I’m pleased to begin publishing the monthly newsletter column “Views From A Loft” by Kurt Hendrix. (Kurt’s column used to be “A View From the Pew” until he joined the choir, for which we are very thankful.) Kurt is a creative writer who always makes you think. Enjoy!
It’s coming on to Christmas and while all the men and women of our armed forces won’t be home for it, there is good reason to hope they will be next time. Many military campaigns have had “bringing the troops home for Christmas” as a goal. If it happens, it will be a wonderful event, because there are fewer things more depressing than spending a Christmas alone even if, and perhaps especially if, you are surrounded by other people. I was lucky while I was in service because I only had to spend one Christmas away from my wife and children — 1981, while I was in South Korea. Understand, I loved the assignment in South Korea — loved the Korean people, the land, culture, and climate and I enjoyed my job and comrades. In fact, the only downside to the tour was the separation. Well, there was also the threat of the North Koreans (NK’s) but the separation was worse because it was a separation from not just family but also from other, “supporting” relationships.
Perhaps I’d better illustrate what I mean by that last bit. One of the jobs I had to do in South Korea was become qualified to fly the border between North and South Korea in an U.S. Army scout helicopter. On occasion, while we were doing that, the NK’s would take the opportunity to train and test their anti-aircraft personnel by using our aircraft as target drones (why waste their gas when we’re up there anyway?) When they did, life became extra-specially exciting. An instructor pilot (IP) and I were flying the border one night when our APR-39 radar detection instrument lit up, indicating we were being painted by a “Flat Pan” radar, the search radar for an SA-2 anti-aircraft missile battery. An SA-2 is a missile that was designed for shooting down high level, high speed bombers belonging to the U.S. Air Force. It is longer than our scout helicopter and has a warhead that will take out a bridge. Moreover, it flies at speeds where air friction melts some metals. It doesn’t even have to hit us to destroy us — a not-so-near miss will produce enough turbulence to tear us apart in mid-air. As we mentally review these facts, the missile activity light comes on. This means the SA-2’s on-board radar has activated and is now locked on to us. All that’s left for them to do is arm and fire. The IP and I glance at each other. Now, each of us, being sane, is thinking “EEK!! A giant, hyper-speed, radar-guided, bomber-killing, bridge-busting, helicopter-disintegrating missile is LOOKING AT US!!! EEK!!!, “ because that’s true and that is what any sane person would be thinking. But, we are soldiers and pilots and, most of all, men, so we can’t actually say anything like that. It would be terribly improper to show such emotion and, of course, male soldier/pilots never say “Eek” under any circumstances . Instead, our conversation goes something like this, in the calmest voices we can manage:
Me: “The A-P-R thirty-nine now indicates missile activity.”
IP: “Roger, I verify the missile activity light is hot on the April thirty-nine. Who do you like in the Vikings game Sunday?”
Of course, at this point, the leather palms of our nomex flight gloves are soaking through with sweat while we wonder if this will be the time the NK’s will decide to fire (and if they do, the first we’ll know of it is when we get our entry interview with St. Peter), but that’s okay. That’s allowed. The emotional exchange — that’s what is not allowed. Stifling emotion due to code or custom builds a wall that isolates you from others and for us, that’s deliberate. In the military, you often must operate in a situation where you must contain your pain and disregard the suffering of others in order to do the job you have to do. Once built, however, the walls are hard to breech, even when all you really need to do is share your loss at not being able to see your children’s faces as they open their Christmas presents. As I said, it makes for a lonely, depressing Christmas, when you’re surrounded by such others.
It is a tragedy, but many people build the insulating, isolating walls around themselves even when they’re not on a military base on the other side of the world. Walls which stop you from feeling pain and suffering serve many purposes. Many of these people are so removed from others, it is as if they were actually in another country, but there’s never a campaign to bring them home for Christmas. In fact, those who are around them may not realize there is a problem, until someone becomes too depressed, perhaps ending their own life. This season, look to those who are around you. Pray for the vision to really see them as they are. If you find someone in trouble, find a way to reach out to them. You don’t have to be in the armed forces to be having a lonely, depressing Christmas. Find them and share Christ with them, as we celebrate the time when God first shared Christ with us.