Editor’s note: CNN.com writer Moni Basu is author of “Chaplain Turner's War,” published by Agate Digital.
By Moni Basu, CNN
Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) - Darren Turner insisted on going to war, even though the Army usually reserves desk jobs at home for new chaplains like him.
Turner was young and green, enthusiastic about taking God to the battlefield. The Army captain had learned that people in pain are often wide-open to inviting God into their lives.
Jesus always ran to crises. Turner was going to do the same.
He’d enrolled in seminary in 2004 at Regent University in Virginia, founded by evangelist Pat Robertson. And early in his spiritual journey, he was inspired by Christian writer John Eldredge, who suggests that American men have abandoned the stuff of heroic dreams, aided by a Christianity that tells them to be "nice guys."
God, says Eldredge, designed men to be daring, even dangerous.
Turner arrived in Iraq in May 2007 with the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment amid a raging insurgency. His soldiers faced an invisible but lethal enemy in booby-trapped houses and roads laced with massive bombs.
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Chaplain Turner’s war would unfold on many fronts. He would be a soldier on the battlefield. A counselor behind closed doors. He was a friend, even a father, to his men.
And when his 15-month tour was over, Turner returned home to face all the problems he had counseled his soldiers about: anger, depression, stress and – most important for him – preserving relationships with loved ones.
Nearly 4,500 American troops died in the Iraq war. More than 30,000 more were physically wounded. Countless others live with scars that can't be seen, like post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury. Many have struggled with regaining their lives at home.
Darren Turner counsels a soldier inside a sleeping container at Patrol Base Hawkes, southeast of Baghdad.
Turner had recognized the needs his soldiers would have after witnessing the horrors of combat, after losing friends.
In Iraq, he had comforted and advised soldiers at Forward Operating Base Falcon, in southeastern Baghdad, and in the combat outposts around the villages of Arab Jabour.
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At Falcon, the Army provided a morale phone that allowed soldiers to make free 15-minute calls home. But Turner knew it wasn't enough. He carried a cell phone in the left shoulder pocket of his uniform and whipped it out whenever a soldier signaled domestic distress at home.
"Call her," he would say. "Call her now and tell her you love her."
When they returned to Georgia in the summer of 2008, Turner told his soldiers that their families would be their cushion. He knew his men were suffering; that the ghosts of Iraq would haunt them, maybe for the rest of their lives.
What he did not know then was that he would not himself be immune to the same threats. He neglected to heed his own advice and his life floundered.
I’d spent many weeks with Turner in Iraq for a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but I didn't know about his troubles until I drove up to meet him and his wife, Heather, earlier this year at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
An exhausted Darren Turner catches a nap at his desk inside his tent at Forward Operating Base Falcon near Baghdad.
On that rainy February day, Turner told me that he’d come back from Iraq and felt like the bomb defuser in the movie "The Hurt Locker," who goes into a grocery store and is overwhelmed by the mesmerizing variety of cereals.
Remembering the fallen: Learn about casualties
It was a lot to process after having few choices in Iraq. Reverse culture shock.
"I wanted everything in there but I wasn't sure what to buy," Turner said.
He also detected a lack of public concern for the men and women fighting overseas. Off post, people went about their lives without a real understanding of the sacrifices made by American service members.
At first the anger boiled inside. But then it began to surface. He took it out on Heather. It was a release so that he could keep his work as normal as possible.
Little things like arranging the dishwasher became big fights with Heather. Big things like Heather’s life plans became small issues that Turner mocked or discounted because they did not fit his own plans.
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"I came home angry," Turner told me. "Even my attitude, which I thought I was in control of, was walling me in. I didn't realize it until my wife told me, 'You're no longer welcome in our house.'"
During the deployment in Iraq, Turner had pined for Heather and his three young children, Elie, Sam and Meribeth. Now, he was losing them.
"The thing I was angry at was the very thing I was longing for during my deployment - my family," he said.
Heather said her husband was disengaged, impatient. She wanted them to seek counseling but Turner refused, insisting that she was the one who had issues.
Just a few months after his return from Iraq, Darren and Heather Turner separated.
“I was very selfish and tried to control my surroundings, which crushed those closest to me,” Turner said.
Turner eventually realized how much he had hurt his wife, he said. How he had stepped away from God's calling by failing those he cared about most.
After finishing Airborne School, he quit the Army in August 2009, believing the military would demand too much time away from his family at a critical juncture in their lives.
