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.
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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 respect Dan Turner for being honest about how he felt and what he went thru. When I was drafted into Vietnam a little old man walked up to us 100 plus men that day. All of us were asked is we wanted a free small Bible published by the Gedeon's to take with us to the battlefield. Everyone of us took one, from the atheist to me. I still have it today. It got men thru Vietnam and it gets men thru today. The difference this time is that in Iraq they had their pocket bibles if they wanted one like me but they also had Dan Turner; just a man not some super hero who lived out what they read in those pocket bibles. Thanks Dan for going to Iraq and serving the men there; thanks for caring.
Wow, Lynda....you seem bitter and angry. Am I right? While you may not condone what our country has done in this respect, the least you can do have some respect for those who fight for what you seem to perceive as a misguided country. The Army is making huge strides and creating initiatives in order to deal with what soldiers have experienced during their service, and while it may be too late for some of those who have felt they had no choice but to take heartbreaking measures in order to escape their pain, at least it is now in the forefront of family programs with the DoD....I know because I work there.
On another thought, I see no where in this story where he is blaming the rest of us for his situation. He didn't identify what the problem was, but thank God he did.
And lastly, if you're so positive that the thirst for oil is behind the war, then stop using it. Go ahead...this should be easy for you, since you can't possibly be a hypocrite. And if you are, then stop being part of the problem and be part of the solution.
Let us all know how this works out for you....
It is not those who believe that are delusional; it is those who do not belive that are delusional.
Isaiah 66:4 – "So will I choose their delusions, And bring their fears on them; Because, when I called, no one answered, When I spoke they did not hear; But they did evil before My eyes, And chose that in which I do not delight.”
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 – "And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
Thanks, John. That certainly proves it. (sarcasm)
Your response to people saying that your holy book isn't true, is to say, "Yes it is – see it says so right here in the book!"
Trying to prove god is real via scriptures, is like using a comic book to prove superman is real.
John, remember Proverbs 16:4.
Typical article, GOD doesnt play a role in anything. If you want to believe, beleive in something thats REAL like famiky, friends, your soldiers. Not a myth that has no merit or proof. Nothing will ever change, if there was this supposed GOD we wouldnt be at WAR all the fricking time.. DUH
If there is God, and that God has chosen to give mankind freewill; then there will be war. If God eliminated war, he would be taking away free will, and we would be nothing more than robots.
A God who knows the future is powerless to change it. An omniscient God who is all-powerful and freewilled is impossible.
How well do you suppose W sleeps at night knowing full well what he and Rummy and Wolfowitz did? I feel bad for the soldiers that have lost their lives, or body parts, or minds because of one small group of hawkish blowhards. Iraq was a petty little mock war with real war ramifications. Every time I hear another story about PTSD or TBIs, etc., etc. I think what a total waste of human life and dignity, and political goodwill this skirmish was. Remember when America used to be "The Good Guys"? Remember when American soldiers were heroes?
I would guess that "Dubya" sleeps very well. He is stupid and arrogant enough that he probably still believes what he did was right
American soldiers are, always have been and always will be, heroes.
Narrow minded twit.
JDM is SPOT ON! Soldiers are the heros! Dubya is a murderer, but our soldiers are heros.. I admire them, love them, and appreciate them. Can't even say that sentence without my eyes tearing-up.
To all of my friends who believe that a god does not exist: I admit I do not have all of the answers. Neither should you make such a claim. Good day. :-)
It would be easily said that I have far more answers than you. Certainly enough to prove that most of your holy books are factually, historically incorrect and incompatible with modern knowledge of science.
As an athiest, I don't claim to have all the answers. Xtians say they do have ALL the answers! They say their god is the beginning and the end. The creater of all things, omnipotent, perfect, and is in complete control.
The atheists have the answers! Facts always win over delusions.
