Total Pageviews

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Faith and My Military Experience

Veteran’s Day Speech
Gorman Christian School Durham NC
Rob Tennant

          Thank you for inviting me to your school today.  I am honored to be here.  One of the greatest privileges I have is to be able to stand before groups of people and talk about my Christian faith.  Today I will talk about my military experiences, but my most important message is this.  God loves you and that is why God became human.  Jesus is God in human flesh.  He died on the cross and rose from the grace.  When we give our lives to Him and receive forgiveness from Him, we are born again, made new in Christ.  I cannot say anything more important than that.
          With that said, I will share about my life in the military and how that is tied to my life as a follower of Jesus.
          Because of my experience with the army, I have traveled.  I have lived in Germany, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Texas.  And it all happened before I turned 3 years old!  This is because my father was in the army.
          My dad was a commander in a tank platoon.  He was stationed in Germany.  So even though my family is from Michigan, I was born in 1970 in Frankfurt, Germany where my dad was serving our country.  After I was born, we moved around a bit as he went from assignment to assignment.  Then, last in 1970, when I was about 9 months old, he was sent to Vietnam with the army.  I didn’t see my dad for an entire year.  Thankfully, he made it home safely.  In 1973, he got out of the army.
          But the military was kind of always in the background in my life.  My dad was a veteran.  Both of my grandfathers were World War II veterans.  One was with the army in Europe.  The other was with the navy in the Pacific.  And when I got to college, I could feel inside of me a pull.  I felt like I needed to serve just as my father and grandfathers had.  They never put any pressure on me.  But I felt it inside myself.
          I also needed to pay for college and at that time, the army national guard had a great program to help soldiers with their college tuition.  So I talked to my dad about it and he recommended I enlist in the National Guard.  I did not want to go full time in the army because I was playing college football at the time. 
          National Guard soldiers go through the same basic and advanced training that regular army soldiers have.  From late May until the end of August in the summer of 1989, I was at Fort Benning, Georgia, learning how to be an infantry soldier.  It the hardest, hottest summer of my life.
          We did hundreds of push-ups every day.  Some guys lose weight in basic training.  I actually gained because of the muscle mass I gained in my shoulders and chest.  We ran 3 or 4 miles several times each week.  For me those long distance runs were the hardest part.  We also learned how to fire and clean an M-16 rifle.  We threw hand grenades on the practice range.  We became soldiers.
          One of my most memorable days from basic training came after had done some training in the early morning.  We were back at our barracks, outside in the shade.  It was hot, but the shade felt nice.  We were all sitting around cleaning our rifles.  I kind of leaned back against a wall.  My rifle was all taken apart and I had the oil that you rub on the parts to keep everything working right.  I leaned back against that wall in the shade after the hard early morning training and I just fell asleep.    
          The drill sergeant noticed and before my buddies could get my attention he creeped over.  He quietly put his face right up next to mine.  And then he screamed, “You better wake up, soldier!”  He yelled some other things and had me do a lot of push-ups.  When my arms were tired from the push-ups, he had me roll on my back and do a bunch of flutter kicks.  When I was tired from the flutter kicks, he rolled me back over for some more push-ups.
          Now that treatment may sound rough, but it taught me to not fall asleep and to get my work done.  Most of the rough treatment sergeants give troops is really about getting soldiers ready.  Push-ups make us strong.  Running gives endurance.  When you train all night, then in real combat, you are ready for an all-night mission. 
          After basic training, I went back to college and joined my National Guard unit.  I would spend the next six training with them.  We trained one weekend every month and two weeks every summer.  We practiced all the basic infantry soldier skills.  We also trained on how to do riot-control.  And we did push-ups and marching and running.
          One of the neat things I learned in the National Guard was repelling.  That’s where you are up on top of a building or on a mountain or in a helicopter, and you come down a rope that’s hooked to your belt.  You lower yourself down.  I never got to do it out of a helicopter but we did get to do it off of a practice tower.  I was afraid of being up so high, but I learned that the best way to overcome a fear is to face it.  And even though we did not get to repel out of helicopter, we did get helicopter rides and that was very cool.
