Don't forget your battle-rattle

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jimmy Browning
  • 31st Fighter Wing Chapel Office
When I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, one phrase I quickly learned was my need to wear my "battle-rattle." Given the risks associated with being in Baghdad this individual protective equipment of a helmet and protective vest with embedded ceramic plates were important additions to my uniform. Given an attack, this individual protective equipment might make the difference between surviving a rocket, mortar or an improvised explosive device or not. 

This mindset of survival preparation applies not just to a war-torn country but to everyday life. It is not if explosions will happen in life but when. Life is filled with traumatic events that can have a long term impact. Some life changing events, like improvised vehicle explosive devices, can be so forceful it completely overwhelms any of our protective measures. That being said, however, we can take some measures to increase our survivability. 

Thorough preparation and fitness is vital! The more fit I am before the injury may very well determine my survival and how quickly I recovery. Wounding is more than physical. One can become significantly wounded emotionally, relationally, intellectually, professionally or spiritually. With some preparation we can help mitigate our wounds created by life's explosions like serious illness, injury, tragedy, difficult circumstances, etc. 

In my association with chaplaincy for more than 30 years, I have seen up close what human tragedy can do to us in these areas of fitness. In my 18 years as an active duty chaplain in the Air Force, I have sought to help many wounded warriors. I have even had to deal with my own wounds. 

In Baghdad, I've held a piece of shrapnel left over from an explosion. It is heavy, jagged and has sharp edges. Shrapnel can create very ugly wounds. I've seen what it does to the human body. I've seen too many of those wounds. For the living, those explosions leave all kind of scars. I have my own emotional scars of being around so many dead. I traversed the smoldering ground, now turned sacred for four souls, created when a KC-135A tanker crashed near Loring Air Force Base, Maine. 

I've walked in the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Del., where an incredible team returned the dignity of so many of our fallen warriors. We returned to the families the men and women from the USS Cole, the Pentagon of 9/11, Afghanistan and now Iraq. In the belly of cargo planes at Baghdad International Airport, I have prayed over too many warriors returning home in an aluminum transfer case. Those scars are now permanently etched in my soul. 

Memorial Day has a very different meaning for me. And yet, my scars do not even compare to others who have stood directly in the line of fire and have lost buddies up close. Some call it post traumatic syndrome disorder. It is a wound of the heart and the soul! 

In light of this, we must prepare ourselves to be physically, emotionally, relationally, intellectually, professionally and spiritually fit. How can we help others with their wounds if we are as wounded as they? 

Obviously, we should strive to be fit in each of these areas. I exercise. I seek to be emotionally healthy and balanced. I work to keep my marriage of 31 years fresh and vibrant. I try not to leave affirmation and appreciation left unsaid. I am a life-long student who seeks to learn something new every day. I take advantage of every professional opportunity. And, I desire to continue to grow spiritually in my relationship with my God. Some days I do better than others. 

Having counseled hundreds of individuals and couples over the years, I have recognized these six areas of fitness are interdependent. We can typically manage one unfit area fairly easily. Let additional areas become unfit, then the impact in the remaining areas grow exponentially. The more unfit we are in these six areas, then the harder time we will have to recover from life's explosions! 

We must help today's warriors and their families to prepare their battle-rattle long in advance of combat. We can help each other survive the wounds of long deployments and tragic events by helping each other to armor up physically, emotionally, relationally, intellectually, professionally and spiritually. Then, when life does explode, they are more likely to survive and recover! 

It is not easy to be fit. It is building disciplines in our lives that nurtures fitness in each of these areas. As a culture, we are so over-indulgant and so used to taking the easy way out that we have gotten flabby and soft. 

Challenge, hardship, trials, discomfort and struggle do have their place in building fitness. Additionally, it is as much as a state of being as it is doing. Life won't always be easy. Ultimately, no one is self-sufficient. I need others and I need my God. I need to be mentored by survivors. I can learn how others recovered. In doing so, I have placed another piece to my "battle-rattle." 

Life will have explosions. It is not a matter of 'if' but 'when.' The real question is, "Have I prepared myself to the best of my abilities for that moment? Or, have I forgotten my battle-rattle?"