Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

(I tried to upload pictures, but the connection is really slow here. I'll keep trying.)

I received an interesting welcome to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan when I woke up a few days after my arrival to the sound of choppers and machine guns right outside my barracks. I looked down the hall to see people rushing to get their weapons and put on their bullet proof vests and Kevlar helmets. My heart began beating rapidly and I began to panic a bit as I donned my vest and helmet and grabbed my weapon. I later learned that suicide bombers had stormed the fenceline and had attempted to get on base. The experience was all very surreal. I felt like I was in an action movie and it would have been kind of exciting if I didn’t know it was actually playing out in real life. The airman next to me was in denial. He was convinced that this was just an exercise. Over the next several hours, I did a lot of praying for my family and friends and for the personnel who were defending the base. Never have I been more grateful for the army as they represent the bulk of those defending us at the gate.

Since the attack a couple of weeks ago, I have been able to get into a better routine. However, I go to bed every night not knowing whether the base will be attacked again. I am reminded daily that I am living in a war zone and that means that there is a chance I could be shot at and even killed. The other day, we downloaded a pallet from a plane that contained the personal items of soldiers who were killed in a roadside bomb recently in Kabul. Their items were being sent back to their families in the states. Even at church on Sunday, we were informed that members of our district (similar to a diocese in the catholic church) had been killed in the recent attacks. I’ve found that it’s easy to focus on the negative or to be overcome by fear, but I’m choosing to press forward in faith and live life. I have found that when I pray often and study the scriptures I am able to face each day with courage. When I am proactive in my duties on the flight line, I feel that I am part of a greater cause and the fear dissipates.

It is amazing the things you learn to appreciate in a war zone. On the afternoon of the attack, I was doing guard duty on the flight line. As I looked at the sun setting over the Hindu Kush, the western continuation of the Himalayas, I was amazed by the contrast of emotions I had felt throughout the day. Just that morning, I felt intense fear, anxiety and darkness, but as I looked at the beautiful sunset, I felt peace, hope and a sense of wonder. This was a reminder to me that God is still there, and that He is ultimately in charge of everything. A few days after the attack a rainbow appeared in the sky after a rainstorm. This is something that most of us would take for granted at home, but in a war zone, everyone cherished the moment.

On a lighter note, Bagram Air Base is a very busy place. The base is extremely crowded and we are only half way through the surge (30,000 additional troops deployed to Afghanistan ordered by President Obama). The living conditions are extremely tight. Let me just say I get to know my three roommates a little too well. When I first arrived to the base and walked out of the passenger terminal onto the base I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. The streets were crowded with people of Arabic, Indian, and Afghan descent. Of course there were also hoards of military personnel, mostly army since Bagram is an army base. Never have I seen so many armored vehicles. I have even been able to drive several of these armored vehicles since my job entails downloading them from aircraft. Many locals have been given jobs on the base to help them feel a sense of ownership in this whole operation and to help the Afghan people to take control when the military presence finally leaves here. I have tried to speak with some of the Afghan people if they speak English. One thing they just can't comprehend about me is how I could be 31 and not married. They seem to think this is a very bad thing. I’m guessing that it is uncommon for men to not be married at my age. Overall, the Afghans seem like a very accepting and humble people. This week the President of Aghanistan (Hamid Karzai) will hold a Peace Jirga (conference) with the intent to bring together tribal elders, officials and local power brokers from around the country, to discuss peace and the end of the Taliban insurgency. Please pray for this process that the Afghan people might be able to establish peace and stability in their country.

Besides working, sleeping, and eating, I have also been able to attend church on Sundays. I don’t know that I have ever appreciated attending church as much as I did the Sunday after the attack. I felt an amazing peace and comfort as we sang the words to the hymn “How Firm a Foundation”. It was as if the Lord was there speaking the words to us as we sang:

Fear not, I am with thee oh be not dismayed,

For I am thy God and will still give thee aid

I’ll strengthen thee help thee and cause thee to stand

Upheld by my righteous, upheld by my righteous, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand

It was especially humbling to hear the voices of the service men and women in our congregation sing these words. There was a humility and purity in their voices that I have rarely experienced.

We had an LDS chaplain speak of his experiences visiting wounded soldiers and those who were on there way out of this life. He said that every time he enters the hosptal room of such a soldier he feels he is walking on hallowed ground. He said that when he visits these soldiers he nevers knows much about the acclamations, degrees, or material possessions of each soldier. However, he said he always knows something about the person's faith, family, and friends. I hope that this Memorial Day we can all remember that this is what really matters in the end, faith, family and friends.

