Interview with Captain Edward Milliner, U.S. Navy Chaplain.
Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person with the Randall Library at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Today's videotape is being taped at Camp Lejeune, at North Carolina. Today's date is the 2nd of May, in the year 2007. This tape is part of the Military Chaplains' collection. Our interviewee today is Captain Edward Milliner. Good afternoon, sir. How are you?
Zarbock: I'm going to start off by asking: What person or series of persons, or what event or series of events, led you into selecting the ministry as a profession?
Milliner: I was assigned-- My father was assigned, to Bemberg, Germany in 1966. I was a junior in high school in '66; we attended military chapel on the base in Bemberg, Germany.
Zarbock: He was in the military?
Milliner: He was in the military. My father was in the military; he was a career Army person. We were assigned there at the chapel; we went to chapel every Sunday morning. The pastor was a Southern Baptist Chaplain, and he influenced my life. He had Bible studies; he had youth meetings. I starting attending the youth gatherings, did that for a period of three years at his home. We went to different places in Germany for retreats; my life was changed as a result of that, and I began to have an interest in the study of the Bible, an interest in the study of the Christian faith. So I came back to the States; my family moved back to the States to Hinesville, Georgia, Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Zarbock: What year was that, sir?
Milliner: That was in the year of 1968.
Zarbock: And you were how old at that time?
Milliner: At that time I was a senior in high school. So I continued my interest in the study of the Bible and youth groups. I was a youth leader in the church. And so after that, I decided to go off to college, went to Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, and studied religion.
Zarbock: Know it well.
Milliner: Studied Old Testament, New Testament and church history, primarily; went there for four years. And while there, I began to have an interest in actually being a minister, and began to speak some, at churches. And after speaking in churches, it was confirmed in my heart and through the affirmation of other people, that I should be a minister.
Zarbock: But you started off in college being interested, I'm going to use the word "globally," in religion.
Zarbock: But more and more, you began to narrow this decision process.
Zarbock: And you were probably, what, 21, 22, when...
Milliner: 21, 22 years old.
Zarbock: And you decided at that point.
Milliner: At that point. That I wanted to be a minister, and I started speaking in youth gatherings, youth retreats, worked at summer camps, worked in the summer at churches as a youth minister, and that experience just continued to confirm to me that that was the-- my calling. That was what I needed to be doing. So I went in that direction and continued my studies. I finished four years of college, and then...
Zarbock: At Lee College?
Milliner: At Lee College. Then, when I left there, I went and took a church, Bethlehem Church, up in Pennsylvania, for one year. I was up there for one year, helping to start a church, before I went to seminary. So I spent a year up there, and then I went to seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. Went there for three years. Again, studied scripture, Hebrew, Greek, Old Testament, New Testament, fell in love with the study of Hebrew in the Old Testament. I had a professor there, Doctor Leo Green, who was a missionary to Israel for probably 20 years, and his passion for the history of Israel and Hebrew greatly influenced my life, so I began to study more.And after my three years, I decided to continue again, so I went two more years, got another Masters. So I finished my Master in Divinity, then I got a Master of Theology, strictly in Old Testament Hebrew, and exciting times, studying the scripture. And at the same time, I was working in a church, pastor of a church for a period of four years, a Baptist church, in the rural areas of North Carolina.
Zarbock: Now, I would assume that income was kind of a limited...
Milliner: Very limited. I was-- at that time, my wife and I had one child. She worked as a school teacher; she was an English teacher, so she brought the money in and helped with food on the table, very difficult times, yes.
Zarbock: Do you remember, just for purposes of history, do you remember what you were paid at that first small church in rural...
Milliner: First small church, I was paid maybe $100, $200 a week, something like that. Not very much at all.
Zarbock: And were you supposed to be in residence at the church?
Milliner: That's correct.
Zarbock: All of the time?