He took a job in sales at a Home Depot not far from his house in Dacula, Georgia. He struggled to mend his marriage and reconnect with his faith.
Four months later, Turner and his wife reconciled. He chose to return to the Army as a chaplain, he said, "a renewed man both in marriage and profession."
He and Heather found their calling. God, he said, gave them a special connection with soldiers and their families. They know they will stay busy for a while.
The U.S. mission in Iraq ended on December 18, 2011, as the last American soldiers climbed into hulking trucks and armored vehicles at Camp Adder, the southernmost base in Iraq.
The war, however, is sure to continue on a second front - in America's cities and homes. And in the offices of counselors and chaplains like Darren Turner.
Turner reminisces about Iraq often, and when I saw him at Fort Campbell, he told me he wrestled with mixed feelings on the day America's military presence ended. He hopes that, in the end, the war will have been worth the blood that was spilled.
Another war, the one in Afghanistan, is far from over, with casualties mounting every month. Today, Turner counsels soldiers serving there. His words, honed from experience, are more specific now.
Get Skype, he says.
Perhaps it's not what a soldier expects to hear from a man of God. It’s certainly not the stuff of Sunday sermons.
But it's practical advice that Turner knows will go a long way toward filling the emotional vacuum. He believes distance from one’s own family can trigger a breakdown, especially when a soldier is coping with injuries and combat stress.
"Being away from your family for that long is way more difficult than I anticipated," Turner said.
Skype, he discovered, is the next best thing to being at home. You can't feel someone or smell them but you can see and hear.
"That's two of the senses," he said. "That's exponential."
Turner’s pastoral passion is still driven by the force that first drew him to the chaplaincy: Jesus.
Everyone has faith in something, Turner said. His own conviction is that Jesus answers longings in the human heart and provides perspective. Beyond immediate emergencies, the larger story is one of hope.
“He's been there on the other side, and came back to tell us,” Turner said. “That's the biggest event in human history, something that maintains hope, even in battle. When soldiers get that, it changes everything.”
Turner said he may not have been God’s perfect messenger, but that his selfish choices do not negate God’s love.
Turner is thankful for that. And that he can carry on with his calling.
I would gladly shoot some of the posters on this board.
You must be a Christian.
I read some responses back a bit, uh, seems to be some issues here.
I never said anywhere anyone was going to hell, it does not exist. atheists (those without souls) are simply going to go where they always believed they would, nowhere. for an atheist, my comments should have relatively no meaning.
But for those of us with souls, there still is no hell, only a world where man is war all over the world,
you see friends, if everyone had a soul, we would not have wars, or corporate greed, a man of conscience acts a certain way. those without, act on the rules of selfishness.
Please define what a soul is and just how one goes about determining that they have one?
As an agnostic, I have no problems with the fact that nothing happens after death. What I do have a problem with is you speaking like you have some authority about knowing what happens after death. How do you know this? How many times have you died? I don't know what happens after death. I suspect nothing. I don't go around telling everybody what happens like I know everything like you do.
Atheists are creating the evil acts? Interesting. So that pastor that wants to build concentration camps for gay people is good simply because he is religious. Same with Hitler I guess. Are only Christians good in your mind? And other religions are evil? I live in the US but am originally from Canada. There are many more Canadians that are atheist and agnostic. Yet without question Canada is a kind and peace loving country (not causing all the evils in the world you speak of). Are most Canadians soulless? I know I am kind, I donate to charity, I'm a pretty good mom, have never committed a crime, and I treat others like I want to be treated. Am I soulless? Please let me know as you are the authority.
Jen, I did not mention christian anywhere in my comments, Many ppl proclaim themselves christian. all those are labels and inventions of man. you can only find the truth within yourself, no one else can help you. as far as your personal questions about me...this is not the forum for THAT discussion.
"if everyone had a soul,"
However, the reality is, that no one does.
I was raised with the church, and was a real "holy-roller" when I was younger. Then I came to my senses and gave up Catholicism for lent. I now consider myself to be an atheist-leaning agnostic. Please explain to me what happened to my soul. Do I still have it? Where is it? Did I ever have one?
Ann, I have no idea if you have a soul, if what you say is true, likely not. My personal experience, if you can think there is nothing else, then perhaps not, you have nothing to fear in this lifetime. thats the good news i guess.
guestA9, you may only speak for yourself, you do not have one, you certainly can not prove i do not. lol, your comment makes no sense.
Well you didn't answer my question. I'm a good mom, kind, treat people well, give to others, but I don't know what happens after death. Am I soulless?
