Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
March 21st, 2003

Nothing Glamorous

A Gulf War Veteran's Notes on Faith and War

 
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There was nothing glamorous about watching missiles explode or about seeing an F-14 Tomcat smash into my ship’s stern on its final approach.

The Kitty Hawk
The
United States Navy aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk exceeds 1,000 feet in length and displaces 186,000 tons. She is a floating city that contains 5,000 men, each trying to escape the monotonous schedule a ship maintains to ensure peace or fight war. A faith dimension in your life is necessary to forget about a daily regimen that is emotionally and spiritually demanding.

This present war has caused me to remember my time in the Persian Gulf onboard Kitty Hawk, a ship that’s capable of launching four bomb-laden aircraft simultaneously from steam-operated catapults. Sounds are deafening as roaring planes spit orange fireballs. Pilots are making final adjustments before shooting across black flight decks, each plane struggling to defeat gravity while fighting for precious altitude. Planes climb skyward leaving in their vapor trails scents of jet fuel and human sweat, intensifying shadows that mimic dancers twisting in the scorching sun.

What it was like
My two six-month deployments in the Persian Gulf were life-changing events. I felt scared spending New Year’s Eve at forward installations in Oman , sleeping on hard ground with fighter planes overhead.

I recall sickening feelings flying from Kitty Hawk in a helicopter to rendezvous with a cruiser two hundred miles north of our position. The chopper’s thin steel cable lowered me three-hundred feet to the cruiser’s pitching deck, completing a mission that secured top secret communication material needed to attack Iraqi troops massing on Kurdish boundaries while “locking on” to American aircraft with surface-to-air missiles.

I watched Tomahawk Cruise Missiles skirting night skies; their silhouettes illuminated the water over which they flew. Each missile contains six hundred pounds of high explosives and impacts its target with devastating force.

Such state-of-the-art weapons systems are never totally accurate. One missile strayed from its intended target and hit a hospital; innocent casualties (bloody arms hanging out underneath white sheets) were removed from the destruction the next morning. Such information (as it does now) came from CNN , informing me that missiles from my ship hit a civilian hospital.

Moments of truth
Spirituality was critical during my Gulf excursions; especially the night two Iraqi missiles were fired at Kitty Hawk. I braced for shock wearing a gas mask (fearing chemical weapons) and held heavy objects that were fastened to floors or walls. I prayed for God’s protection.

Hindsight tells me that the faith piece in this experience really took root after it ended, when I realized I was safe.
My experience awakened me to the belief that God’s grace comforted me during this and other frightening episodes. I believe now that God is always present in moments good and bad. God now wants me to show people love all of the time, because God offers me this love when I experience highs and lows.

It’s sad that I had to experience war to know this reality. Faith and love (not war) build lasting peace. War simply takes lives, shatters dreams, and reminds me that there is nothing glamorous about it.

 
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The Author : Nicholas Perkins, CSP
Nicholas Perkins is serving an internship preparing for the priesthood in New York City.
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