Chaplain Shipman shares lessons from deployment to Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Chaplain Lt. Col. John W. Shipman
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

     To reflect on times past and to envision hopes for the future is important as we move rapidly toward 2019. I encourage you to reflect today on your best day in 2018 and the promise of what your best day may be in 2019.


     To recall the past and reflect on its varied lessons is another opportunity to learn from and grow. My reflection from the past year is from a deployment to Afghanistan. 


     Afghanistan is a land that inspires people. Many civilizations came and sought to conquer, and Afghanistan still remains unto itself. I spent over seven months in-country and I experienced the people, the place and atmospherics.


     Reflections on deployments are both a joy and source of sadness, and anyone who has deployed knows these transcendent issues. During my time in this combat zone, I experienced a medical emergency, death, attacks, counseling sessions concerning suicide, the issues of combat, divorce, relationship stress, safety, loss, faith and the desire to leave. In each of my 10 deployments, I had a best day – something that stood out as a singular celebration. My deployment to Afghanistan was no different. 


      In the spring, I asked the faithful people in the United States for 200 backpacks filled with school and hygiene supplies. I received over 400. These items were packaged by volunteers (military and civilians) from around the world who were deployed with me. Most of these backpacks were distributed to Afghan children who had a military family member killed in action. Others were packaged for an orphanage.


      The best day for me was June 30, 2018, when the willingness and the hope of faithful people came to fruition in those who gave and those who received a gift. This day stood out from the rest because of the partnership between Afghan and U.S. military leaders was celebrated in a service event; it was a positive accomplishment, an opportunity that culminated in the proclamation of peace found in relationship.


      As preparations were being made for the event, 50 children arrived and one young boy of 5 years old came to me and wanted to play catch with a ball. I played for short time and started to leave to interact with other children, and he ran up to me, grabbed my arm and motioned for me to stay.   I did for a little longer, and I stood up to leave and again he was insistent that I stay and play catch.  I understood that he was an orphan, but I found out later that this child had lost everything, that his heritage was unwelcomed in Afghanistan, and he was alone. For him, he wanted to know that someone cared enough to share that which is most precious: alacritous, compassionate time. The time we shared was brief, and yet his laughter and joy remain with me today, and my prayers are with him.


      Shared deployment reflections are important for families and couples, for within them there is strength. This commentary would be incomplete without a statement from my spouse about her best day during this deployment. She had a number of special days, where she spent time with others helping them to be stronger during times of sorrow, times of retirement and times of transition. She found strength in helping others. Her strength also inspired my action while deployed.

       December and January are times where people gather and some reflect on the past. Some will celebrate Christmas and Hanukah, while some will find the sacred in gathering with others at community events. Again, I ask that you reflect and decide, what was your best day this year? Was it in helping others or helping yourself? 


       What will your best day be in 2019? My challenge for you is to find your best day in serving others – not in a vision of superiority or arrogance, but rather an understanding that we are a community that is strengthened in caring for one another. There are so many opportunities to help: veteran’s homes, humane societies, children’s homes. So many people in this world want to know that someone cares enough to share that which is most precious: alacritous, compassionate time. What I learned again this past year is when you give of yourself, you will find another best