From your posts it is clear you are unkind and judgmental. So am I as a kind person soulless but you have one even though you are unkind?
Jen, I do not know if you have one? only you do..why are you asking me? If your feelings are hurt, you might, if your angry at me and just being fake, likely not. I am sorry, cant make a judgement over the internet. if only life were that simple
and JEN, how the heck am I being mean? i have made no negative comments. I tell the atheist i agree with him. I explain to those who have a conscience why the world seems to be so cruel. come on havent you ever asked yourself, "How can he or she do that? I could NEVER do that?" "how can you mistreat an animal?:" if those thoughts bother you, and upset, you. you have one. if you think this guy is a squishy and lame, not.
You said in another post that atheists need to be killed. And that is kind? Do I deserve death? Is it okay to kill me and take me away from my one year old and three year old? Also I'm pregnant so is it okay to kill me and my unborn child since I doubt the existence of god?
The fact is you need to stop generalizing. There are evil people that believe in god. There are evil people that don't. Period.
@Are there really atheits? or just soulless people:
#1. Learn to spell.
#2. I have an X-ray, an fMRI, a PET scan and a CT scan. Show me where this imaginary organ you call a "soul" resides.
But, again – didn't I have a soul when I WAS very religious for all those years? Where did it go?
If your job description includes standing in a giant tub of water while convincing kids that Jesus wants you to kill... well, then you might be an ignorant hick.
I hear only stupid people go into the Army. My brotherinlaw is ex-Army and he is one of the most stupid people I've ever met.
I've also heard AF pukes say Army guys need to be led by the hand to do anything.
I guess if you want to pretend Army is smart, go ahead, but no one I've ever talked to in the service agrees with you, not even Army guys.
you do not hafe to comment, if you dont want to, sometimes its best just to not say anything,
Hearsay is not a wise process for determining your opinions. Go out and meet some Army folks this weekend and thank them for their sacrifices they have made so that you can have the freedoms like free speech, etc.
Not your sucka, you sound pretty stupid to me.
A lot of young people who are in roles like chaplain or therapist are under pressure to show a strong stable face in public while going through the same turmoil everyone else faces. There is an inadequate support network for all soldiers in my opinion, but especially for men and women in these roles..
Nice story for the Memorial Day weekend. Just a reminder that ALL sevice personell bring home mental baggage when they witness the unbridled gore and violence that is war. Even the religious ones. Personally I am glad he was able to keep his faith through it all, and still feel the calling to help those who are returning from Iraq, and those still in Afghanistan.
A beautiful story showing that Christians are human like everyone else and God, like a Father, is always there to embrace and forgive us even when we stray for awhile.
The pastor left out the part where he beat his wife.
Talking from experience, RealityChecker?
Army guy preaching god? what about "Thou Shall Not Kill" ??? Such BS!!! God is pretend, and this guy and others just can't deal with all the inconsistencies and lies.
Over there, it's either kill or be killed. Obviously you have no clue what it was like over there or else you wouldn't say something so stupid.
yeah, gary, the ten commandants were meant for you. what you say? yes, they were designed to keep you from harming those humans with souls and conscience. nothing stops big govts though, not even the church, though they do try. but how many churches have a true believer at the helm? sadly not many.
Obviously, you never fought in the front lines with your statements.I suggest to first go to boot camp on the fast track and then help fight in Afghanistan. Let us know how that turns out.
It is thou shall not murder.... We all have the right to defend ourselves, family, and Nation.
Gary, Chaplains do not kill in war – they are prohibited from carrying weapons by both US and international law. The role of a chaplain is to counsel Soldiers and support them in their spiritual needs including helping them come to terms and cope with the reality of watching friends die or having killed others. Perhaps your reference to a "an Army guy preaching God", could be changed to a "preacher trying to help Soldiers", (and by the way Soldiers are people, too).
I think we need to take all these lying criminals like the "chaplain" and put them up against a wall.
Gary, if you think "God is pretend", then why would you cite one of His commandments?
Unfortunately, war is proof in motion of the futility of prayer.
Most US service personnel come from blue collar, Christian backgrounds. As such, they and their parents tend to be religious. Being a parent of a soldier at war must be a terrifying experience. The parents of US service personnel must pray every day that their children will not be killed at war.
And yet the body bags mount. And they do so with total indifference to the faith or prayers of the bereaved. As at today, over 6,000 US service personnel have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. These dead soldiers and their devastated parents must wonder why their prayers were ignored. It does not seem at lot to ask the Christian god, the safe return of a child from doing his or her duty for their country.
