The Magazine of Marquette University | Summer 2006

 

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What Place has Faith in War?

ROTC grads seek God in all things, even in battle

BY Ken Anselment, Bus ad '92, Grad '03

World Peace Day 2004 dawned with the hope that so many had carried in the years preceding it: “That peace,” as Pope John Paul II put it that day, “will dominate the unfolding of history yet to come.” It was the third World Peace Day to pass since Sept. 11, 2001, a day that had shaped the very debate about what peace should mean and how it might be achieved.

Message for World Peace Day 2004
Marquette ROTC

The pope’s address emphasized the need for all “persons of good will to take up the cause of peace and to help bring about this fundamental good, thereby assuring the world a better future, one marked by peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.” But the message also addressed the three-year war on terror, asserting that “the use of force, even when necessary, be accompanied by a courageous and lucid analysis of the reasons behind terrorist attacks.”

It was a time of great tension for a man of great faith who had a job to do. Maj. John Krenson, Arts '86, was serving with the Tennessee National Guard in Kabul, Afghanistan, when he heard the World Peace Day address. “The whole time I was deployed, my conscience told me that what I was doing was right,” he remembers. “But the church was saying the war on terror was a threat to peaceful coexistence.”

Serving in a war-torn country trying to rebuild itself after the oppressive rule of the Taliban, Krenson was conflicted. He was caught between the peaceful message of the church he loved and the peaceful existence he was trying to enable through military action. “Tyrants and terrorists aren't looking for peaceful coexistence. They want domination in and beyond their part of the world,” he reasoned. He wrestled with questions: Is peace the absence of war or is it the presence of order and freedom? Can peace come from war?

One month later, Krenson found an answer to his questions and his conflict. His unit was charged with delivering donations from the United States to an orphanage. “We were in our uniforms and we had our weapons. We thought we'd be there for 20 minutes. We were there for two hours. Every teacher wanted us to visit their classes. We went into one classroom and our interpreter asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. They rattled off the things they wanted to be, just like American kids would: doctors, lawyers, policemen,” he says. “One little girl said she wanted to be the president of Afghanistan. Three years ago, her teacher would have been killed for even teaching a girl.” Not only was a girl now able to speak what once had been unspeakable she was able to dream what once had been undreamable. It was because of war that she could have the freedom to do both.

"War is so horrifying that we just don't want to do it,” Krenson continues. “In the West, we are so far removed that we forget there are things more horrifying than war.”

Krenson, who in 1999 was ordained a deacon in his hometown of Nashville, Tenn., realizes there often is tension between being Catholic and serving in the military. But he also believes that war is part of the human condition. “That's why it's necessary to have military officers with well-formed consciences. You want people who can examine, who can find resolution.”

Finding meaning in confusion, quiet in chaos, even life in death, graduates of the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Marquette, like Krenson, find themselves equipped with skills that no military training can provide on its own. They believe the American military needs officers whose training is reinforced by core Jesuit values — faith seeking understanding, finding God in all things, care for the whole person, the examen of conscience. They believe these cornerstones of Catholic education are as crucial to military direction as spiritual direction.

God among the ruins

Finding God amidst the death and destruction of war would seem impossible. But even in the darkest places God may be found if one knows where to look and how to look.

On July 10, 2005 in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, Lt. Col. Steve Broniarcyzk, Jour '85, found himself in a battery factory. His unit had been assigned guard duty for a large group of women gathered there to mark a grim anniversary. Ten years earlier, on that very spot, more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys —  fathers, husbands, brothers and sons — had been massacred by Bosnian Serb soldiers commanded by Ratko Mladic. (Mladic has been charged with this crime.) It was one of the largest mass murders on European soil since World War II. The women — daughters, widows, sisters and mothers — gathered this day, like they had every July 10 for the past nine years, to bury their dead.

"These women spend their days looking for the remains of their families. As they find the remains, they take them to a morgue in nearby Tuzla for DNA identification,” says Broniarczyk. Each anniversary of the massacre, the women gather for a commemoration ceremony and bury the family members they have found during the previous year. In the past two years, the women have buried 1,100 men and boys.

Out of that darkness came a flicker of light for Broniarczyk. He saw a woman in her early 60s thumbing a ride home after the ceremony and thought, “All of these women have the hope to keep on going. It would be easier to move on and leave this area behind, but they stay and continue to live.”

Faith in action

The images from the prison at Abu Ghraib are indelibly marked upon the American consciousness — and conscience. These ROTC grads agree the incident provides a lesson in the need for proper military conduct and respect for human dignity, even when the person deserving the dignity is your enemy.

“Even top-notch officers and leaders can stray from the right path in a stressful combat environment, especially when they have soldiers they know and love killed right before their very eyes,” says Lt. Col. Robert Kaiser, Eng '87, commander of the Fourth Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 10th Mountain Division. “It is in situations like these that military officers and leaders must have strong religious — for me, Catholic — convictions to ensure their soldiers conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of warfare.”

Lt. Col. Richard Kaiser, Eng '87, shares his twin brother's perspective and commands an identical brigade battalion, the Third Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 10th Mountain Division. “Our duty is to serve honorably and treat others with the respect they deserve. In my command,” Richard says, “we work all the time to make sure everybody treats people with respect, as God's people.”

Both Kaisers credit their Marquette experiences with helping them place their faith at the center of their work, where they can do the most good for the greatest number of people. “As a commander,” Robert says, “I have the authority and responsibility to administer nonjudicial punishment. I pray before every hearing that I will be fair and that I will hear all evidence presented before me so that I will do what is right in the Lord's eyes.”

But leading in any profession, particularly in the military, can be lonely work. “When times are dark,” Richard says, “I fall back on my faith.”

In their twin commands, the Kaisers each carry the lives of 400 soldiers and their families in their hands. The brothers recognize the responsibility and burden of command. “All of their problems are my problems,” Richard says. “On the days when I am most exhausted, I remind myself that there is no burden I'll be given that I can't handle.”

Krenson, Broniarczyk, and Richard and Robert Kaiser came to Marquette in the early 1980s on ROTC scholarships. They were boys hoping to pay for college, fulfill their service obligations, and then well, none of them expected to have served for so long beyond their initial commitment. But for each of these men, military service has become more than a job. It has become a vocation.

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