Faithful baptized at Babylon

12 Jun 2003 | Army Pfc. Samuel A. Soza

When combat was at its heaviest during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Army Pfc. Angela M. Longe, a 20-year-old soldier from Carson City, Nev., approached her unit chaplain with concerns of her mortality and her faith.

Army Capt. Robert A. Miller, the chaplain of the 1/358th Aviation Regiment based in Giebelstadt, Germany, responded with comforting words and an offer he hoped she would accept.

"I will baptize you in the Euphrates River," Miller had told her at the time. "That is the closest we'll get to the Garden of Eden."

Soon after that meeting, fellow comrades joined with her and when the time came, when the bulk of combat was over, the group flew to Al Hillah, home to the First Marine Expeditionary Force Command Element, where the remains of the ancient city of Babylon are located.

Five months after being deployed to Iraq, Longe, a signal support specialist, along with 13 soldiers from the 1/358th were baptized near the Euphrates River June 12.

To Longe, being baptized was a personal matter. She had wanted to be baptized since she was in high school.

Although she recognized the symbolism, undergoing the experience in such a historical location was motivation enough for her to fulfill her goal.

Miller had seen the significance of the actual location since he had arrived in theater. However, the timing was the element that would perfect the ceremony.

Since the closing stages of the war had begun, Miller perceived the baptism of these soldiers to be a good act in light of the incoming peacetime.

"I was praying for this when we first got to Kuwait," Miller said. "I wanted to give my soldiers the chance, after the war and destruction, to be baptized."

The soldiers, too, realized the significance of the moment.

"I've waited most of my life for sometime significant [to be baptized]," said Army Sgt. William J. Williams Jr. The 36-year-old is also a member of the 1/358th and is from Hertford, N.C. Williams is a platoon leader.

Even though the soldiers' families could not attend the service, their military brothers and sisters witnessed the event, offering their congratulations and handshakes, as the soldiers emerged from the water.

"It's better than being alone," Williams said.

"If I can't have family, it's the next best thing," added Army Staff Sgt. Chhamboni Simmons, the noncommissioned officer in charge of logistics for the 1/358th and native of Sacramento, Calif.

According to Miller, baptism is an outward expression of the individual that is being baptized, proclaiming that they love and honor Christ.

"We can't die with Jesus, but we can taste a watery grave," he said.

Miller explained that the dipping into the water is the "watery grave" and coming back out symbolizes the individual's new life.

The process of baptism is simple, he added. If an individual should want to be baptized all that is required is for that person to tell their chaplain of their desire.

All of the soldiers received a certificate of baptism, designed by Miller that stated that they had been baptized in the Euphrates.

Unfortunately, the river's water level had lowered substantially on the day of the ceremony and an alternate site near the river was chosen.

Nevertheless, with a shift in location the soldiers were still baptized in Babylon with water from the Euphrates River.

In the end, the soldiers had received a customary experience in an extremely momentous location.

"Some people can say they'd been baptized in their hometown church, or the River Jordan, but these soldiers have been baptized here in the Euphrates River," Miller said.