Families, faith, and the military vocation

David French is an Iraq war veteran and Nancy French is his wife. Together they have written Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War

‘Men were coming home on leave to find their wives gone from their houses,” David French writes about the strain of deployment on marriage. “Other men were getting the modern equivalent of the ‘Dear John’ letter via Facebook message or e-mail. Some guys discovered wives or girlfriends were pregnant, and still others were finding that their bank accounts had been looted by the very people they most trusted with their financial affairs. In fact, I would say that the ongoing betrayal of our men and women in uniform by their own family members is perhaps the most underreported scandal and toll of the war. It is an enduring symbol of the depravity of man and the fallen nature of our own culture.”

You should read the whole interview and maybe order the book.  The Frenches are honest and unsparing, and yet they come across as a truly strong and devoted couple, despite or perhaps because of all they have gone through.  What is striking to me is what they say about their faith, both in relation to their marriage and in relation to war and the military vocation:

LOPEZ: Could either of you have done this without faith? What has deployment taught you about faith?

NANCY: When David and I were having the “I want to join the Army” conversation when we lived in Philadelphia, he quoted Stonewall Jackson. He said something like this, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” Of course, Stonewall died while recovering from wounds received in battle. “Duty is ours, consequences are God’s,” he is also known to have said. In other words, we threw ourselves on the mercy and sovereignty of God, and put one foot in front of the other until he came home.

DAVID: It’s easy to quote Calvinist generals from the safetyof your own home. It’s another thing entirely to trust God when you’re bumping down a dirt road in a Humvee or saluting at the third memorial in a month for a fallen trooper. My deployment taught me that I am utterly dependent on God for my next breath of life. But in many ways, that thought could be more terrifying than comforting. Men who were better than me in every way were falling to IEDs and ambushes. There is no formula for survival, and God’s ways are mysterious. But we’re not promised understanding, safety, or comfort.
LOPEZ: David, you write about Playboys and Maxims and things. Do men at war have the support they need to be good men, brave in all sorts of ways? Is there any way to help or change that?

DAVID: In the book I describe our armored cavalry squadron as a “rolling, violent fraternity.” In other words, we were a group of guys (guys only; this was a combat arms unit) from all walks of life bonded together by our shared mission and sacrifice. There were devout Christians in the group and guys who couldn’t wait to head to the closest strip club when they landed in America on leave. There were guys who bounced between those extremes. There’s quite a bit of spiritual support available to soldiers, but it’s up to them whether they use it. Mostly, soldiers support each other, and I don’t think that will ever change — nor should it.

 

HT:  Bruce Gee

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • JH

    God give us peace. Bring them home.

  • JH

    God give us peace. Bring them home.

  • Rose

    By coincidence, I just received the yearly appeal from the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces: http://www.lcms.org/armedforces.
    Our chaplains do an outstanding job.

  • Rose

    By coincidence, I just received the yearly appeal from the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces: http://www.lcms.org/armedforces.
    Our chaplains do an outstanding job.

  • Deborah

    I’ll have to read that book. My son (a lieutenant aboard a surface vessel) and his wife will celebrate their 3rd anniversary in a few months. So far, they’ve spent 20 months of their fledgling marriage apart because of deployments and training missions. He’s halfway through his 3rd deployment in the Persian Gulf. Yes, indeed, military life is brutally lonely for spouses.

  • Deborah

    I’ll have to read that book. My son (a lieutenant aboard a surface vessel) and his wife will celebrate their 3rd anniversary in a few months. So far, they’ve spent 20 months of their fledgling marriage apart because of deployments and training missions. He’s halfway through his 3rd deployment in the Persian Gulf. Yes, indeed, military life is brutally lonely for spouses.

  • steve

    I have to say that one of the saddest and most pathetic things has to be a man—overgrown boy, really—pursuing a woman whose husband is at war in a foreign land. On a scale of pathetic actions, that has to be towards the top.

  • steve

    I have to say that one of the saddest and most pathetic things has to be a man—overgrown boy, really—pursuing a woman whose husband is at war in a foreign land. On a scale of pathetic actions, that has to be towards the top.

  • scott

    Granted, cheating on a spouse is always wrong, but I can’t say I support the long deployments for many of our service men (especially in the Army). Having a man and wife separate for a year (or longer, and with multiple tours with not much downtime) sounds like, and is often proving to be, a recipe for disaster. This is something the armed forces needs to work on.

  • scott

    Granted, cheating on a spouse is always wrong, but I can’t say I support the long deployments for many of our service men (especially in the Army). Having a man and wife separate for a year (or longer, and with multiple tours with not much downtime) sounds like, and is often proving to be, a recipe for disaster. This is something the armed forces needs to work on.

  • JH

    @4 Steve, I agree. Kinda like David/Bathsheba.

  • JH

    @4 Steve, I agree. Kinda like David/Bathsheba.

  • Tony

    When Iraq first started one of our National Guard members was called up. In ministering to him I got to know his chaplain throughout the 14 month deployment. They saw what everyone else saw, car bombs, IEDs, casualties within their ranks, etc. As they were getting ready to come home to their families he told me “now the real work begins…” Yet he also told me that he and his wife purposefully decided to view their deployment differently. Rather than “how are we going to get through the next 14 months?” they asked themselves/each other “how are we going to grow stronger through this?”

  • Tony

    When Iraq first started one of our National Guard members was called up. In ministering to him I got to know his chaplain throughout the 14 month deployment. They saw what everyone else saw, car bombs, IEDs, casualties within their ranks, etc. As they were getting ready to come home to their families he told me “now the real work begins…” Yet he also told me that he and his wife purposefully decided to view their deployment differently. Rather than “how are we going to get through the next 14 months?” they asked themselves/each other “how are we going to grow stronger through this?”


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