For the closing hymn of our meeting on Sunday we sang the hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints” The last verse stood out to me in particular:

And should we die before our journey's through, happy day, all is well

We then are free from toil and sorrow too, with the just we shall dwell

Although I have sung these words countless times before, they seemed so much more pertinent to my situation and especially to those who are out fighting on the front lines. How greatful I am to have a knowledge through the gospel of Jesus Christ that this life is not the end. How greatful I am to know that death is but a transition from this life to the next. Given the nature of my duties here, I don't believe I am at as high a risk to die as those fighting on the frontlines. However, I was reminded by the attack the other day, that we can never be sure when will leave this life. I just pray that I might live and appreciate life each day, each minute that I have it.

The last few words of the hymn “Come Come Ye Saints" also gave me great hope:

But if our lives are spared again to see the saints there rest obtain.

Oh how we'll make this chorus swell, all is well, all is well!

I pray that I might return home with honor so I can sing these words once again with family and friends.

Happy Memorial Day!


  1. Dear Chauncy,

    I woke up this Memorial Day decided that I would make a special effort to thank every person I met who's been a service member. So, your blog was great timing! Thank you, Chauncy, for your dedicated service and sacrifice. Also, thanks for your blog. Your account of your experiences rings with power and emotion. I especially appreciated how you took the time to include details about your experiences. The attack at the gate was harrowing and your vivid description helped me to gain a better feel for what you're going through.

    I was also deeply touched by your account of your spiritual journey through this experience. Everyday events, such as the sunset and a rainbow, take on an intense clarity in your words. The "hallowed" ground you wrote about was another poignant and affirming account.

    Chauncy, you used the word "humble" several times to describe others. It also fits you. In the midst of your own sacrifices, hardships, dangers and fears, you continue to walk a path of devotion to faith, family and friends. I consider myself very fortunate to be included as one of your friends.

    With prayerful concern and gratitude,

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  3. Dear Chauncy,
    Continued Memorial Day greetings.
    Thank you for your email note-I let Fr. Robayo know that I forwarded his messages on to you. He expressed his concern and will continue to keep you in his prayers, as well.

    Your accounts show the deep and varied range of emotions and thoughts you experience each day. I continue to be impressed by your openness to accept and question while you find a way to move forward with trust, worry, hope and wonder.

    I hope this is ok--I shared your blog with my spouse and children (Zander 17 and Hannah 15) this day. Zander just finished reading it with me and exclaimed 'We were singing How Firm a Foundation yesterday, too!' He is in a touring choir for his school-Eastern Mennonite High School. They leave to tour eastern Europe in 9 days and prepare by singing at various churches in the valley. He added that the congregation also sang Come Come Ye Saints and kept repeating all is well, all is well. He said--'it was good thing.' Indeed. So, yes, it will be great for you to sing that with friends and family when you return and we will sing it with you from a far now.

  4. Hey Elder Brinton, thank you so much for sharing this. I just noticed through facebook you are all the way over in Afghanistan. I really appreciation you sharing your blog. I can't imagine how life must be for you right now. Reading your experiences help me better understand what all the men and women are doing to protect our country. I wish you well, and hope that you will be safe. I am right now living in Latvia, one of the couples from Omsk have moved to Latvia, they are in our branch, I'm not sure if you ever served in Omsk. I never did, but it is so nice to have them here from our mission. THeir names are Uri and Tatiana, not sure their last names. Anyway, thank you for what you are doing for our country. Be safe, we will keep you in our prayers.