Wow! You have met every single Christian? That is amazing. Oh you mean to say you met the person that speaks on behalf of all Christians? Please; tell me who that is so that I ma also meet them. Are there stupid scientists out there? I bet there are, no? If I meet a scientist who is a fool; should I assume all of science is foolish? I think not. Perhaps you should return the favor? Just a thought :-)
For many, it's NOT a question of not "believing" in a god. The rational freethinker concerns are of knowing, not believing nor disbelieving This, Jon, is where your argument begins to run off the rails. Please take note... there's a lie in the middle of the word "beLIEve".
@galaxy: Funny, I don't recall making an argument; so I am unsure where it could have fallen off the rails. A rational freethinker should be open both the idea that God may exist, and that He may not. Contrary to proof either way; the rational free thinker – even the atheist scientist – must conclude that both are true. Think Schrödinger's cat. There is dark matter, there isn't dark matter. This is how science treats every question, save the one about intelligent design. I wonder why that is.
May our Jesus bless you gteatly. you have both experienced the sressrs that continue after the soldiers come home, yet in Christ , you are winning your personal war with our common enemy. may Jesus strengthen, comfort you and yours. Thank you for your sacrifice.
translated as "Jesus is proud of you for shooting demon-worshipping brown people. Thanks for the human sacrifices to our loving god."
Wars are huge opportunities for large corporations to make a ton of money, period. You whip-up the god and country frenzy and send young men into battle all the while cheering them on as they fall to the ground.
At the end of the day, war is all about god and money, both evil when used improperly.
How many people die horrible deaths by a pathetic made up god who tortures everyone from young to old to phycally and mentally handicapped. You could wallpaper the walls of the largest churches with diseases invented by the "christian god". "god" is an ass.....................look around people
You do know Xtians are going to come back to you with.. "freewill".. "sin causes the problems" .. "choices".. "god is love, Satan is the problem"... etc.
Replace "Christian God" with "Roman Catholic Church" and you are not far off. While it is true that men have twisted the words of Christ in an effort to serve selfish endeavors, the word itself; read as its author intended, stand true today. Please do not join the fools who would suggest they know anything is for sure about anything.
@Jon – you do realize that Christ told a woman (who was impregnated by her rapist) that she had to marry him, he was responsible for her welfare, and the rapist must pay a fine to her father. Jesus isn't really my hero either. There were a few other things he said and did, that I take issue with. I am more of a spiritualist. Not sure how I came to exist, but I"m not going to invent an explanation.
@Edwardo – Actually that is in the Torah (the old Testiment) ... long before the time of Christ.
To Edwardo... Now that you've said it, you saved me from saying those things..."freewill".. "sin causes the problems" .. "choices".. "god is love, Satan is the problem"... etc.
You are learning and there is hope for you yet! The Truth is clearing that delusion of yours a little bit at a time. God is amazing!
@John – I do not believe in the Xtian god and never will. If you think I'm a possible recruit, then your thinking is skewed. I would never worship the Xtian god, as I do not bow before any god who threatens me (with eternal punishment). I do not bow to his narcissism, his unanswered prayers, and his lies.
"@Edwardo – Actually that is in the Torah (the old Testiment) ... long before the time of Christ."
How does that go again? God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit=one being? Jesus wrote the Old Testament too in that scenario.
Garbage story. It's the Sunday puzzle for all of you religous and non religious people. Its a fun game to play. They have one every Sunday. CNN is filled with fun games you can play. I find it one of the most "puzzling" sites on the internet. Jesus with a automatic weapon. It dosen't get any more thrilling than that. Jesus is coming back and hes on full "auto". No more burst or single shot for that boy. He's coming back to clear out some sector's. Not only that he's on horseback to. No time for dissension or "Democracy" for Jesus. Hes not a Democrat on that day or a Republican. No ones really sure just who he's got targeted. But one things for sure someones wrong. You have to wait of course to get your little justice. Until then be a good citizen. Go to work on time. Be happy with what they give you. Obey all in authority. Your going to die or get to be a "wing commander" for Jesus in the sky. If you get the idea your being ripped off ignore it. Thats just your sense telling you hey someones scamming me. Ignore it.
"The Army captain had learned that people in pain are often wide-open to inviting God into their lives."
Yeah, get'em while they're scared and hopeless, that will take.
