As I left the office, backpack draped across my shoulder and laptop in hand prepared to continue to build upon those unfinished ideas and responsibilities; it all stopped for a few moments of reflection. As I crossed the street, the cannon fired, and the bugle began to play, signaling the end of the day. I gave no thought or hesitation to my next actions- I put down my backpack and laptop, and immediately faced the direction of the music to pay homage to the values, beliefs, and ideas that have compelled me to serve my country as a uniformed soldier for twenty years and now as a civilian. As I stood in the parking lot with my hand over my heart and standing at attention, I couldn’t help but to look around and notice others doing the same. I saw a sailor standing on the corner and several cars that had stopped until the music ceased. As I stood at attention my mind flashed to those around me and the multiplicity of commitments that I stand for.
As a Christian who also was a uniformed social worker, I have struggled with the duality of commitments that I have formed an allegiance towards. During my early years as a Christian in the military, I struggled with the dilemma of how a Christian can truly be a soldier. Certain scriptures have been embedded in my mind: “Love your enemies and pray for those who pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44)”; “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (LK 6:27-28)”. During my early years as a social worker in the military it was impressed upon me during graduate school and my involvement in professional forums that as a social worker I must promote social justice and advocate for those social and individual actions that promote the emotional, physical, economic, and psychological well-being of individuals in society. As such, how can a social worker be in the military? Better yet, how can a social worker support war? Over the years I have learned that the dilemmas I have struggled with as a Christian and social worker are the same conflicts that most soldiers struggle with. This conflict is at the core of what oftentimes results in post traumatic stress. Joseph Galloway, the journalist in the movie We Were Soldiers, put it this way, “We who have seen war, will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night, we will always hear the screams. So this is our story, for we were soldiers once.” I have learned that most career soldiers, like myself, don the uniform and salute the flag so we don’t have to go to war, not because we like the war.
As a social worker, it is my job to help soldiers and their families cope with the harsh realities of life. Another truism that has helped me reconcile the conflicts of my commitment is found in the story of the faithful centurion. I have always been amazed to hear Jesus say to this soldier, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith (Matt 8:10).” This reminds me that the Lord is always focusing on our heart and action, regardless of where it is demonstrated. The Army values are loyalty, duty (importance of fulfilling our obligations), respect (treating others the way they should be treated), selfless service (placing the welfare of others before oneself), honor (living out our values daily), integrity (do what is right despite the consequences), and personal courage (facing our fears). For this reason, I can stand with other soldiers during this moment of retreat and say, as a Christian, We are soldiers: to this we have been called.
Dexter F. is the Director of the Army MSW Program at the US Army Medical Department Center & School, Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, TX. He has been a member of NACSW since 2005.