My time enlisted in the US Military has been a period of immense personal and spiritual growth.
Joining at the age of 17, I was thrust into a world predominately composed of young, single, rowdy alpha males. Military men in general are collections of different upbringings, different countries and creeds, and also very different sets of values. It took me a while to find my way to God. Growing up, I was always reminded of God’s presence and considered myself a Christian, however, in my early days of military service I seldom found myself walking through life as a ‘good’ Christian should. It wasn’t until two very crucial life experiences set me on the track I am now on today. A Christ-like path.
Shortly after completing basic training, I was deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During this deployment I was exposed to the ugliness man was capable of delivering to others. After three consecutive deployments to this region, I was sure about one thing: life is precious, and life can be taken away very easily. This was the first grouping of life experiences that made me appreciate the gift of life and how important it is to have a life with purpose and direction. Watching friend and foe pass away on the battlefield brings a certain perspective to what it means to be human. If you disregard the language barrier, every man that I saw pass made some reference to a higher power or a group of loved ones. Whichever side you fight for, you believe that you are doing a righteous act and you are doing it for your loved ones’ benefit. Though I was never really close with God before the military prior to the war, I found myself talking to him a lot more after the wars. There were clearly instances where divine intervention played a role in my survival.
The second life experience which altered my relationship with God was meeting my best friend in the whole world…my wife. This relates to the topic of my faith and military life as it was indirectly through the military how we met. I was on my way home from my fourth deployment when I was presented with a choice to either fly home early and help set up for the main body’s return (which would mean more work and service for others) or ride out the remainder of the cruise and have fun with my buddies. At first, I was set on not being of service and worrying about my own personal enjoyment for another week. But, at the last minute I changed my mind and flew home. The very next day I met my wife Elizabeth and I immediately fell in love. I remember the night after our first date praying to God and asking him for the opportunity to love her more than myself for the rest of my life.
Being in the military and having a family is naturally difficult. There are aspects of regular employment that could be taken for granted like the ability to call in sick or quit your job. The hours are demanding and the time away from your loved ones has a certain sting that is difficult to explain. Before I was married I volunteered for as many deployments as I could. It was almost as if I couldn’t wait to embark on another adventure filled with risk and uncertainty. It wasn’t until I received “purpose” that I changed the way I looked at life. Having a family and having a strong relationship with God made me appreciate all the wonderful gifts this world has to offer. Marrying my best friend and having children made me want to be a better man in the eyes of the Lord. I suddenly cared about my soul and I wanted to be a strong example for my daughters. Ensuring that their life is enriched with the Christian faith became my wife and my biggest priority.
Though balancing military life and home life can be challenging, it is our family’s faith in God that acts as the super glue for our foundation. We take our vows as seriously as one can take them and together (my wife and I), we focus on what is truly important in life. I am planning on serving in the military as long as I am able. I believe that being a good father makes me a better leader of Marines. Having a strong family and God dynamic will surely guide me through my days and will bolster a life filled with direction and purpose.
This article was written by parishioner and vestry member Eric Schmutzer and published in the 2017 Summer Messenger.