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Giving thanks for troops

Chaplain: 'They're pouring out themselves in service'

Chaplain: 'They're pouring out themselves in service'

November 22, 2007|by ARNOLD S. PLATOU

HAGERSTOWN - When you count your blessings as part of Thanksgiving today, you might want to include America's soldiers overseas.

So suggests Lt. Col. Clark Carr, a Hagerstown minister who is a chaplain in the Maryland Army National Guard and is on his way back to Iraq today.

"These soldiers are working hard. There's no doubt about it," Carr said this week near the end of his 15-day leave.

Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and other holidays are "important times to remember these troops. They're pouring out themselves in service. There's no amount of money you can pay to reward them for that."

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Carr, 51, a member of the Guard for 21 years, has been in Baghdad since late June as a member of the 58th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The unit is stationed in West Baghdad in the Victory Base Complex compound.

"We probably have between 50,000 and 60,000 people there, most of them soldiers," Carr said. "... It's not unusual to see bullets come over the walls or mortar, or to see a missile."

Carr's job is to oversee church facilities - six "full-fledged" chapels and a couple of smaller ones, as well as their equipment and supplies. There are many worship services, of many faiths, prayer breakfasts and other services.

"Even though we're in a war zone, you have people that get together during the week and rehearse and, on Sunday, when they're there to worship, they're really there to worship. We have some fine musicians who wear a uniform. It's pretty awe-inspiring," he said.

There are several praise teams and gospel praise choirs, he said.

"Jesus is rocking in Baghdad Who'd ever thought?"

Carr said he tries "to get to as many of those that I can. And Sundays at 2, I go out with body armor on and do a praise worship with the Ugandan security force at the entry control point where people go in and out."

He said many of the American soldiers with whom he works go out on patrol missions daily around Baghdad. When there are casualties, Carr sometimes is there to comfort the wounded.

But he said many Americans back home don't seem to know that there's "almost been just a total flip-flop (in the war) since last spring.

"You won't hear that on the national news. It's still not a safe environment, but Iraqis are turning in weapons, turning in insurgents, and opening shops and schools."

For Carr, coming home was a welcome break.

For his congregation at Grace United Methodist Church at the corner of Church and Winter streets in Hagerstown's West End, it was something of a shock.

About 200 of the members were gathered for an early service on Sunday, Nov. 11.

They had been told they would see Carr in Iraq via a live feed - sort of "like you see on TV where they talk to a soldier," said the Rev. David Brosnan, minister at Grace while Carr is away.

So as not to disappoint anyone, only a few knew the real possibility - that, if all arrangements worked out, Carr would actually arrive home early that week and be there in church that day, said administrative assistant Gladys Stoup.

So that Sunday - which was also Veterans Day - the color guard from the Hagerstown unit of the Maryland National Guard led off the service, marching down front with the flags.

And then, suddenly, through a side door, came Carr "singing the national anthem a cappella," Stoup said. In the congregation, "there was total silence ... All of a sudden, I heard people gasping and then they started applauding and crying."

For Carr, it was an emotional moment, too.

"My singing wasn't so great," he said. "I was still recovering from what we call the Baghdad crud that you pick up in your lungs. But it wouldn't have mattered how bad I sounded on that particular occasion."

The days since his arrival have been filled with visits with his wife, Kim, their five children, two grandchildren, his father, his sisters and many friends.

Unfortunately, Carr said, "the days here go by 10 times as fast as they do in Iraq."

He isn't scheduled to come home again until his tour of duty ends in April or May.

Knowing he had to fly back today, the family celebrated Thanksgiving with a dinner at the home of one of his sisters last weekend.

So any celebration of Thanksgiving for him today will be muted.

"Maybe they'll serve it on the flight," he said.

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