At the same time, many (more) Muslim parents on the other side suffer the same gut wrenching losses as their prayers to Allah are ignored.
No, I am afraid that there is no ultimate referee up there, choosing the lucky survivors from the fallen. Modern weapons technology, communications equipment, training and sheer dumb luck decide who lives and who dies, not some hokey Bronze Age sky-fairy invented by Palestinian goat herders.
Is it necessary for prayers to be answered? Nothing man does can harm the soul. I pray that someone doesnt die of cancer, because I want them around. But there time is up and they die. so...
the body died, not the soul. nothing on earth is harmed by the actions of man, not in the big picture. the creator lets the human animal run free, BUT those invested with a soul, have certain lessons or obligations (mainly to grow) so they must stuggle in a world that thinks them deilusional (nice huh?).
Collin Claims "Unfortunately, war is proof in motion of the futility of prayer"
Really?? Never had any prayers answered or never tried?
War if proof of the evils that are started by men!
This was one of the best article on the CNN Belief Site, hopefully there are as many heroic articles on the unbelief site....
If war is proof of the evil started by men, then stop electing republicans to high office (Bush, cough, cough).
Nothing I enjoy more than reading an article about a Christian chaplain and scrolling down to read hate-filled comments by atheists. You have the right, of course, but why even click on the article? Why not let this poor delusional man (as you see him) have his delusions? I know, I know, you'll say you're persecuted as an atheist or that you're doing him a favor by trying to enlighten his poor infantile mind. Well, I'm an Army Chaplain as well and I doubt many of those hating on this guy have the balls or the intellect to make it as an officer in the Army. Trust me, it's not what it looks like on tv, it's much harder.
Atheists cant comprehend faith, they lack the one ingredient necessary. in their eyes we are following a mythos, and in their eyes they are not wrong. They will always attack, if my dog could speak he would say im delusional for being spiritual. but i refuse to argue with my dog, he cannot make my life hell (nice pun eh). unfortunately the atheists are human and can, so we have churches to control them.
I would like to thank you for your sound, well written remarks. I am not a religious fellow, but I do agree with your remarks about the stereotypical tone of athiests. I have no problem with a person being an atheist. It is their right and choice. However, the combative tone of the stereotypical atheist is what bothers me. It is no different than that of a steretypical evangelist. The chaplain in this story is doing good work. He is helping people as a counselor, a sounding board, or a shoulder to lean upon. He deserves a lot of credit and empathy regardless of his spiritual beliefs.
We don't need chaplains in our Armed Forces.
You'd better get out before someone introduces you to your piece of s#@ god from behind.
Go stick your a@ in the air like the muzzies. You're no better than them at all.
My husband lived his life in the south believing that most down here needed their Sunday fairy-tale so they could be crappy humans 6 days a week and feel better on the 7th. But unless someone tried to convert him to their faith or directly spoke to him on topic, he never attacked those with faith. Albeit, he had the mentality they were 'special-needs' kids and to attack them was to pick on the vulnerable. He married a 'special-needs' kid and could be a bit protective of them if attacked by others.
As he was dying of cancer... people of faith did not respect his conviction. I understand where they came from, but they were vultures circling a dying man. Fighting it off for him, I came to respect the battle he fought down here in Georgia. Anytime he was at a weak moment (lost a family member, etc.) someone would try shove Jesus on him. It didn't matter that it wasn't the time for trying to convert someone. Attack after attack. It's no wonder he felt many were just vultures. Did they forget how to just be human and offer aid to another without heaven and hell and Jesus and demons? Over the years I started seeing it from his view and it made me sick.
I find it saddening to read so many attacks against Christians on the boards, but then I remember the last days of his life when people were so certain there were no atheist in a fox hole and refused to let up. The attacks go both ways. And can be vile on both sides... however, many christians can't see how offering up Jesus and expressing how they don't want someone they care about to go to hell as he is dying could be seen as self-centered and an attack on a vulnerable person. And that can make a person, like me, who watched the disrespect and attacks on a loved one very angry.
Point: Christians often do not view their own behavior as attacks, bullying, etc. It goes both ways. Christians just do it more around the office and atheist more on the Internet. But many more atheist leave the 'special-needs' kids alone.
