Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Captain Darren Turner

This is an article from the AJC about Capt. Darren Turner. Capt. Turner used to be a Pastor at our Church before God called him to serve our country. This article shows how God is using him in Iraq.


Chaplain Turner's War: Chapter 1 of 8

Georgia chaplain provides comfort in the toughest of places: War in Iraq


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/22/08

WASHINGTON — Chaplain Darren Turner stands at the entrance to Ward 45-C at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with a special coin in his pocket and trepidation in his heart. He is here to see a warrior who only two months earlier was hunting insurgents in Iraq — and is now a man without three limbs.

Spc. David Battle arrived here on Christmas Day, his legs and right arm blown off in a roadside bombing. On this dreary February afternoon, doctors still are not certain he will survive.

CURTIS COMPTON/AJC
Chaplain Darren Turner takes out the coin he has carried with him from Baghdad to present to triple amputee Spc. David Battle at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
CURTIS COMPTON/AJC
Chaplain Darren Turner prays with Spc. David Battle and his wife, Lakeisa, as their son, Ahmarion, 2, sleeps at the foot of the bed in the 'warrior care' unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Battle lost three limbs in Iraq.
CHAPLAIN TURNER'S WAR

About the series: In January, reporter Moni Basu and photographer Curtis Compton began documenting life at war with Darren Turner, chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, part of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart.
They traveled with him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington while he was home on leave, then caught up with him in Iraq, where they spent five weeks reporting this story.
They shadowed the chaplain as he counseled soldiers, baptized them and dealt with war's hardships. They also went on foot patrol with a platoon that lost six men last summer.
Every soldier in this story gave the journalists permission to document their interactions with the chaplain. All except one of the scenes were witnessed firsthand. The one reconstructed scene — the events of last summer — appears in Chapter 3 and was pieced together through interviews with soldiers who were there.

More photos

More on this series

CHAPLAIN (CAPT.) DARREN TURNER

Born: Feb. 23, 1973, in Canton

Married: Heather Holman of Snellville, 1999

Children: Elie, 7; Sam, 5; Meribeth, 23 months

Church affiliation: Savannah Christian Church, a nondenominational Christian church with an attendance of 5,000.

Graduated: Cherokee County High School in 1991; University of Georgia in 1997 with a degree in English education.

Early work: Taught English in Mongolia (1997-98) through a Christian organization called the English Language Institute of China; became assistant pastor (1999) at the Church of the Nations, a Christian nondenominational church in Athens.

Religious education: Enrolled in seminary in 2004 at Regent University in Virginia, founded by evangelical minister Pat Robertson. Earned a master's degree in practical theology in December 2006.


Service: Attended Army chaplaincy course at Fort Jackson while still in seminary. Completed course in September 2006. Assigned to Fort Stewart-based 3rd Infantry Division.

Deployment: To Iraq in May 2007 with the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment.

About the story
In January, reporter Moni Basu and photographer Curtis Compton began documenting life at war with Georgia native Darren Turner, chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, part of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart.

They traveled with Turner to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington while he was home on leave and then caught up with him in Iraq, where they spent five weeks reporting this story.

Basu and Compton shadowed the chaplain as he counseled soldiers, baptized several on Easter and dealt with the hardships of war. They also went on foot patrol with Bravo Company, 2nd platoon, which last summer lost six soldiers.

Every soldier in this story gave the two journalists permission to document their interactions with the chaplain. All except one of the scenes in this story were witnessed firsthand. The one reconstructed scene — the events of last summer — appears in Chapter 3 and was pieced together through interviews with soldiers who were there.

Coming tomorrow:
Back in Iraq, the chaplain counsels a young sniper from McDonough who talks about being a trained killer.

Georgians killed in Iraq

David Battle is a trophy of war. That's how Turner describes the nation's wounded.

Home on leave from Iraq, the Georgia chaplain did not have to visit Battle. He wanted to. He wanted to make this difficult journey before he must make another.

In four days, the war-weary chaplain, 35, will return to southeast Baghdad to shepherd his flock of almost a thousand soldiers in a Fort Stewart-based infantry battalion. He has already mourned with them the deaths of 14 men. He has comforted many of the 100 who have been injured. Some, like Battle, face uncertain futures with traumatic injuries.

Yet Turner feels unprepared when he visits the wounded — a near-death experience can mess with a soldier's head. Not even the chaplain's spiritual armor can fully protect him.

He takes a breath and opens the door to the "warrior care" ward.

"Hi, David," he says.

Painkillers pulse through Battle's veins. He stares at Turner from a hospital bed, his eyes vacant, his broken body covered with white sheets from the neck down. His 2-year-old son, Ahmarion, sleeps at the foot of the bed. Battle's wife, Lakeisa, hovers over a mess of plastic tubes snaking from her husband's body. Turner can tell she is Jell-O wobbly under the steel veneer she's erected for outsiders.

