“Is it dangerous where you are?” I ask the attractive Native American woman as we walk along.

“No, ma’am” she responds pensively. “Just the snipers, the car bombs, the booby traps, the IEDs, and the VBIEDs” (pronounced vee-bids, Vehicular Borne IEDs).

“Good grief!” I gasp as I look on with amazement at the sturdy soldier walking next to me. We had met over dinner, and as we walk back up the road she continues to tell me her story. She is the granddaughter of one of the Navajo Code Talkers whose heroic actions in World War II saved the lives of countless Americans. They used their rare Navajo language mixed with a code they had developed to transmit vital information over the airway. Their mix of language and code was never broken by enemy interceptors. Their amazing story is powerfully told in the movie Wind Talkers.

I am completely fascinated with this young lady and very impressed with her courage and will, but I must break off and go to the bus stop. The bus stop is the final place of the day where those who are on emergency leave will be found before the cycle begins again early in the morning.

“Chaplain, you might want to go see the guy sitting alone over there in the blue shirt,” says my friend who manages the bus station. “He looks like he could use a word from you.” She and three other workers are non-military civilian contractors. They are accustomed to my visits and help keep an eye out for distressed military members headed home on emergency leave.

“May I sit with you a minute?” I ask the blue-shirted young traveler. “Sure,” he says, and he immediately begins to tell me his story. His father has died, and he’s going home for the funeral. I listen patiently and ask him a few questions to help him tell me the story. He talks about his dad with great affection and tells me a few stories of their life together. I express my sympathy and ask if I can say a prayer for him. He gratefully accepts.

The room is filling up with a mix of military and civilians, about half going on R&R to places other than the United Stated, while the other half are on emergency leave. It is my goal to speak to as many of the emergency leave personnel as possible while they check in and wait for the bus taking them to the airport.

Sitting with earphones planted deep in his ears, a young man ignores everything around him. “How are you?” I ask him. “I’m fine, Chaplain,” he says taking out one of the earpieces and looking up at me with glassy eyes.

“Do you mind if I sit with you?” I ask.

“Sure, go ahead,” he says and makes room for me to sit. A brief conversation lets me know that his mother is expected to die, and the young soldier hopes to make it home before she does.

“Have you thought about what you will say to her?” I ask.

“Just trying not to think about it,” he says, which is the all-too-typical answer. Although these young soldiers live with death all around them, the loss of a parent is something they are often unprepared to face. I talk with him about what to expect and suggest he think about what to say to his mom.

“This will be a very special moment that you will remember all your life. It is a precious chance to tell your mom what you need to tell her.” He nods. “Maybe while you travel you could think about a time you and she shared that was really special to both of you and then remind her of this story.”

“Humm, that’s a good idea,” he says. We talk a little more, and I say a prayer for him before moving along.

This scene repeats over and over as I make my way through the group that is continuing to gather. With each conversation, there is a strong sense of divine covering, enshrouding us in sacred seclusion—a holy moment between chaplain and soldier.

I use the metaphor of stepping into a telephone booth and helping the person to phone God. At this special moment of leaving a war zone to face a family tragedy, God is the one they need to talk with, and I help them make the connection.

I continue to move about the room, but as it happens far too often, I come upon a story that stops me in my tracks.

“My wife and son were in a car accident,” he says. “They were hit by a drunk driver. My wife is in critical condition, and my son is dead.” I surrender to a deep sigh and sit back; there are no quick words for such a tragedy.

“You know, Chaplain, you’re over here because you think you are protecting your family from terrorists and people who would hurt them, and then something like this happens.” He hangs his head shaking it from side to side. He heard this news two days ago and has been consumed with the images and thoughts his mind displays. It appears he has barely spoken since that time, and our chance encounter, or more accurately God-appointed encounter, provides an opportunity for him to express his deep pain.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to hurt someone, Chaplain.”

“What do you mean by that?” I ask the rhetorical question.

“Sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do.”

It is my nightmare scenario. I will spend the next few moments before the bus leaves passionately reasoning with the hurting husband and father; hoping to convince him not to do what he has suggested. I end it with an equally passionate prayer and commend him to God for further care.

Rachel Coggins is a chaplain in the United States Army and serves with Deployment/Redeployment Operations.