Chaplains in the Armed Forces have a mental illness, period. You cannot be in war and espouse these "religious" ideas to people. They are completely incompatible. The only thing a chaplain could do that would mirror his "faith" would be to protest ALL wars. The reason for the war is irrelevant; Jesus never once advocated revenge, which is what these wars were about, revenge, a juvenile concept of less evolved people. Jesus said turn the other cheek, but the yahoos in this country that claim to be "Christian" can't grasp that concept. They'd rather kill many times more soldiers than the number of lives that were lost in 9/11.
The govt of a country needs it people to support it, in this country that requires the church. the church will always support its country. therefore in this country the war is good. A spiritual person would know the war for what it is and act accordingly. and likely would not make it as a chaplain for long.
People making negative comments here show astounding ignorance of the realities many deployed American service members face. These people of course enjoy the benefits of the sacrifices made by those in our military, but do not appreciate them. These people also have no real comprehension of Christianity. They think it is all a myth, and they think Christians should always be totally passive. Jesus Christ was definitely not totally passive. He got involved and he gave the ultimate sacrifice for us all.
Yes, we are supposed to turn the other cheek when possible with enemies, but the reality of tyranny in this world is that turning the other cheek with certain enemies results in annihilation of non-tyrannical societies. War is sometimes necessary in this world. God bless this chaplain and his family. God bless the USA. I appreciate our military and our veterans! This is a great article. Thank you, cnn.
Story time. for one thing the bible is symbolic wrapped in a story. But the thread of truth in it, is this. when he created man in "his image", that image was the soul, not the body (sorry creationist). not every human (animal) got one. those that did, were "his people". for those looking for answers to the violence in the old testament, that should clear things up. Another thing, there are a finite number of souls, all have been existence a looong time. bodys are possessed of a soul and are 'required' to grow spiritually. those without are just humans living on earth. but they can make it difficult, most animals are selfish in nature, and that friends is the challenge. Man created a church to control them, to tell them they would go to hell for doing bad things. those with souls fear those without, souls = conscience. atheists = animals. your pitbull is good as long as its needs are met.
To call that comment BS would insult BS. At least BS is good for fertilizer, that statement has no value or Truth at all.
For some evidence, simply look at the anger and selfish acts and words performed by atheists. think about, where do most of the hateful comments come from? dont answer, just think on it. Now not all christians have souls, most are falling for the hell scenario. you have seen them, preaching fire and brimstone and running to church every sunday. giving their last dollar to hoping to save what they dont have. BUT, and its a big but, the creator in his wisdom does allow souls to enter those animals that have evolved to a level of caring. what did he say? thats right if an atheist prayers,(sincerely lol) a soul may possess him, and guess what? you got it , you dont have to return to dust when you die. oh i know your next question.
LOL hitchens, that means a lot coming from you, good intelligent response,
That is one of the dumbest things I have heard and the very reason why all religion is wrong and should be abandoned. Where did you learn such ridiculous ideas? That is the problem; everyone has their own silly concepts of religion and tout them as the truth when they are all dumb and there is no empirical evidence of any of it. There is also no Hell. I figured that out at 12 so forgive me if I totally ignore anyone who goes around believing that. I'm not hanging out with adults who have less intelligence than I did at 12.
cosmic, your a funny guy, but you are right about hell. the only thing useful i could take from your comment,
"selfish acts and words performed by atheists"
My volunteer hours start at the hospital soon. How about you?
911 war an inside job. if religious people had a third eye they would see this. we were all scammed. and we don't really believe in Thou shalt not kill or as in the new testament thou shalt not hate.
Hate to say it, but starting off at Regent shows that the man had troubles before he ever left the States. Right wing theology inculcates a rigidity in people that does not serve them well when dealing with stress or anything else.
Very good article. One of best articles ever published by cnn.
Just as some musilims use the quaran to justify what ever they want to do...this guy thinks that religion and war can be melded....twisted, perverse and obsequious people who don't know all these "divine" books were written by men.
Prayer changes things .
you have no real value to humanity and are not helpful in solving it's many problems
Prayer has been the foundation of all good change in the world since creation. God bless
How about unclasping those useless hands and doing some work? Maybe volunteer at the local hospital or soup kitchen or homeless shelter. You seem to regularly slam people who are atheist. Let's see you put YOUR "christian values" into action.
He's mentally ill on many levels, believing in Christ and war, he needs a rubber room.
yes...I would have to agree, he had real issues before he ever got to iraq.
That is his choice, maybe a real calling, I do not know. What I do know is that he is a man, a human being, all the good and all the bad. Wish him well, he has no doubt, helped many more already in his life than you ever will. He is at least making an honest effort, I wish him well.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.