Chaplain’s war tale stretches from divine to dispirited

“Faith Under Fire” by Roger Benimoff, c.2009, Crown, $23.95, 268 pages.

  • Tuesday, May 12, 2009 1:10am
  • Life

The Bookworm

“Faith Under Fire” by Roger Benimoff, c.2009, Crown, $23.95, 268 pages.

Your schedule is so jam-packed, you can’t possibly add another thing to it.

The word “no” is not in your vocabulary these days. Between family obligations, work overload, appointments, household chores and 1,001 other things that pull you 1,001 different ways, you do what you need to do and stretch yourself thinner than the page on this newspaper. That’s just the way life is.

But pretty soon, you begin to crash. You learn, one way or another, that you can’t do it all and that taking care of yourself sometimes needs to move up on the calendar. In the new book “Faith Under Fire” by Roger Benimoff (with Eve Conant), an Army chaplain learned that lesson the hard way and it almost destroyed him.

At the tender age of 8, Benimoff “walked the aisle to accept Christ” in his family’s Baptist church. By high school, he knew he wanted a better relationship with God, but he felt aimless. On the advice of his stepfather, Benimoff joined the Army.

Life in the barracks was filled with drinking and partying, but it also taught Benimoff perseverance and self-assuredness. Later, after entering college and the National Guard and starting a family, he began to feel drawn to military chaplaincy.

He re-entered the Army on a full-time basis and was almost immediately sent to Iraq. Weeks after his first deployment ended, his regiment was sent back. Capt. Benimoff was the only chaplain for his squadron of 1,000 soldiers.

Despite feeling stretched thin, Benimoff did his best. Chaplains are not allowed to carry weapons, so Benimoff was defenseless when visiting the troops. He had no way of protecting himself “outside the wire.” He was vulnerable but stoic as he ministered to his troops, held hands with the fearful and dying, and bolstered the grieving who lost friends and limbs. He was on constant alert for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder among the troops and he was vigilant for signs of depression, relationship problems and battle fatigue.

While he tried to help his troops keep their trust in God, he never thought he’d lose his own faith.

I have to admit, I didn’t like this book right away. The first third of “Faith Under Fire” is like many other books about the war in Iraq and I almost felt as if I’d read it before.

But, wow, was I surprised when I reached the point where Benimoff writes about being sent home for good. From there on, his story quickly goes from divine faith to dispirited foreboding and the feeling that God had pushed him aside.

The chaplain who knew how to help his troops was powerless to help himself and Benimoff’s journey through post-traumatic stress disorder makes this one lump-in-the-throat, powerfully unique war story that shouldn’t be missed.

Veterans will devour this book, as will anyone with a loved one at war and anybody considering military chaplaincy, so pick up a copy of “Faith Under Fire.” It may spark a whole lot of awareness.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.


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