Levity ;)

levity“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

What do Port-O-Johns, a Donkey, and Disco have in common? They have Days, months, years and life long memories of laughter in common (in a military sort of way)!

Port-O-Johns

So there they sat, tied down to the left of Landing Zone, 5 Port-O-Johns. To the right of the LZ was the Aid Station. Army Corps of Engineers assured command that the Port-O-Johns were safely secured by three foot screw tent stakes and thick rope. The Physician Assistant’s calls for relocation went unheard for days. His warning? “The moment a Chinook flies in here, those things will be toast!”

Command assured the PA that no such flights were projected unless there was a Medical Emergency. They did not think about the fact that in just two days senior commanders would be flying in and that two Black Hawk helicopters deliver the same level of wind pressure as one Chinook.

As mentioned, two days passed and here came the Black Hawks and there went the Port-O-Johns. A couple of them flipped over but a few of them were blown several feet from where they had been anchored. Due to the visit, no one noticed until the helicopters left. Immediately, the PA ran over to each Port-O-John checking them for soldiers. Fortunately, no soldiers used the facilities in the moments leading up to the helicopters landing.

The events of that day lead the command to heed the advice of the PA and move the Port-O-Johns. However, the Engineers were more frustrated than convinced. In their efforts to fix the problem, they moved the Port-O-Johns to the north end of the LZ and only feet from where inbound helicopters would be landing.

A good two weeks went by without incident. Then it happened, a soldier needed MEDEVAC and another wanted to re-enlist on a Chinook. The Port-O-Johns survived the MEDEVAC but not the re-enlistment. When the Chinook took off, the after math and condition of the Port-O-Johns were worse than the first incident. This time, all the medics were outside because the re-enlisting soldier was a medic.

About five of us ran over to the toppled and launched Port-O-Johns. Once we reached the third one, we could faintly hear the plea of a young soldiers…”Help! Help!” The Port-O-John was face down with the door against the ground. It took all five of us to pick it up. When we did, a blue smurf in Army PTs bumbled out the door. Leaving his weapon and Pro Gear behind, the soldier ran yelling to the showers. Needless to say, he was MEDEVAC next due to exposure of toxic chemicals among other things. Soldiers in this unit, still tell the Port-O-John story to all new Soldiers and it has led to some interesting comments on the walls of all the Port-O-Johns these Soldiers now enter.

fY4aOmYDonkey

About a month after taking over an Iraqi village, the same PA mentioned above requested access to the commander’s Satellite phone in order to call his wife and wish her a Happy Birthday. Each house in the village was occupied by soldiers. However, three of the houses were bigger than the others so one was used as our Head Quarters, one was the Aid Station and the last one was converted into a dining facility.

Although the Iraqi families that had occupied the houses moved on to other locations, their animals were left behind. So when our soldiers went outside, there were chickens and various types of animals to include donkeys and goats.

Walking out the back door of the house that was used as the Aid Station, the PA stood in the door way talking to his wife and watching the donkey roaming near the fire pit. Just then and ripping through the air came an enemy mortar. With only the precision our Iraqi enemy forces could ensure, the donkey was blown in half by the round with one half falling into the pit.

The PA’s response was, “Wooooohoooo honey, I just witnessed the most amazing thing!” As he laughed uncontrollably. “What was that?” His wife exclaimed. “I just saw a Jackass get his backside blown off!” He said. His wife was not excited in the slightest. In fact, she was terrified and replied, “That is not funny!” But to the PA, it was one of the funniest things he had ever witnessed.

Disco

In 2005, the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment was deployed to FOB Paliwoda near Balad Iraq. On the FOB was a building that had been designated as the Chapel. The building only measured 12 feet by 20 feet but it was more than adequate for that deployment. For many Soldiers on a one year deployment, chapel can be a well-timed break from mission patrols and an escape from certain members within leadership. More importantly, it is their time to reconnect with their faith and the God they worship. One particular Sunday, the soldiers who played the bass guitar and key board and drums and regular guitar were really interested in praising God with the song named “Trading My Sorrows”. In the song, the chorus is a simple repetition of saying “Yes Lord”. Soldiers hear a lot of “No” so to sing “Yes Lord” was encouraging.

Our FOB was co-located with an Iraqi training FOB. A team of young Iraqi men who could not meet the physical requirements to be Soldiers were tasked with being a part of the cleaning crew for both FOBs. As we worshipped in song that Sunday morning, an Iraqi cleaning outside heard our joyful noise and came storming through the door with his hands on hips like one of the Three Amigos and speaking in English but with his Iraqi accent he exclaimed, “You have DISCO?”

Everyone in chapel stopped singing and started laughing as the soldier that was supervising the Iraqi came sliding in the door and apologizing for interrupting. We invited them in but they could not stay. A week later, the Imam I worked with wanted to come to chapel services. After clearing it with command, the Imam was allowed to come to services with his interpreter.

American-Soldiers-Playing-Quidditch-In-The-Deserts-OfLevity is an interesting and sometimes perplexing part of deployment. What soldiers find hilarious down range or around their military buddies is either not understood or not appreciated. However, it can be therapeutic for many soldiers and a method of getting past some horrific experiences. There is a sense of morbidity involved, questionable language, and a very real sense of the brevity of life. When allowed to be a part of moments of levity with soldiers one can establish a great amount of respect and access with the soldiers you find yourself around. With this access comes the understanding that you too may be the tag line in some of these moments of levity. Their laughter may be at your expense. There is a lot to be said about being vulnerable around soldiers who you may wind up living and dying with and a good degree of that vulnerability should be spent finding things to laugh at or about. For what all you and your soldier’s experience, it may be the only medicine that leads to long term healing.

What do Port-O-Johns, a Donkey, and Disco have in common? They have Days, months, years and life long memories of laughter in common (in a military sort of way)!

Mijikai Mason
Disclaimer: The thoughts and views published on the Veterans to Christ blog are those of Mijikai Mason and in no way are meant to represent the United States Army or the Armed Forces.

Bio: Mijikai Mason is an Ordained Southern Baptist minister and Chaplain in the United States Army. He has been in the Army for 26 years both as an enlisted Soldier and now as an Officer. He has been stationed at various bases in the United States and in United States Army Garrison Schweinfurt, Germany. He holds an undergraduate degree in Religion from the University of Mobile, a Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Theology and Evangelism and a Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Webster University. Chaplain (MAJ) Mijikai Mason was selected by the Army in 2013, to become a Family Life Chaplain and began his service in this field starting 15 May 2015. He is the Deputy ESC Chaplain and Family Life Chaplain for the 593 Expeditionary Support Command at Joint Base Lewis McCord. He has deployed four times: Desert Storm (1991), Iraq twice (2005-2006; 2007-2008), and Afghanistan (2012-2013). He has a total of 42 months deployed in combat and logistics operations. Mijikai and his wife, Ashley, have been married for 17 years this May and live near Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington with their four daughters.