- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 13, 2004

After the election, pundits frenetically wring their hands over the role of morality in our society, which ironically was founded in part by Puritans.

If you listened enough to cable news programs, you would think Iraq was a peripheral issue in voters’ minds and the Nov. 2 balloting actually was a referendum on values.

While Michael Stipe, REM’s lead singer, acted as an entertainment industry ambassador and stumped for the Democratic ticket, hoping in “losing his religion” he was garnering votes, I found my religion in Iraq.

Though I served in Iraq as a civilian in the first half of this year, I became indoctrinated into the military’s culture. American society is more disconnected from the culture of its armed forces than at any time since the Puritans set foot on Plymouth Rock. Yet our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are a healthy cross-section of the country from coast to coast, and particularly of the heartland.

I ate lunch in the dining facility with army privates who provide convoy security along the treacherous road to Baghdad International Airport. I worked in my office with air force academy graduates who fly for major commercial airlines and run a minority-owned information technology small business when not on duty in the Air National Guard. My boss was a Coast Guard captain who graduated from the academy after growing up in a rough part of Washington, D.C.

I lived in the port city of Umm Qasr for a month with a former naval aviator who became a Mormon when he married his wife, who was originally from Utah.

They all come from vastly different backgrounds and bring a mixture of skills and experiences to their varied missions. Nevertheless, they are united by a generic sense of faith.

As a Reformed Jew raised in New Jersey, I attended my prerequisite bar mitzvah classes and attended synagogue with my family twice a year at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

I used to dread those high holy days falling on Shabbat Friday, the Jewish day of rest, because it meant we had to read the additional red print in the prayer book, thus extending the services. Not exactly the religious background one might expect from a regular attendee of Friday night services.

However, when based in Baghdad, I began spending an hour each Friday night observing Shabbat as a refuge from my grueling 18-hour-per-day, seven-day-per-week work schedule.

As the Friday nights raced by, my motivation for participating in Shabbat services evolved from escaping the office to appreciating a safeguarded hour of comfortable introspection. The red print of the ultimate paragraph in the Prayer for Country, a paragraph read only in time of war and that asks for protection of the armed forces as they put themselves in harm’s way for the causes of liberty and freedom, no longer made me impatient. Rather, it centered me mentally, emotionally and even physically on a weekly basis in an environment of uncertainty and chaos.

Since coming home, I have not once attended Friday night services. Nor do I believe the frequency of attending one’s house of worship is a measure of a person’s faith.

On the other hand, I have lived, worked, slept, eaten and prayed alongside members of the armed services. And I realize embracing faith and worshipping regularly does not necessarily make someone an evangelical.

I personally did not encounter many evangelicals in the military. But it is impossible for a Marine to be motivated to march into Fallujah knowing danger lurks down every alley without having at least some amorphous faith.

This is lost on many Americans in the blue states who remain perplexed by the presidential election. Yet it is incongruent to adamantly “support the troops” without accepting the central role of faith in America.

If our troops hail from the nation’s heartland and there are no atheists in foxholes, it is reasonable to assume there aren’t many atheists in the heartland either.

STEPHEN A. MYROW

Mr. Myrow served in Iraq as the chief of staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Transportation Ministry and is a lecturer in American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

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