For God & Country – Book Review
For God & Country: One Chaplain’s Perspective of War and the Life Lessons Learned
Brian K. Waite
Heartspring Media, 2005
One bit of military wisdom states that there are no atheists in the foxhole. Religion and warfare have been intertwined since the dawn of humanity; yet the role of the Chaplain in modern combat has largely been unexplored. One knows about the chaplain (James H. O’Neil) who created the prayer for clear weather so Patton could launch a counter-attack against the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. Or Chaplain Howell Forgy of the USS New Orleans who became a celebrity for inspiring the men on the ship with the phrase ‘Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!’ Yet these are treated as adjuncts to the main story. In all the books that the reviewer has read, except for ‘Co Aytch’ by Sam Watkins, no other book as attempted to treat the Chaplain as a living breathing and integral part of the military. In ‘For God & Country’ by Brian K. Waite uses his story as a Navy Chaplain attached to the Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom to bring some light on an overlooked but very important part of the military.
The 911 attacks forever changed the way Americans live. For Pastor Brian Waite; he could have stood on the sidelines and continued to administer to his large and successful ministry in Houston, Texas, but he became dissatisfied with his lot. A prompting to return to active duty could not be dismissed. He could have stayed safe as the Command Chaplain for the Air Force Reserve unit, but he knew that he was needed on the front lines. He resigned his Air Force commission to accept a commission in the United States Navy from which he had originally started.
Originally posted to the 2d Marine Division as assistant Chaplain; the hands of God moved him from the safe posting in the rear of the division to where he was truly needed: the Chaplain of the 3rd Marine Battalion, 2nd Regiment, Task Force Tarawa. It is fair to say that not all soldiers are prepared to go from peace to war, and this holds equally true for Chaplains. Lieutenant Waite found himself replacing the old Chaplain who did not have the commander’s full confidence. Thus begins the odyssey that would see Chaplain Waite in one of the lead units in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in some of the heaviest fighting of the war. War and death came quickly to the Marines. From the first casualties due to a traffic accident to the fighting around Nasiriyah; Chaplain Waite was in the forefront of the unit administering to his Marines and any others who needed his services. It was in the fighting at Nasiriyah that Chaplain Waite valor shone forth. His record there was nothing short of remarkable. He baptized 40 Marines and Sailors in the Tigris River which was probably the largest Christian baptismal in that area in the past two hundred years or more. He administered to the Marines in his command even to go out and attend some on checkpoint duty in a blinding sand storm. He calmed enemy POWs with his presence as they knew they were safe while he was with them. He attended to the final internments of enemy soldiers and the unfortunate civilians caught in the crossfire of battle. And at Numiniyah his respect for Muslim culture and traditions made him the ideal negotiator to deal with local imams to restore calm and order in the city. His services to the battalion and the task force earned him the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat V (Valor) Device. This is a very rare award for a Chaplain and one that was truly earned by Chaplain Waite.
It would be a mistake to think this is solely an autobiography written to boast of his accomplishments, but Chaplain Waite wrote this book with a dual purpose. The first is to provide an eyewitness account of the Battle of Nasiriyah, but an equally important part is that it is designed to teach others by example. Written with self-deprecating humor; Chaplain Waite shows how his life can be used to teach others. For example, one of the most vexing questions has been: How does one reconcile the fact that being a soldier means you will have to kill, but the Bible commands that ‘Thou Shall Not Kill’ and is considered the most sacred of Commandments. Chaplain Waite showed that the Bible made provisions for such eventualities and this allowed the Marines to do their duty in good faith. Most of the lessons taught in the book can be applied to the normal day-to-day life of the average person.
Technically the book is flawless in writing. The only problems with the book are the poor, grainy reproduction of the photos and the lack of an index. The appendixes are useful and perhaps the best one is the reproduction of the Summary of the Award for the Commendation Medal with V Device. The one appendix that I found least useful was the inclusion of the tables, with rank insignia, of the various ranks of the United States Military, but as the book is intended for a very wide group beyond the historian its inclusion cannot be faulted. One very pleasant surprise was the inclusion of a chapter by Chaplain Waite’s wife: Kathy. It is rarer still to hear the words of a wife of a serviceman overseas in combat and so the chapter was very welcome. While the book is definitely written from a religious point of view; it is not a ‘hit over the head’ or ‘fire and brimstone’ in your face work. For a list price of $11.85 the book is recommended to anybody interested in one of the more overlooked segments in the military or for anyone wanting a first person narrative of some of the turning points in the war in Iraq. The life lessons can be considered a bonus.