    Lisa Thomas Busby

  5. Chauncy my dear,
    I am not sure how to respond exactly. i am both scared for you and yet i also feel a sense of peace and comfort and cant begin to explain either of the whys and hows of it. i just accept it. we all love you so much. your stories are amazing!
    i think you write longer messages than i do. i didnt know that was possible. but i definately write more often than you do. ha ha!
    the positive words of encouragement for you are not coming to me right now, so i thought i would tell you anything positive i can think about my life instead and hope it still makes you feel better to know at least i am doing well. i hope it doesnt make me sound selfish though. here goes...
    i went to church sunday! it was 1st ward, but i loved it! its all in my blog. my blog is of course lenghty and full of posts. i dont expect you to have the time to check it out. you are busy enough doing army stuff and keeping up with your own blog.
    anyway i loved 1st ward because i was surprised at how many people i knew. there were a lot of people there and i wasnt a bit nervous. i felt right at home and i had so much fun!
    i have gone to church 4 times since april 18th and the last 3 times have been in a row. wow! i love my record now of church attendance i am working so hard on.
    i cant wait until june 26th when the ward goes to the temple. with my new record of church attendance i will be even more worthy to do those baptisms at the temple!
    june 17th is my 4 year anniversary of being a member of this church. i am planning a temple trip for it, but it doesnt look like anyone can come. so if i dont get to go at least can still go when the ward goes on june 26th i hope!
    i have almost read the standard works 3 times in 4 years. all i have to do is read/finish isaiah and im done. but isaiah is so long and scary. i havent even started it yet. ive been procrastinating it longer and longer. but i know i will finish it before my 4 year anniversary june 17th. it is my goal!
    we got 2 new room mates. they are sister twins from 1st ward. one chose the room beside me downstairs. and the other chose the room upstairs. they are really nice interesting girls. i am stressing out about it, but its not so bad. im glad its them and not someone else who could be worse. i am thankful it makes rent lower at least. ha ha!
    i decided not to take my one 5 week sumemr class. it was supposed to be easy. i signed up and paid and got the books and everything. but then a few days before class was starting with no warning at all the 2 girls we just met a day ago decided to move in right away. i wasnt prepared. i didnt know how to handle school and new room mates at the same time.
    so i am bored to death, but surviving. a little dissapointed that i didnt give school a chance and then found out too mate that the new roomies are not all that bad. but i am ok. im still alive and so far so are you. yay!

  6. Wow, Chauncey. Your words are incredible. I cannot imagine what you are going through. Thank you, so much, for your spiritual direction that is in such pure form, reminding, like you said, that we do live "breath by breath". Kelsy's whole seminary class prays for you daily, which I think is so sweet--a room full of 9th graders pause every day to think of you. Daniel will receive his mission call this Wednesday. We'll let you know where. I've always told my kids, "God is a God of order." No matter what chaos we go through, behind the chaos is the big picture of eternal truth that God is in charge of all. We continue to send our thoughts and prayers your way with a prayer that you will feel this collection of faith and strength to buoy you up always. Love, Bettyanne, family, friends and 9th graders!

  7. Chauncy,

    Wow, "Wow" is all I can say! Here I am trying to scam people into buying my junk on my Memorial Day Garage Sale, and there you are fighting for and risking your life for our country. Thanks for bringing me back to reality of what really matters. I was so impressed with your thoughts on overcoming fear with faith. Here are a few scriptures I dug up. I hope them help. D&C 50:41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
    1 Nephi 22:17 Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.
    1 Nephi 22:22 And the righteous need not fear, for they are those who shall not be confounded.
    Alma 7:15 Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.
    Alma 60:28 Yea, behold I do not fear your power nor your authority, but it is my God whom I fear; and it is according to his commandments that I do take my sword to defend the cause of my country, and it is because of your iniquity that we have suffered so much loss.
    Alma 61:21 See that ye strengthen Lehi and Teancum in the Lord; tell them to fear not, for God will deliver them, yea, and also all those who stand fast in that liberty wherewith God hath made them free. And now I close mine epistle to my beloved brother, Moroni.
    Helaman 10:4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
    3 Nephi 4:10 But in this thing they were disappointed, for the Nephites did not fear them; but they did fear their God and did supplicate him for protection; therefore, when the armies of Giddianhi did rush upon them they were prepared to meet them; yea, in the strength of the Lord they did receive them.
    Moroni 8:16 Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.

  8. Hey Chauncy, Brad Call here. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing and to let you know that youre in our prayers.

  9. C-Bills - amazing experiences! I am glad you can be a light to those around you. I'm positive your experiences there, however challenging, will serve you well and that your influence will be appreciated by all. Peace be upon you and your colleagues, we will keep you in our prayers.

  10. Hi Chauncey,
    I doubt you remember me, but I interviewed you back at BYU for a story about the St. George marathon and you and my husband, Cole Ballard, were in Men's Chorus together. I've been getting those spam e-mails and then the link to your blog. We're glad to hear you're safe. You'll be in our prayers. Thanks for all that you do!