At The Sharp End

“Sir!” Sergeant Davis snapped off a salute, a Pavlovian reflex kicking in to compensate for his surprise.

The Reverend Timms flicked a lazy salute in reply, chuckling as he did so. “Relax, son. I may be an officer, but there’s no need to advertise the fact to the enemy. I’m sure God would protect me, but there’s no harm in letting Him know I’m cooperating, if you get my drift. I’m here as your chaplain. Neil.” He held out a hand.

“Davis, sir. I mean James, James Davis. Jimmy.” He shook the chaplain’s hand.

“How’s it going, Jimmy?”

Jimmy shrugged. “Different day, same sh- um, same stuff, sir.”

“Quiet out here?”

“At the moment, but you never can tell. Two days ago we came under sniper fire. Last week an IED took out a semi, right in front of us. You just don’t know.”

“Is that a New York accent?”

“Queens, sir.”

“Oh, then I can relate. I’m a country boy, me. I spent a week in the Big Apple. Just crossing the road I took my life in my hands. I guess you never can tell, wherever you are.”

“I guess, except a New York cabbie isn’t actually trying to kill you. Well, not often.”

“Ha! Good point. Though it’s quiet at the moment?”

“Sort of. Um, Reverend?”

“Yes?”

“Sir, no disrespect, but you do know we’re in enemy territory here? I mean, the locals, they’re not exactly keen on us, not in this part of the country. Are you sure you mean to be here?”

“I know, soldier. But it seems to me, if it’s that dangerous, you boys need every bit of help you can get.” The chaplain hitched a thumb skywards. “It can’t hurt, getting on His good side, right?”

“I guess, sir. It’s just, I’ve not seen a reverend this far forward. Does the CO know you’re here?”

“Oh, he knows. He’s not happy about it, but he knows. So, is there anything you need? Anything I can do for you?”

“You, Reverend? No, not really. I’m not religious, I’m Baptist. Sorry.”

“That’s okay, son. I forgive you.” He chuckled again. “He’s one God, regardless if you’re Baptist, Methodist or Catholic.” He leant forward conspiratorially. “I’m not sure about the Episcopalians, though,” he said in a low voice, tapping the side of his nose and winking. “You want to pray, even with a non-baptist?”

“Thanks, Sir, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to close my eyes out here, no offense.”

“None taken, Jimmy, none taken. You mind if I pray in your stead?”

The soldier eyed an approaching jeep. “Uh, sure, whatever, Sir, but I have to work now. Gomez! It’s not a friendly until you’ve proved it is! Get off your butt and get your ass in gear.” He threw an embarrassed grin at the Reverend as his squad regarded the approaching vehicle. The chaplain watched the men approach the jeep, then snap to attention. A man in his fifties, showing no sign of middle-aged spread, stepped out of the jeep and returned the salutes. He sauntered over to Timms, the sergeant in tow.

“Padre,” he said in lieu of a greeting.

“Colonel,” relied the chaplain.

“Sergeant, has this sky pilot been bothering you and your men?”

“Sir, no Sir. The Reverend was just asking if we needed anything, Sir.”

“And do you?”

“Sir, no Sir.”

“So everything’s okay? Your rations are fine? No complaints?”

The sergeant barely paused.

“Sir, no Sir. I mean, no complaints, Sir.”

“So, why are you out here bothering my men, Reverend? Shouldn’t you be back in the Green Zone, writing Sunday’s sermon? You think my men perform better with you to worry about?”

“I could ask you the same thing, Colonel. I’m sure your men would be happier knowing you’re safely behind a desk somewhere rather than out here looking over their shoulder.”

The colonel smiled. “Fair point. Sergeant, as you were.” He returned the salute and the sergeant scurried gratefully off to shout at his squad.

“You know what I feel about the God Squad going out into the field,” said the colonel, when they were alone.

“It seems to me, Sir, that out in the field is when a soldier needs God the most.”

“Maybe. But I don’t want you to interfere with operations.”

“You know I’d never do that.”

“Hmm. Still, I got to say one thing. You got balls of steel, I’ll give you that. What do you think they’d do, if they ambushed you and found out you were batting for the other side, religiously speaking? And yet here you are. You obviously don’t think God will turn aside their bullets, because you’re wearing a flak jacket. So why do you do it?”

“I think they need me.”

“Bullshit. You think everyone needs you, but why put yourself in harm’s way? You could minister to their needs back at camp. Aren’t you scared?”

“Terrified.”

“So why do it?”

“You want the truth?” The chaplain looked down at his feet as though debating something with himself. “Okay, here’s the truth then. I look at you. You have a reputation, you know that? Most colonels would maybe tour the bases, but not you. You like to be out there at the sharp end of the stick, mixing it with the troops. A respected commander with the common touch. That takes a special kind of man, and it also takes ‘balls of steel’ as well. I look at you, a godless, cussing, drinking, heathen, and I think to myself, ‘If he can do that without God, I sure as heck can do the same with God’. No offense, Colonel.”

The colonel smiled, then chuckled.

“Hot damn,” he said. “That’s for real? Hot damn. You know why I do that? You know why I go out and see the troops on patrol?”

“Why, Colonel?”

“Because I look at you, ignoring the threat of snipers and roadside bombs, just to mutter words to a God that has forsaken this desert, and I think to myself, ‘If a simpering do-gooder without even a sidearm can do that for my troops, I sure as hell can.’ Hot damn.”

The chaplain laughed. “Hey, maybe we’re not so different after all, Colonel.”

“Maybe not.” The colonel leant in close to the chaplain and added in a low voice, “But you tell a soul, preacher, and I will have you court martialled. As you say, I have a reputation to uphold.”

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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