Fort Greely Chaplain's Corner

This past week on an evening national news broadcast, two separate stories about two pairs of police officers caught my attention. The first story introduced two former Houston, Texas, police officers, “once hailed as heroes,” who are currently in trouble on multiple charges ranging from falsifying government records to murder. The second story praised two Illinois State Police officers as heroes for helping a couple stranded in their vehicle on an icy stretch of highway avoid serious injury or death when a box truck lost control and nearly hit all four of them. Society is fickle about its heroes. Some, like the Houston police officers, are lauded as heroes until their true actions are revealed. Others, like the Illinois police officers, are lauded as heroes for doing the job they are paid to do. Bottom line, what makes someone a hero?

In November 2003, I boarded a plane with my Oklahoma National Guard unit and re-deployed from Kuwait. Our plane stopped at the Bangor, Maine, airport where we were allowed to deplane and freshen up before the highly anticipated welcome home ceremony just a few hours away. Since I was seated near the front of the plane, I grabbed my shaving kit and was among the first to walk briskly down the tunnel. As I neared the restrooms in the main terminal, I noticed a crowd. Suddenly, they all started clapping and cheering. I literally turned around to see who was behind me. Only when I saw my sister and brother Soldiers a few steps back did I realize the Maine Troop Greeters were cheering... ME! And my fellow Soldiers, too, of course. It was an unforgettable, magical moment. But while I’m grateful for the hero’s welcome upon returning from war to my homeland, I don’t consider myself a hero.

The online dictionary defines a hero as, “a person admired for achievements and noble qualities; one who shows great courage.” Additionally, the dictionary defines heroic as, “exhibiting or marked by courage and daring; supremely noble or self-sacrificing.” It seems that a person admired for her or his courage, achievements, and noble qualities may be accepted as a hero without necessarily having done anything “heroic.” Conversely, a person who does something courageous, daring, noble or self-sacrificing is not necessarily a “hero.” My 2003 deployment could be called heroic insofar as any combat deployment is self-sacrificial. Every deployed Soldier missed numerous milestone events with family. But I did nothing particularly heroic except go to war and come home. Many Soldiers feel the same way about their service.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. Since Jesus said it, our thinking naturally gravitates toward heroic examples of self-sacrifice because we anticipate Jesus’ death on the cross. But one can lay down one’s life in many self-sacrificing ways that do not end in death. We might call those who courageously demonstrate noble qualities in a quietly self-sacrificing way as “everyday heroes.” Foremost among the many examples I could describe are our schoolteachers. They change lives, every day. They help shape the future of our world, every day. They sacrifice much of their own time and money to pursue their calling to educate children and youth, every day. During this season of Thanksgiving and counting our blessings, let us go out of our way to thank a teacher. They truly are everyday heroes.

For God and Country!

The Fort Greely Chapel community is a traditional, protestant Army chapel service meeting on Sundays at 1000 with a weekly Communion observance. Interested? Please call 907-873-4397 or “Like” our chapel Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FGAChapel.

Lt. Col. Paul Fritts is the chaplain at the Fort Greely Chapel. He can be reached by email at paul.d.fritts.mil@mail.mil.