BOLESŁAWIEC, Poland — Many servicemen have a strong sense of giving. Whether sacrificing time away from family or offering themselves physically for selfless service, soldiers often wear a coat adorned with the fiber of fortitude.
In the coming months, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rich West, 1st Infantry Division Chaplain, encourages service members to take advantage of the opportunities presented during the holiday season to reflect on themselves and on their military experience.
In 2001, while working as a civilian pastor, West remembers witnessing the events of 9/11. At the time, West was busy planting a church in Arizona. A former enlisted Marine, West watched the towers fall from afar. At that moment, he remembers struggling with two observable fates.
On the one hand lay the irresistible opportunity to re-engage and join the frontline fight as a rifleman. On the other hand, a vocation to place one’s future at the helm of a more pastoral approach.
“I didn’t want to be sidelined,” West said. “There was still enough Marine in me that watching it all unfold from the news wasn’t going to be good. Supporting as a local church pastor wasn’t going to be enough.
So in 2004, with the support of his denomination, West decided to join the US Army as a chaplain. A privilege, he acknowledges, that allows him to support those who serve.
Over the next 19 years, West settled into his chosen path. Before heading to Poland to support the 1st Infantry Division, West undertook two deployments to Iraq. Over time, he has found that deployments often become the arena in which soldiers can test their mettle and resilience.
“All deployments are inherently stressful,” West said. “You could be deployed to the beaches of the Bahamas and that is going to pose challenges. Soldiers are going to go haywire just because they’re away from their loved ones.
Throughout the holiday season, especially during the month of November, there are several opportunities to pause and reflect on certain moments in history. Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I, coincides with Veterans Day.
“As we enter the holiday season, it’s a great time for service members to ask themselves what this holiday is all about and understand what it really means,” West said.
Of course, Thanksgiving Day also contains these times.
“I love football, I love Turkey, I love family and I love friends, but we lose our sense of it if that’s all we’re involved in,” West said. “We only get half the equation.”
Especially during the holiday season, when the tension of being away from home tends to escalate and contract, West often finds that there is a natural tendency for people to focus on the more difficult aspects. and the darkest of life.
“We need to retrain to see the good, find the good, and chase the good stuff,” West said. “There is always something to be thankful for. There is always a silver lining in the cloud. We just have to practice to see it.
To encourage a more positive view, West notes the importance of the US military presence in Europe and the Big Red One’s current mission to support NATO partners and allies.
“I think it’s extremely important that we are here,” he said. “I think our presence had a very positive and mitigating effect.”
West notes that there are benefits to being able to walk away knowing that through service, purpose and meaning can be brought into people’s lives.
“There should be a feeling that we as a family are participating in something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our family and bigger than our army. It is something to be grateful for.
According to West, every soldier does this. To see the wide range of service and action, soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division have taken trips to two historically significant locations since arriving in Europe. In addition to the actual mission of the day, trips to the beaches of Normandy and the camps of Auschwitz serve to remind soldiers of the extent of American involvement in the world and to appreciate their own decisions to enlist in the armed forces.
“If we look at these sacrifices in positive terms, then we are making these sacrifices for the greater good, for our constitution, for our country and for Europe,” West said. “Knowing this helps us feel good about the sacrifices we make. We are stewards of the gift of freedom. Each generation must assume this role and manage what we have received.