What is it like to experience peace when you are serving in the military? I asked a veteran I know to write on this topic. He graciously agreed to compose for me, but asked to remain anonymous. I think you will find his words insightful.
I had just arrived in the Kingdom of Bahrain after what seemed like an infinite flight. I was on my way to the USS ENTERPRISE to join the crew in the engineering department. It was a bright, sunny morning in the Middle East but it sure felt like bedtime to me. About 15 other people and I were waiting in the shade of a tent on a concrete pad with nothing but plain white buildings and sand in the background. Other than a couple of camels tied to a fence, it was not a very remarkable place.
I was anxious to find a phone to call my very pregnant wife who was scheduled to have a C-section with our first child later that week. Finally the bus arrived to bring us to the processing building where we were assigned a place to stay and told when we were scheduled to depart for our duty stations.
When I got to my hotel room, I finally had a chance to call home. My plan was just to tell her I made it and that I was going to the ship early the next morning. Turns out she was going to do all the talking. She answered her cell phone from her hospital bed where she had given birth to our daughter a few hours earlier. I had missed it by a day! The good news was, both she and the baby were great and she had friends there to take care of her. The bad news was, I was at least 6 weeks from getting home to see them.
Getting to a new ship is stressful enough when you’re focused on the task at hand but having a new baby that you’ve never even seen a picture of is something that keeps you distracted. My task was to get all of my qualifications complete while the reactor was critical because when we got home, we would be shutting down and heading into an overhaul period where I wouldn’t have a chance to operate the plant at power. My watch station was titled Propulsion Plant Watch Officer or PPWO. I supervised the controls of two reactors and the associated engine room.
I also was put in charge of a division of about 20 mechanics. These guys (and ladies) were smart and always wary of a new officer. And, they all knew WAY more than I did about the ship and how it worked. My days consisted of ensuring my guys were performing their maintenance checks, standing appropriate watches, taking logs, and staying out of trouble. When I wasn’t doing that, I was spending as much time as I could standing my own watch, under instruction, learning as much as I could. I had about 50 individual tasks I had to perform, dozens and dozens of hours of watch to stand, a division to run, and an engine room to keep operating – all the while trying not to get lost on this 1,000 foot floating monster. Just remembering where to go to eat was a challenge. Normally, these things are all taken in stride but I couldn’t stop thinking about my small family waiting for me at home.
Things were not moving as fast as I would have liked. Nothing moves fast in a nuclear power plant (unless of course they are going wrong). Weeks were flying by and I wasn’t getting my tasks done proportionately. I had qualified as the after steering safety officer which meant any time we were transiting anywhere near land, I was at the bottom of the ship in a place called “after steering” waiting for a control failure that would never happen; more importantly, I wasn’t making any progress on my quals. By the way, it takes FOREVER to transit the Suez Canal at 10 knots. The phone system availability was spotty and the internet was even worse. I was stressed. I missed my wife and ached to meet my daughter. The ship was either very hot or very cold, but always big and unfamiliar. Just finding the stinking bathroom was a 10 minute evolution that I didn’t have time for. There were over 5,000 people on board who all knew what they were doing except for me. They were everywhere yet I was alone.
Wait a minute. I wasn’t alone. The Lord put me on that ship at that time. He sets my challenges and enables me to meet them. He was there too. What does Ephesians say? Oh yeah, “For He himself is our peace.” Peace! That sounds good. That’s what I’d been missing. Not because it wasn’t there, it was; He was. I was so focused on myself, I forgot that God not only provides peace, He is our peace all the time! I needed to let Him be in control, not me. I needed to look up.
What a shift. I started to move well through my tasks. I started to feel confident in the control room. My guys started to get to know me and trust began to develop. I could find the wardroom, head, engine room and my stateroom in just under what would be considered a reasonable amount of time. We were heading home soon – in time for Christmas! I even managed to sing a few carols while down in the bowels of after steering (don’t worry, it was so loud down there that no one else had to listen).
We pulled into Norfolk on December 19th. It was a Wednesday. The folks who had become parents while they were away got to get off the ship earlier than most. There was a tent setup on the pier where family members could wait for their sailors. Most were outside, smiling with anticipation. I looked around and didn’t see any familiar faces. I went inside the tent and saw the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen in my short life. There was my dear wife, nursing a baby. She smiled. My little one was mostly covered with a blanket but her tiny little legs and feet were sticking out one side. I stopped in my tracks – there are no words for moments like that.
Peace. Sometimes you have to consciously look for it and sometimes it overwhelms you and your heart swims in it. But it is always there – He is always there – knocking on the door. I encourage you to open it.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”