Under fire in Habbaniyah along the banks of the Euphrates near Fallujah, Navy Chaplain Michael Baker stands as the first line of defense against the mental and spiritual toll of the Iraq War. As part of a series of articles in the Christian Science Monitor, Lee Lawrence illustrates how chaplains navigate the ethical and religious quandaries on the battlefield and in the barracks.
Last June, for instance, a lance corporal on guard duty shot himself with his M-16 rifle. The reaction of higher-ups to the tragedy highlight highlights how obstreperous superiors and military culture can conspire to worsen the mental wounds of war. According to Lawrence, a noncommissioned officer told the lance corporal’s detachment that their comrade was in hell and it was time to wash the suicide from their memory.
At moments like these, Baker’s work becomes indispensable—even counterintuitive. When the secular military recklessly turns religious he must wear adhere strictly to his duty not to proselytize and play the role of rationalist.