So preditory. Bothers me too. Why not just offer compassion and comfort and then if they ask for God you offer that too. Deeply moved for the scared young men and women looking for a bit of human understanding and compassion in the midst of war.
or maybe just maybe he is there to comfort people when they are having thier most difficult time.
Bryan – and if that's all he was doing, I would have no problem with it. Instead of religious clergy, hire "morale officers" who may or may not be religious.
But take a look at that picture. He's not "comforting" that soldier. He's indoctrinating him and baptizing him. That's taking advantage of someone's weak moment to manipulate them into your beliefs. That's wrong.
Camp Adder wasn't the southern most base in Iraq. It was called Ali Base, for the Air Force or Talil for the Army. The southern most base was Camp Bucca, it was 1 mile from the Kuwait border. It housed all the detainees.
Some years ago I was recruited to serve as a "diversity champion" in our corporation. I was trained to the hilt and had ample opportunity to see what the world looked like through the eyes of people different from me. What I also came to understand in time is that the people who most often banged the drum for "inclusion" and "tolerance" were often unwilling to extend these values to me, an evangelical Christian. Darren Turner is a human being, with all the frailties that go with that. For anyone to revile his failings while ignoring their own would be hypocrisy. He should be applauded for his transparency, not abused for his humanness.
Did it occur to you that those who you claim won't include you didn't because you wouldn't shut up about your blasted god?
Why the hate coming from you? You don't know me.
Are you saying that as a Christian I should not be allowed to talk about Christ? If so would you say that the gay should not talk about his experience or the black about his? If not, why do you deny only Christians equal rights?
While we're feeling all warm and fuzzy about bringing religion to the battlefield, let's not forget that religion is the sole reason why Afghanistan is a battlefield. Religion caused this.
Aside from the human tragedy, that was what shocked me most about the fallout from 9/11. Instead of people waking up and realizing the horrors of what religion can do, our citizens redoubled their efforts to try to force Jesus into our lives and our government. The Taliban/Al Qaeda connection is the poster child for what happens when religion goes unquestioned and unchecked.
Very good point....
The picture that leads this article is ridiculous.
Your comedy, so funny! Your life and visions are make believe.........so sad your mother and father never tought you right.
America and Europe: Godlessness within thy palaces.
"who suggests that American men have abandoned the stuff of heroic dreams, aided by a Christianity that tells them to be 'nice guys.'" , Turner was inspired.
This is a general problem of today that socalled Christians are mostly merely nominal Christians, and don't practice, what is preached to them.
I guess, a great problem of our time is that our leaders have become totally secular (godless, profane). This is valid not only for Europe or the US, but for the whole world. Our current leaders are no more concerned about the happiness of their people (this would be there proper, core task), but merely interested in big tax revenue. They regard their peoples as cash cows, and live a life of luxury, which they finance by the tax revenues. These rulers are neither interested in Islam nor Christianity, but merely in their own material benefit and wealth. They sell all ethics for dollars.
I guess, if no pious, powerful ruler (a kind of emperor) emerges, which makes us get rid of the egoistic, current rulers, Christ himself will return and exterminate them and cut them to pieces (the heavenly Christ is the only one, who has the right to do such a thing).
Strictly speaking, there are no social developments, but merely decisions of the administrations or rulers. Everything depends on the will of some persons/individuals of the administration. If our current rulers would decide that our daily life should become more Christian, it would become more Christian, but they do the opposite. The media are contaminated with se-x and crime and blasphemy and superficial stupidity. This is the will of our current rulers, otherwise they would finish that.
What I mean is that the current, godless societies nearly force the individual to be a nominal Christian. Everybody knows that it has become nearly impossible to live as a faithful Christian in our current societies. It has become so bad that one should ponder, if he goes to the wilderness like John the Baptist and lives as an ascetic.
We live in a horrifying time.
Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Interesting how you judge your god's work in pressent times.
1 in 6 people are Christian in this world.
Over 80% of the world does not believe Christ to be the savior and yet you stand here ready to admonish all of the world's leaders because of their so-called lack of faith in the true meaning of being Christian. How large does one's ego have to be to assert that 5 billion people are wrong and you simply stand in the right?
