The Little River community is celebrating its graduating students. This Tuesday is the 8th grade recognition ceremony. Yesterday was high school commencement. 30 students graduated, which was a big number for this small Kansas town. And this past Wednesday was the community's Baccalaureate service, with Father Tom Leland as the speaker.
Father Leland and I were good friends during the time he was priest at Little River's Holy Trinity Catholic Church from 2000-2003. He left to join the Army and served as a Chaplain. He talked about experiences as a military chaplain and the message was incredible.
One story he told went something like this:
One day I was walking down a sidewalk at Ft. Benning when I came upon a soldier who was on the ground, hands and knees, next to an oak tree, picking up acorns off the sidewalk, one at a time, and putting them into a bucket. I knew this soldier as brilliant computer technician. Picking up acorns was obviously a task far below his abilities-- a waste of time. When I came upon the soldier, he asked me, "Father, why am I doing this?" Beyond the fact the task assigned by his commanding officer, I didn't have a good answer.
Later, I was transfered to the Middle East. There, a military lawyer told me he was going to prosecute a combat soldier for stealing a lighter. It was a petty crime, but he did it in a combat zone, and for that reason, the accused soldier would end up spending a couple of years in military prison.
It seems harsh, but on the combat field, trust and unity of the unit is everything. One of the objectives of basic training is to root out the "me first" attitude. In the military, your life is totally dependent on your fellow soldier. And their life is totally dependent on you. One wrong move, one selfish move-- like stealing from your fellow soldier-- and the trust of the whole unit weakens and the life of every soldier falls into danger. For this reason, the military seeks to create what Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples in John 17:22, "that they may be one as we are one."
I never saw again that soldier who was wondering why he was picking up acorns. But if I did, I would tell him, "You're doing it for the privilege of being a part of something bigger and doing something great."