The chapel at FOB Shoja is a green tent just before the Morale Welfare Recreation tents where soldiers use computers and phones to contact faraway loved ones. Twice in the last day/night, I’ve walked up onto the deck of the chapel only to realize I was in the wrong place. I’d step off the deck and head to the MWR.

This morning I did the exact same thing. I was on my way to the MWR and went to the chapel by mistake. As I turned to leave the chapel deck, I thought, Hang on, Cheryl, three times is not a mistake. That’s a call to prayer.

So I turned around and entered the chapel. It’s basic/simple. Dusty. White heavy plastic covers a plywood floor. White plastic walls. A center aisle separates two sections of three rows of beige metal folding chairs. Three in each row. Seating for 18. A collapsed black couch with faux leather and foam showing sits in the back. An 18″ tall brass crucifix on a wooden stand sits on a table draped in green cloth front and center. The altar. And to the left of the crucified Jesus, another table with a stack of camouflage “Operation Worship” Holy Bibles. Tubes with florescent lights hang akimbo near the ceiling. Wooden stakes help prop up and reinforce the corners. And sand bags outside seal and anchor the flaps on the tent.

I sat in the front row of the right section of the folding chairs on the aisle, elbows on my knees. I bowed my head, rested my face in the palm of my hands and let my hands take the weight. I sat. I breathed. I waited.

Psalm 23. I went to the table. Picked up a Bible and found Psalm 23. I read it out loud.

Then I flipped forward to Joshua, Chapter 1. I remembered the coffee mug 1-5 Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Payne carries, a Christmas gift from his wife, Katie, with scripture from Joshua 1:9. I went to the beginning and started reading. Again, out loud.

“I will not fail you or abandon you.” That’s the verse that stuck with me.

I sat in the chapel for 20 minutes. I asked blessings and protection for the soldiers. I asked for wisdom and strength for myself as I do my job of telling these soldiers’ stories.

And as I write this, I know full well that this is not a traditional journalistic approach. This would be uncool on so many levels—heck, unprofessional—in some people’s minds.

I’ve got my own compass and code of conduct. And I don’t put much stock in being cool or traditional.

And, at the end of the day, long before I was a journalist, I was—and remain—a soldier’s daughter.

Advertisements