Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Update from Iraq


Hi everyone!

I'm just finishing up my 2nd month here in Iraq. I'm down in the southern portion of the country, Basra Province, which fortunately has been (comparatively) quiet. As a result, I've got a lot of down time, so I've been trying to do as much reading as possible. I've just recently finished Buddhism: A Concise Introduction by Huston Smith & Phillip Novak which I found to be an excellent primer on Buddhism. I'm a member of my congregation's book club, and I'm currently reading on of the club's selections - 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann which is absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in American history. I've also picked up a translation of the Qu'ran which I'm going to start reading as well (a bit at a time I expect, it seems a little daunting).

I'm finding that being a UU on active duty was a bit more challenging than I had expected. I wasn't a UU during the 8 years I spent on active duty, and I think I had forgotten how much the attitudes of most soldiers is at odds with the UU outlook on most social issues. There have been more than a few times that I've found myself biting my tongue on hearing a particularly unpleasant comment on homosexuals or women. On one hand I know I should say something - but on the other hand I have to work and live in close proximity with some of the individuals making the remarks, and I'm reluctant to jeopardize good relations with people whom my life very well may depend on. It's a very awkward position, and I'm honestly not sure how best to deal with it. I love the Army and I am proud of my service and the service of my comrades, but at the same time I am reminded on almost a daily basis on why there are so few UUs (or just "progressives" in general) in the military. (I am perfectly open on my positions regarding the environment however, and I was quickly dubbed the unit "tree-hugger" which I consider to be something of a badge of honor.)

I'm curious on how UU Chaplains address the issues of homophobia and sexism in the military - or if they even do address them. Both in many ways are endemic in military culture (especially the former) and while officially they are not tolerated, everyone knows how most people feel about the subjects. I think sexism is much less of a problem than in the past, and has become more "underground", but few people even attempt to hide their homophobia - and given the fact that homosexuals are not allowed to serve openly, there really is no-one to complain and file charges of harassment or discrimination. Are social justice issues things that can be addressed in a UU Chaplains sermon? Or are they too "political" for a Chaplain?

Does anyone know if there are any UU Chaplains deployed over here currently?

Yours truly,

SGT Adrian Gunn
Camp Bucca, Iraq

P.S. I've attached a photo of my team and I - I'm the short bald guy in the middle!

8 comments:

Karyn said...

SGT Gunn,

I am also in the military and have found myself biting my tongue on numerous occasions.

I was in Baghdad last year and never knew another UU as long as I was there, much less a Chaplain. Unfortuanately, there are very few UU Chaplains in the military, and I think just as unfortunate is that they haven't made themselves known where they can be found. I was hoping this or the UUMM website would be a lot more active so that we could create a network and know where to find other UUs - but it seems pretty quiet. Hopefully it will pick up and we'll be able to locate others in our areas for support.

I hope you continue to stay safe and that you have a rewarding tour in Iraq.

Karyn

2LT David Pyle, CC, USAR said...

Hello Karyn and Adrain...

Thank you both for your service, and your openness.... And the short answer to your concern about Military Chaplains who are UU's is "Were working on it". :)

Right now there are only two Military Chaplains who are UU's serving on active duty. CH Cynthia Kane is a Navy Chaplain currently stationed in San Deigo, and CH George Tyger is an Army Chaplain currently stationed at Ft. Hood.

In George's case, there is the possibility that he will be going to Iraq in the near future...

CH (Col) Vernon Chandler retired this past summer and is now living in Germany, CH Rebekah Montgomery is in the Army National Guard, and just recently returned from 22 months in Afghanistan.

There are two "official" Chaplain Candidates, both of us Army and both of us currently students at the Meadville Lombard Theological School. One of them is me (David Pyle, 2LT type, one each)and the other is James White. Both of us are prior service Army NCO's.

There are a few others who are "in process" to become military chaplain's or Chaplain Candidates... including Seanan Holland, a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Major.

But that is the sum total of the "UU Military Chaplaincy Corps" right now.

Now, the UUMM website at www.uumm.org is no longer active, and no longer connected with what is happening in UUMM. If I could take it off the web, I would. It was started by someone who is no longer a Chaplain Candidate, but it has remained up as a kind of intertia.

I have been considering for awhile either a partnership with the Church of the Larger Fellowship, or a more expansive UUMM website with more ways to connect UU servicemembers and their families together. The issue has been that our Military Chaplains are often very busy with their units, and our candidates are very busy trying to complete their training.

I will try to do a better job keeping you all in the loop as to what the developments are... and will use your post (and the desires expressed in it) to renew my work on this issue.

Know that you are in my heart and prayers, and that if I can ever be of service to you, you have but to ask. Just send me an email.

Yours in Faith,

David Pyle
2LT, USAR Chaplaincy Candidate
www.celestiallands.org
www.uumm.blogspot.com

Marilyn said...

Sgt. Gunn:

Thank you for writing & letting us know you're doing alright. I defer to the chaplains about your comments but as a Midwestern civilian, I think about the general ethic of keeping the best interests of the unit to the fore by treating all teammates with respect.

Kelly said...

I have enjoyed reading this site very much and even though it's still in its early stages, I am proud to say that I am excited to be a part of this. I met with Beth just a few days ago and, God willing, will be at Fort Jackson this summer as a MA ARNG Chaplain Candidate. My best to you over there!

2LT David Pyle, CC, USAR said...

Kelly,

It is wonderful to hear your meeting for endorsement went well with Beth. Have you spoken yet with Lisa Presley and the Committee on Military Ministry?

Perhaps you could send me an email, and I could connect you in with all the other Chaplains and Chaplain Candidates. Also, I have all of the info for the Chaplain school, and some other important stuff.

Plus, we are trying to build some collegial connections between us.

In other words, I would appreciate it if you could send me an email. My public email is david@celestiallands.com. If you send an email to that I'll respond with my military account.

And once again, Congrats!

Yours in Faith,

David

luke said...

Well, I guess I should introduce myself. I am 2lt Luke Leonard. I am a new chaplain candidate, just got pinned in Sept. The questions you are asking are really good ones. They are questions I am asking myself. How does a UU chaplain respond to these issues? How does a soldier respond to comments made by others without being the odd man out? I would like to think that confronting the issue honestly and directly with the individual soldier off to the side would work. I have had that approach work for me on occasion, and I've had it not turn out so well. Really depends on the soldier, and how you approach them. I would advise to choose your battles. Bite your tongue if you think you have to keep the peace but when an opportunity to actually make someone think about what they have said arises, go for it! Just throwing in my 2 cents, for what it's worth. Peace and Blessings.

2LT David Pyle, CC, USAR said...

Luke,

Congratulations on entering the Chaplain Candidate Program. Are you Army, or Air Force (If you were Navy, it would be Ensign)?

Please, send me an email at david@celestiallands.com so I can get you (and Kelly) set up in UUMM. There are some other things for us to talk about as well.

Once again, Congrats! That now makes 4 Chaplain Candidates who are UU's ...

Yours in Faith,

David Pyle
2LT, USAR CC

Anonymous said...

While I'm NOT here to talk about the religious aspect of military deployment, I still have something to say. Opsec is a major concern, especially for those of us that trained in Moyock....I'm sure Gunn knows what I'm talking about. The pictures you post on the internet could possibly put you and your team in danger. Be careful what you post. I wish you well in your deployment, but as a man with experience in the job, Adrian, I would ask that you show discretion in the pictures that you post. Tell V we miss her, and don't let any SAC's give you shit.....stay safe