          In the early 1990’s the United States had reduced the number of soldiers with the plan that if conflicts came up, they might call up reservists and the National Guard.  Then Iraq invaded one of our allies, Kuwait.  That was the conflict known as Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  During that time, the American military got involved.  I was at college by the phone.  I wondered will I miss a year of school.  My dad had fought in Vietnam.  I wondered, would I be sent to Iraq.  The phone call never came. 
          That c0nflict passed without me being called up.  I continued my service through National Guard training. 
          One summer, at one of our two-week commitments, I had an experience that really was the first step in me deciding to get out of the military.  We were out in the woods and we were supposed to be picked up by helicopters.  So we were there waiting and it got later and later.  They never told us the helicopters weren’t coming.  We just waited until we all fell asleep around 9PM out in the woods. 
We had not set up shelters or tents or anything because we didn’t think we’d be staying.  Well, around 11PM, it was pitch black out in the woods, and the skies opened up with a hard rain that did not stop for five hours.  Those hours of laying uncovered in the rain were miserable.  The next day we learned that the helicopters didn’t come because of the weather forecast.
I thought about that.  While we were sleeping in the pouring rain those pilots were relaxing in the warm, dry barracks.  As soon as we got done with our training, I applied to go to school to be a pilot and I got accepted into the school.  But, it would mean I would have to miss a year of college and I would have to extend my time in the National Guard.
At that point, I knew God was calling me to be a minister.  I wanted to focus on learning how to be a pastor.  So even though I got accepted into the pilot program, I did not go.  I finished out my time in the National Guard.  I was offered a promotion to Sergeant in my final six months, but only if I signed up for a few more years.  I decided to turn it down. 
In May 1995, I put my uniform on for the last time.  I turned in all my equipment.  And in June, I receive an honorable discharge.  Eight years later, I was well into my career as a church pastor.  I got married.  My new wife and I talked about me possibly getting back into the military as an army reserve chaplain.  But she really did not want me to do that.
Her father was a career navy man.  He was gone from the family for many months at a time.  This was 2003, and our country had just begun the war with Iraq.  She did not want her new husband going off to war right after we got married.  So, I did not get back into the military.
In my story, you can see that at several point the sacrifice soldiers make.  The rock star Kid Rock has a song in which he sings about all campfires and parties throughout the summer of 1989 on the shores of Lake Michigan.  He and I must be the same age, but I also remember that summer.  But while he and many of my college classmates were having fun all summer, yelling drill sergeants were teaching me how to be a soldier.
My dad made a much bigger sacrifice as he was away from his family for a year when he went to Vietnam.  Had my unit been mobilized, I would have missed a year of college in Desert Storm.  This happened for a lot of men and women during the Gulf War.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines sacrifice a lot for their families and their country.  We enjoy a great deal of freedom in America and one of the ways that is preserved is the service of our military.  Today is a day to thank America’s veterans and to honor them.
 However, we must remember something very important whenever give honor to veterans.  We are Christians.  We are called by Jesus to love all people.  In God’s eyes, no one country is better than any other.  God’s concern is the Kingdom of God where people from all nations are joined together as brothers and sisters – children of God. 
Jesus was very specific on this point.  He said these words in his Sermon on the Mount.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[o] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Soldiers should be appreciated and loved and honored, but not revered.  Reverence belongs to the Lord.  We worship God as we know God in Jesus Christ.  And our love for America should never produce in us hatred for people from other countries.  They love their nations as much we love ours.  And our deepest love is for God.  We are more strongly connected to other Christians than to other Americans.  First and foremost we are disciples of Jesus Christ.
As I said at the beginning, my most important message is to talk about following Jesus.  As a pastor I get the wonderful privilege of doing this in a lot of different places and settings.  I am very grateful.  All Christians are called to share their and to glorify God in all they do.
On this Veteran’s Day, I am thankful for the freedom we Americans have to live out our faith in Jesus.  And I am thankful to the sacrifice veterans have made to preserve that freedom.


No comments:

Post a Comment