I am sorry but from where I stand this is fact: All of mankind's problems are NOT solely based on the lack of Christ in their lives.
And furthermore, there has NEVER been a time where societies were in complete harmony because of the teachings of Christ. Perhaps you should put down the bible and read a history book. Human beings, in particularly Christians, have been terrible to each other since day one.
If you want to have an intelligent conversation about the evolution of mankind and the cultures that have sprouted throughout the world because of that, then I am all in and ready to begin communicating...
But stop with this nonsense about everything boils to the fact that most people are not being true Christians. Perhaps if you stopped blaming people for not following your personal beliefs then there would be one less problem we would have to talk about on the CNN website....
You cannot escape that your life is built on their sacrifice, simply by your ability, right here, right now, to demonstrate free speech.
Peel back everything you feel about the political system or
the things that make this country a mess.
Memorial Day is to honor the foundation, the people that actually, they
themselves, made their own live sacrifices.
You weren't there, I wasn’t there when they
died; so don’t try to connect their individual deaths with politics, oil company profits,
or any other mumbo-jumbo off-topic irrelevance.
I come from a military family. Feels like Americans feel like "we signed up for it, we didn't have to do it.. mentality". My father and brother were drafted, both suffered wounds and my 'nam brother had mental problems (he was a gunner in a copter, and he killed a lot people). My dad was shot up in wwII. Believe me, I never fail to thank my vets. Also, gay people fight in wars, and Americans treat them like $hi+ !
"their sacrifice" when freedom is at stake is one thing, when it's not, (as EVERYONE AGREES today), is a stupid waste
Just like every other great scam, people are more vulnerable when they are desperate. Religion is made up of con-artists and deluded people. The fact that this man is simply deluded doesn't make what he does more acceptable.
Wow, atheist never fail to amaze me with their insight and love...
I agree with David. People in crisis deserve real psychological and social support, not false promises.
To David...It is you who has a delusion for you believe a lie. A lie that says God does not exist and righteousness is not a path to follow.
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 – "And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Not sure what to think CNN. Maybe there wasn't enough hate speech;replies on your other earlier Memorial Day article. Why post an article adding religious connection to Memorial Day. Most of the time, I just don't get the flow. Memorial Day is to remember those that died for our country. Now watch what the trolls will say on this thread, just to prove my point.
CNN always runs a religion/controversial article every weekend. It's very popular, and I think their fans enjoy the heated forum.
Blah blah blah...What a load of ironic BS. Bringing your religion to the battlefield. if you want to do something then work agaisnt the battlefield. Stop empowering people to fight needless wars that have nothing to do with anyone except the leaders that started them. Especially this one..the US invaded a soverign country with a fake provocation all in the name of OIL. and yet this misguided person thinks he should be out there preaching and then comes home with issues.
The fault likes with the way our soldiers (male and female) are discharged after being in a war zone. But this guys wants to blame the rest of us. Blame the military for the criminal way THEY treat their own, not us.
It's Bush's fault right??
Lynda, regardless of what you may think about the war. He is right in that most people don't know about what is happening to the soldiers and civilians in these areas. More importantly, don't seem to care. I don't personally know anybody that has been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, but its not good. At least this man has a some sort of mission that keeps him sane. He is trying to help others do the same. Nobody is perfect.
You don't have to agree with the war or his motivations or his religion, but face the fact that he is helping people in great need. If they find some consolation in life to counteract the horrors and extreme stress they have encountered, then it is useful to them.
I fully realize that he is not out to help anyone else except the soldiers and himself, but that is better than nothing. Which is what most people are doing.
Nah, Iraq was the Bush administration's fault. Afghanistan was the result of a government so controlled by religious zealots that it looked the other way while they started blowing people "infidels" around the world.
George: Who started the war, declared victory and left the tattered lives of soldiers and civilians to pick up? He couldn't find WMDs, but he found a whole bunch of oil just laying around doing nothing. What has he done to fix the things he broke? Not much, just like the rest of us... SAD!
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.