Chaplain Turner’s War

Chaplain Darren Turner counsels a soldier at a combat outpost
in Arab Jabour, March, 2008.
Photo by Curtis Compton/AJC
Four years ago, I spent time with an Army chaplain in Iraq because I wanted to write about how war affected American soldiers. His name is Darren Turner. He had only been a chaplain for a few months before he headed to Baghdad.
I discovered through him a world different than mine. In the midst of war, I learned about faith, specifically Christianity, and how it was vital to so many of Turner’s men in the 3rd Infantry Division.
Their battalion was part of the surge and had seen a lot of bad stuff in searing summer months and the rugged terrain of Arab Jabour. Turner had grown weary form memorializing so many of his men.
I met Turner at Fort Stewart, flew up with him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Spc. David Battle was struggling for life. He had lost three limbs in a bombing and Turner recently told me he was the most injured soldier at the time.
A few weeks later, photographer Curtis Compton and I flew to Iraq. My plan was simply to follow Turner around and document everything he did. I did not know how the story would turn out. Every day brought a new tragedy, a new triumph.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the story in June, 2008. Now it is out as a digital book. http://www.amazon.com/Chaplain-Turners-War-ebook/dp/B007XULHX4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335542515&sr=1-1

The publisher thought it was as relevant as it was when it was written, now that the Iraq war has come to a close for America and in many places, it was has been swept under the rug, almost as though it never happened.
But it did happen. For more than eight long years. It changed lives here – and there – in the most disturbing ways.
Nearly 4,500 American troops died in the Iraq war. More than 30,000 others were physically wounded. Countless others live with scars that can’t be seen.
I want people to read this story and think about the costs borne by their fellow citizens. I want them to know that life will never be the same again for so many of them.
Darren and Heather Turner in Clarkesville, Kentucky, 
Feb. 2012. Turner tried to help his soldiers save their marriages 
but ran into trouble in his own.
A big thanks to Jan Winburn, who edited this story for the AJC – with a broken left arm to boot.
To Valerie Boyd, who had the wisdom to get me on this project and push it as a digital book.
Of course, to Agate Publishers for taking this on.
And to Darren Turner. I was glad to see you again this year and even more glad to know that you are happy again.

MRAP

I intended to write this for my blog Saturday. CNN decided to publish it as an opinion piece.  You can also read it on CNN.com.
The last of America’s mine resistant vehicles out of Iraq boarded a ship in Kuwait on Saturday, bound for Fort Hood, Texas. There, it will be displayed at the 1st Cavalry Division Museum, forever a symbol of the Iraq war.
The Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle – known simply by its acronym MRAP in typical military fashion – was in a long convoy of vehicles that crossed the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border December 18 when the last U.S. troops exited Iraq.
I remember when the MRAPs were newly introduced in Iraq. They were a fresh hope of survival for American men and women.
Photographer Curtis Compton and me
in the back of an MRAP. Arab Jabour, Iraq. 2008
Staff Sgt. Jamie Linen used to transport soldiers and run supplies every day from Baghdad’s Forward Operating Base Falcon to nearby patrol bases where surge troops of the 3rd Infantry Division were based. Linen, like all other soldiers, thought about the risks of bombs hidden along the roads every time he rolled out the gate. They were, after all, the No. 1 killer of American troops in Iraq. The first MRAP arrived for Linen’s unit in November 2007, months after President Bush ordered a “surge” in troops to defeat a raging insurgency. The shiny trucks were the new stars of the military then.
The soldiers were glad to get out of the backs of hot, uncomfortable Bradley Fighting Vehicles or the less-protected Humvees and step up high into the cab of a sophisticated MRAP. Made by International, the $658,000 trucks sat high on the road – 36 inches off the ground – and came with a V-shaped hull that helped deflect the impact of an improvised explosive device.
The walls of the truck were thick. The design was state of the art. The only thing they were missing, a soldier joked, were cup holders.
The MRAPs were loaded with safety features, including a fire suppression system that protected every part of the truck and a pressurized cab built to withstand a nuclear or biological attack. The seats had shoulder harnesses, and the doors operated on a hydraulic system so that in a rollover, soldiers didn’t have to push their way out of armored doors that could weigh up to 1,000 pounds. That was always something that gave me pause when I rode around in an up-armored Humvee. How would I get that door open if something bad happened?
Linen had to take a weeklong course on MRAP operation and maintenance. He told me the trucks boosted his confidence to get the mission done. I could see why after riding with him a few times. I felt the kind of protection a frightened child feels in a mother’s arms.
Just weeks before, I had met Linen’s platoon leader, 1st Lt. Mark Little, who was recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. A bomb had blown both his legs off.
No one could say for sure, of course, but Linen thought that perhaps Little wouldn’t have to wear prosthetics had he been in an MRAP.
“Nothing is invincible here,” he said. “You got tanks with 3 feet of armor getting blown up. But the MRAPs give us a sense of security.”
Linen’s driver, Spc. Robert Nowlin, was sure the enemy feared the Americans more when they were riding in MRAPs.
Why would they not?
In late 2007, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters that “these armored trucks … have been the military’s top acquisition priority for months now, and with good reason.”
The MRAPs had their drawbacks. They were not suited for narrow roads because of their size and weight and were susceptible to rollovers. They weren’t good for Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain. And American soldiers did die in MRAP incidents. But back then in Iraq, they were a godsend.
Apt, I thought, that one should find a home in a military museum, a testament to the American men and women who fought in the war.