Terror Rises in Green Zone, says CRC Chaplain < Back
April 8, 2008?Christian Reformed Church Army chaplain Rev. Gordon Terpstra says the horrible sound of rocket and mortar fire fills the air nearly every day in the Green Zone in Baghdad.
But even worse, he says, are the screams and moans from the soldiers and civilians who have been injured by the enemy missiles.
The bombings, which began in earnest on Easter, are part of the assaults undertaken by militia groups linked to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The worst day so far was Sunday, April 6, when rockets crashed into the Green Zone, killing two soldiers, one of them Terpstraâ??s friend, and injuring 18 others. The fortified Green Zone is home to the United States military command in Iraq.
â??The explosion almost knocked me out of my chair. It was a direct hit on our gym,â?? Terpstra wrote Rev. Herm Keizier, director of Chaplaincy Services for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. â??I rushed to the hospital, and the hallways were already filled with litters. It was surreal to walk into that area and see the bodies, the wounded, the blood, and the rushing medical personnel.â??
In the midst of this carnage, Tetrpstra is facing mixed emotions. On the one hand, his time as a chaplain is winding down. He is looking forward to returning home to his family and friends in Bellingham, Wash., where he has been pastor of Hope in Christ CRC.
On the other hand, Terpstra says he finds that the connections and friendships he has made over the last months are paying off as the soldiers and officers search him out for prayer and consolation. â??I am in a paradox,â?? he writes Keizer. â??On April 24, I come home, and nothing could keep me here. At the same time, I feel very needed right now.â??
Before Sunday, one of the worst days was March 26 when bombing started a little after 5 a.m.., waking him with its fury. â??I hit the floor of my hootch, put on my helmet, and draped my body armor over me. Then a devilish crack told me it was really close,â?? writes Terpstra.
After dressing, he went out to find that one rocket had blasted through the roof of a nearby trailer in which an enlisted soldier and civilian contractor lived. They had already been taken to the hospital. Inside the trailer, Terpstra â??saw combat blood, and it was all over the room inside, splattered against the walls and the door, covering the floor, and going down the steps to the concrete sidewalk.â??
He rushed to the hospital, where he prayed for both the wounded men and their friends. The bottom line: The soldier and the civilian contractor needed surgery, but lived. However, six Iraqis died and one Iraqi boy had his leg blown off in the attack.
In the Iraq war, chaplains rarely venture outside the wire of the compound. When they do they are as vulnerable as any soldier or Marine riding or walking the streets and highways in Iraq - vulnerable to IED's (roadside bombs) and sniper fire, says Keizer.
But no place is safe. â??These indirect rounds just fall from the sky and kill at random, both the randomness and the lethality raise the level of fear,â?? says Keizer of the attacks on the Green Zone.
Sunday, says Terpstra, was one of the worst days of his life. At the hospital, he had to identify the body of his friend, who had been in church just a few hours before. â??I teased him before the service began. He had laughed out loud, and now as I stared at his face I remembered that laugh. I told the captain the name and she wrote it down,â?? says Terpstra.
At the hospital, the chaplain moved up and down the crowded hallways, praying over the wounded and consoling military officers who sobbed and shook in his arms.
Later, he was on hand when Blackhawk helicopters arrived for in what is known as the â??Angel Flight.â?? As the soldiers stood in line, a motorized cart with the bodies drove out to the flight line, escorted by the troops who would lift the
body bags into the helicopters, for the
journey home to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
â??The chaplain always walks out ahead of the cart and leads it, so the hospital chaplain, Felix Sermon, and I did that,â?? says Terpstra. â??Then the birds landed in the darkness. As the bodies are taken out to the helicopters, the long line of silent soldiers renders a salute and holds it till the birds are airborne. My arm became very tired, but I thought, â??No way am I going to drop this saluteâ??.â??
Terpstra says he increasingly dreams of the evergreen trees, abundant water, the mountains and the farmlands of home. He looks forward to returning. Meanwhile, as the bombs fall on the Green Zone, he continues to do his job, bringing God and his faith to bear on a war that he knows will continue once he returns home.
â??Despite our humanness and sinfulness, we military chaplains do become symbols of the presence of God to these soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in times like this,â?? he writes.
Chris Meehan, CRC Communications
Chris Meehan News and Media Relations Christian Reformed Church in North America www.crcna.org