was how real and genuine it was. From Christian literature (and some real-life experiences), I expect Christian men, and especially military men, to be living in the “perfect wife, perfect life, death is not a setback” mentality. I know that for many people that’s just a façade, but, right or wrong, it’s too prevalent for me to ignore. That’s why it was refreshing to read about Benimoff’s grief, doubts, anxieties, coping failures, relational blocks, and spiritual void.
I’m not glad that he—or anyone—has to go through the dark times. It’s just nice to be reminded that one can be a believer and still feel the pains of this not-so-perfect world.