Noisy Water Review

Selection from Army Memories

Heather Johnson

 In many ways we were like college students: we lived in dorms (barracks), we went to classes (training), and we were young, ranging from 18 to mid 20’s. In contrast however, we entered the dimly lit room in an orderly fashion, removed our hats, one by one, filling the pews from front to back. While we waited for the rest of the soldiers to file in, I took the time to glance around and absorb the scene. The obedient silence in the large room had a very church-like and solemn feel, as it should have. I imagine this is what it would be like if attending a service at a cathedral in Europe. Surprisingly, though the general atmosphere was sobering and intense, the decor was mundane.

Everything about the building starting outside with the orangey-red bricks perfectly mortared covering the simple unadorned architecture, (the kind of building that if you didn’t already know, you would assumed to be some sort of jail or prison) to the inside with its cheap faded blue carpet and outdated fake wood paneling that went up the walls leading to a tiled ceiling (the kind where in movies people hid money or drugs). The church was properly institutional like all other military establishments.

I was amazed at the large attendance. I tried to sneak a look around without getting caught by any of the drill sergeants pacing the isles like Dobermans. Some of the soldiers were pulling out the little new testament that was provided to us (the only book other than our military study guide that we were allowed to have) and flipping through it. Others were picking up the hymn books placed in front of us and mouthing silently the words to long forgotten songs of my childhood. A few others, like me, were just sitting there waiting and watching.

 I began to wonder about the reasons that we were all here. I wondered how many of these people attended church regularly before they joined the army and how many were here to get out of the barracks. We all shared the same misery of being away from our family and the fear of the drill sergeants attention that was breaking us down so that we could be built back up into the type of soldier the military wanted us to be.

When the service started, the soldiers began to participate in the singing, some even going up to the stage to pick up instruments placed there to join in. Others read scriptures along with the Chaplin, and at the end many went up to “get saved.”

I remained frozen to my seat, watching everything take place around me. Frozen because I suddenly felt like an invader. I wasn’t religious, I hated church, ever since being forced to go every Sunday as a child with my extreme grandmother.

After it was all over, I went back to my barracks room flopped on my cold metal and wool bed and tried to sleep but it didn’t embrace me; instead I was haunted most of the night with guilt. Why was I so ashamed? I supposed I felt cheap or maybe even tricked.

The following Sunday and all the ones after while I was at boot camp, I attended that church. The guilt was better than being harassed by drill sergeants or assigned extra duties like waxing floors or fireguard (why did we bother to have fire alarms and extinguishers). I never did participate in the service and I had mixed fillings for the ones who did. Were they sell outs? Did they genuinely feel the need to find religion? Did it give purpose and comfort to their existence in the military or were many like me just trying to hide?

Once I got to my duty station and I along with all the other new soldiers got settled, I feel like I may have gotten some insight to my questions.  The first Sunday morning while the church on the post was having service, the barracks were filled with soldiers doctoring hangovers, playing cards, doing push-ups, shining boots and washing laundry in preparation for Monday morning inspection. Minus the inspection and boots, it was all much like I imagine a college dorm would be like on a Sunday morning.

 

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