Originally created 07/01/06

Service members carry religious items for comfort



The small golden crucifix was a gift from her stepsister. When the neck chain broke, Staff Sgt. Earlean Findlay carried the crucifix in her pocket.

Her comrades in Iraq thought she was crazy because her faith was so strong, said Sgt. Findlay, who grew up in Noxapater, Miss., and is now at Fort Gordon. She is a member of the Apostolic (Pentecostal) church.

"I knew that I could withstand anything because the Bible says the Lord won't put any more on us than we can bear. And I knew that he was sending me to Iraq for a reason. I wasn't sure what that reason was at the time. But to me, just having this and being able to have it close, I knew that the Lord was with me," Staff Sgt. Findlay said.

She also carried a card with a prayer, A Cross in My Pocket, and sometimes wore an angel pin under her uniform jacket flap.

Under a flap, in a pocket or attached to a chain are the common ways uniformed military personnel carry religious symbols and stay within regulations.

Those small symbols, reminders of a God who was watching over Staff Sgt. Findlay and her family and friends, kept her - and her comrades - focused, despite the tension and danger of a war zone, she said.

She recalled a prayer service shortly after arriving in Iraq, where soldiers were praying so strongly that the presence of the Lord seemed palpable.

"It was like, 'Look at God. He is omnipresent. He is everywhere. Look at him way over here in Iraq,'" said.

When she left the prayer service, a U.S. military truck went by. Someone had written the 23rd Psalm on it.

"From then on, I knew that everything was going to be all right. I knew that God was with me," Staff Sgt. Findlay said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Leon Green, of New Orleans, wears a medal representing St. Michael the Archangel, the patron of paratroopers. In the center is St. Michael with his foot on a defeated Satan and a lance raised above the demon's head. Floating in the sky are open parachutes descending to earth.

The medallion is a replacement for one he lost. The first had been a gift a few years ago from a chaplain who gave one to all the paratroopers in his care.

To a man reared Baptist, the gift represented brotherly love.

"Basically (the medal) means, across the faith we do have that brotherly love. I accepted the medal in the name of love," Command Sgt. Maj. Green said.

The first priority on Capt. Linda Green's packing list is a cross. Sgt. Green is stationed at Fort Gordon.

"I got it in basic training 17 years ago, and I have worn it every minute of every day since then," she said.

On the front of the cross, each arm is imprinted with a different image, honoring Jesus, Mary or Joseph. On the back is a request, "I am a Catholic. In case of serious accident, please call a priest."

She also has a medal honoring the Sacred Heart, one that a great-great uncle wore. A coal-miner, he survived a mine collapse in Wyoming, she said. The medal was passed to her mother and then to her.

She also wears a Shield of Strength. Shaped like a soldier's dog tag, the shields carry a verse of Scripture, such as, "I will be strong and courageous. I will not be terrified or discouraged because My Lord My God is with me," (Joshua 1:9).

Hers was a gift from Col. David Dodd, the commander of the 93rd Signal Division at Fort Gordon. Col. Dodd, a member of Warren Baptist Church, has given out hundreds of the shields since finding them in a Christian bookstore in Arizona shortly after Sept. 11.

He was on alert that he and his soldiers were going to Uzbekistan. He told his sergeant major to put in an order for the shields and to ask for a discount off the $5 price since they were for the military, he said.

"It turned out the company was one man," Col. Dodd said.

The man, Kenny Vaughan, of Beaumont, Texas, shipped him 500 shields in 48 hours for free.

The medals carried the verse from the book of Joshua. They are the words of Moses as he passed on the mantle of leadership to Joshua before the battle of Jericho, Col. Dodd said.

"I thought it was phenomenal that that was the verse that we saw and that we took with us because here we were going into an unfamiliar land - just like Jericho - to fight an enemy that was supposed to be very strong, very powerful," he said.

Many of his soldiers were on their first deployment.

"Half of them didn't even know where Uzbekistan was - or Afghanistan," he said. "So (they had) the same kind of fears, the same kind of concerns (as Joshua and his followers). They were comforted with God's word for that as well."

For more information on the Shields of Strength, see the ministry Web site, www.shieldsof strength.com.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.