This is why he became an Army chaplain. He wanted to be where the suffering was greatest.

Turner has visited the injured before, at Baghdad's combat hospital. Some guys are numb. Some put their trembling hands in his. The wounded are always wanting something that can't be explained.

The chaplain tells Battle and his wife that he feels privileged to stand in their presence.

"Even though you didn't plan this," Turner says, "you served your country. Anything you want me to tell the boys?"

Many of the soldiers in Battle's tight-knit tank company had walked over the same spot where the bomb exploded. They told Turner they felt guilty. Why were they spared?

The soldier from La Plata, Md., struggles to answer the chaplain.

"Tell all of them ..."

Battle pauses. Turner bends closer to hear his whisper amid the drone and beeps of hospital equipment.

"Tell them, thanks," Battle manages to say.

A tear rolls down his left cheek.

Turner's mind races to find the right words.

"You probably have had many bad emotions. But you got your life and your wife right here for you," he says. "She's a special lady."

Lakeisa's eyes scan the "Get Well" and "Happy Birthday" cards on the wall. Yesterday her husband turned 22.

"You are an inspiration," Turner continues, taking out the coin he has carried with him from Baghdad.

Decorated with a sword representing honor and a breastplate of righteousness, the shiny medal is Turner's way of bestowing hope to the wounded. A verse from Ephesians is etched on one side: "Put on the whole armor of God. Pray always."

Military tradition dictates that the coin be passed from one soldier to another in a firm handshake. But Battle cannot move.

Turner has thought long and hard about the presentation. A chaplain's job is filled with awkward moments like this, when words are inadequate but silence is not an answer.

This moment is particularly tough.

A chaplain's toughest battleground

Jesus ran to crises. Turner wanted to do the same.

But eight months at war have left him distressed and drained.

Turner was so green — new to the Army, new to the chaplaincy — that his boss thought he might be better suited behind a desk in a support battalion, spared from combat missions.

Chaplain (Maj.) Jay Hearn knew that the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, part of President Bush's troop buildup, would be at the tip of the spear in Iraq, at high risk for casualties.

Just months before the deployment in May 2007, Hearn told Turner that soldier deaths were a chaplain's toughest battleground; that Turner could still serve meaningfully in Iraq without stepping into that ring of fire.

But Turner had learned in seminary that people in pain are wide-open to inviting God into their lives. He insisted on joining the 1-30th.

Chaplain Turner's war unfolded on many fronts.

He is a soldier on the battlefield. A counselor behind closed doors. A minister at the altar. A friend. A father.

He is the backbone of a rough and tough infantry battalion, on its third deployment in Iraq. As the sole chaplain, he absorbs all that befalls the soldiers. He shares in absolute joy — and tragedy.

On this winter day, the wounded at Walter Reed are chilling reminders of war, particularly the war that begins here at home, away from the killing fields.

'God is not finished with you yet'

Standing at the head of Battle's hospital bed, Turner grasps the "Armor of God" medal in his left hand and places his right hand on Battle's shoulder.

"This is a really, really cool coin," he says, sticking to the plan he conjured for this awkward moment.

His eyes steadfast on the soldier's face, he slips the shiny disc into his wife's palm.

"I know you know that you still have a life to live. We love you."

Turner bows his head to pray. He asks God to give Battle and his family the strength they will need in the coming weeks, months, years.

"God is not finished with you yet," he says.

He gives Lakeisa a long hug and steps back out into the antiseptic hallway.

"Whew," he says, his face flushed red and his eyes moist. "I'm wondering why I have two legs and arms still."

The young chaplain has seen so many deaths. Today, for the first time, he has encountered the grim realities of life after near-death.

It is a new front in Chaplain Turner's war.

"If I were where he is, I'd be wondering, why me? I'd be feeling sorry for myself, maybe wondering why I didn't just die."

Oblivious to the rain drenching his patrol cap and uniform, Turner leaves Walter Reed for a nearby hotel where his wife, Heather, waits. The thought of again leaving her, and their three young children, is crushing.

Turner wonders what will unfold in the six months that remain in the deployment.

He can eulogize the dead, pray for them. But what will become of his flock still on the battlefield?

Even on a quiet, uneventful day in Iraq, the war within — for faith, for sanity, for family ties strained by separation — is ceaseless.

The soldiers come before Turner broken. Or oblivious to their own needs.

In a few days, the chaplain will be back in the ancient lands of the Bible, preparing for Easter. He hopes Christianity's humblest and holiest day, celebrated in the midst of war, will soothe and strengthen his soldiers' souls.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Such a great article. And a reminder to keep praying for our soldiers, other personnel and the families.