When I walked outside this morning at 0300, I lifted my eyes to the sky and saw Orion and the sight of him cartwheeling in a dark sky lifted my heart. 

We’ve been under what the soldiers call “air red.” It means we can’t move anywhere because no medivac air support would be available to help in the event of an “event.” Since we arrived here, I’ve felt like I’ve been walking on the moon. It’s cold.  The sky has been heavy–the sun and stars obscured by a dense fog/dust.

Seeing the stars this morning felt like the first of many miracles I’ve noticed in the last 24 hours.

Yesterday the battalion chaplain  Capt. Jose Serrano hosted a prayer brunch and invited brigade chaplain Capt. Herb Franklin and the soldiers to join him in a dark tent, that until last night, had served as the DFAC (dining facility.) About 35 soldiers sat facing each other behind long, narrow tables. They bowed their heads, broke bread and prayed together.

I read the “scene setter” in the program, a quote by George C. Marshall, General of the Army, 1944.

“I look upon the spiritual life of a Soldier as even more important than his physical equipment….

The Soldier’s heart, the Soldier’s spirit, the Soldier’s soul are everything. Unless the Soldier’s soul sustains him, he cannot be relied upon and will fail himself and his country in the end….

It’s a miracle–I mean a spiritual miracle–which wins the the victory in the ultimate, and that type of morale can only come out of the religious nature of the Soldier who knows God and who has the spirit of religious fervor in his soul… I count heavily on that kind of Army.”

Chaplain Serrano said: “The is nothing more awesome than to be a  leader. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It means you’re an example.”

And one by one, he invited the 1-5 leaders to the podium to pray.

Battalion. Commander Lt. Col Brian Payne:  “Lord, thank you for this day, this time for reflection. You’ve been so good to us. Thank you for what you’ve allowed this battalion to accomplish.”

He finished with his “biggest request:” that this year of service would be a foundational moment in the soldiers’ lives.

Capt. Blalock prayed for “all the families back at home (who are having) such a tough time while we’re away. Pray for the families of our fallen soldiers, our fallen comrades. I ask you to give a comfort only you can give.”

Capt. Boatman: “We are a family together.” She thanked God for “your birth, the birth of our nation and the birth of Afghanistan.”

Capt. Marks: “Pray for this nation Afghanistan, help them provide for themselves.”

Capt. Smoak: “Lord, we just ask you to keep a watchful eye on this country.”

Chaplain Franklin wrapped up the gathering in a bow, returning to the theme 0f leadership. He asked all present: “What do you believe, what do you have hope in?”

“Leadership, I believe, grows inside out. A leader is a dealer in hope… You don’t have to be a Christian. Find a way to be a dealer in hope.”

Not long after we left the prayer breakfast, there was a generator mishap (human error) and a powerful electric surge blew many of the heating units in the buildings and crashed the computers and phones in the MWR (Morale Welfare Recreation.) Imagine the effect on morale if there were no heat and no phones or Internet to connect with loved ones on the eve of Christmas Eve.

Crews jumped into action. On the other side of the base, recon and bushmaster troops were hard at work finishing the new DFAC. Lt. Col. Payne had asked that it be finished so the soldiers could have the Christmas meal in the new facility. It had been just four days since they’d received the AEK (All Electric Kitchen.) The crew was having its own version of electrical challenges, blowing circuits every time all the ovens powered up.

Yet, when the sun set–and yes, we could see a partial sunset through the haze–the soldiers were streaming to their first meal in the bright, roomy, new DFAC.  Soldiers were huddled over phones and computers in the dark mud hut, brought closer again to faraway family and friends 

And I went to bed in my CHU with a new heater warming my room…on a day that warmed my heart.