Milliner: That's correct. They gave me a parish, I mean a parsonage, so we lived there, and they gave us a small salary. We conducted services on Sunday morning, and a midweek service. And I was considered a student pastor, primarily. So I went to school, and then also the pastor of the church gave me great experience, working in a church for four years. You know, that's where you learn, that's where you make your mistakes. You know, that's where the people support you and encourage you, and at the same time they teach you. You know, because you do your first weddings, you do your first funerals, counseling. So it's a great learning experience, and thank God for churches that invest in young ministers that way. Because it is investment. These churches are small, they cannot pay large salaries, so they invest in these ministers in training. And by doing so, they're investing in the future of these young ministers. So, even to this day, after all these years, I guess it's been 26 years, I still visit the church and write letters to them, and thanking them for that experience. For allowing me to learn there, make mistakes there, grow there, because everything I've done since really has largely been a result...
Zarbock: Built upon that.
Milliner: Built upon their encouragement, support, confirmation that I made the right decision. And their prayer support through all these years.
Zarbock: Now you had a small child, you say, at that...?
Milliner: I had a small child; I had a daughter that was two years old. Then I had a son born while we were there, who was three years younger then Meriden. So I had-- entered up, when I left, I had two children.
Zarbock: And where did you go?
Milliner: I left there; I joined the Navy.
Zarbock: Okay, now why did you do that?
Milliner: Okay, that's a very good question. [laughs]
Zarbock: At this time, there's not much Navy where you're...
Milliner: No Navy at all. I grew up in the Army with my father, but I always had a love for military; my father loved it so much. And he was always positive. I played football in the military camps, I went to DOD schools growing up, all the way through high school I went to Department of Defense Schools. I was involved in Boy Scouts in the military. So my association with the military, you know, started at birth, and continued all the way up until 18 years of age when I went to college. So those were very, very positive experiences for me. Every time we moved, my father and mother made it a positive experience, traveling around the world, we were stationed in Germany twice for three years each time, we traveled all over Europe. So those were always positive experiences.
Zarbock: Let me interrupt you at that point. I've spoken with other adults who were raised as children in a military family. What made it a good experience for you? 'Cause some kids have had a very bad experience.
Milliner: Yes. Well it's challenging because my father was gone a lot. My father was stationed in Korea for a year on three different occasions. So there's three one-year gaps in my life where my father was gone, and my senior year of high school was probably the most difficult. So those were challenging times. But my mother was always positive in his absence. She supported everything that I did. All my sports programs, she attended all of my games, so I think that really made the difference.
Zarbock: Brothers and sisters, did you...?
Milliner: I have one sister. So I think her support of me and our family in his absence really left an impression upon me, and really taught me the value of the wife or the spouse who is at home. So I've always kept that in my mind in my military career. But because it was so positive, when I was finishing seminary, I was thinking I might want to be a teacher, a professor of Hebrew and Old Testament. But the Navy was expanding to a 800-ship Navy at the time, this was 1981. I received a phone call from a Southern Baptist ministry friend of mine who said "Why don't you consider a chaplaincy? We are expanding..."
Zarbock: This came out of the blue?
Milliner: Out of the blue. "We are expanding to 800 ships. We need chaplains; we can get you in the Navy almost immediately." So my wife and I talked about it and said, "Do you know it's-- we like military life." By the way, she grew up in the Army, also. My wife's father was Army career, we met on a military base in Fort Benning, Georgia, both went to the same college. So she had a positive experience in military. So we decided yes, we'll look at it. We started asking questions about the Navy.
Zarbock: How old were you at that time, Captain?
Milliner: I was 30 years old.
Zarbock: Was there a cut-off date for age?
Milliner: 35, I believe.
Zarbock: Okay. So you were comfortably underneath that.
Milliner: Oh, yes. I was comfortably underneath that, and I had met all the requirements. I had seminary training, of course we had to have two years of parish experience; I had four. So the timing was just right. I'd been at this church for four years; I'd just completed my second Masters Degree, we were ready to move, and all of a sudden this opportunity became available, and said "Would you consider a chaplaincy in the Navy?" So I began to call some people and ask questions about the Navy, find out that the Navy serves Marines, much like the Army. You get worldwide assignments. So my wife and I thought about it, and we agreed that we were going to go in for three years. At that time, you could only go in for three. You go in for three, and then you go before a board to see if you're going to be extended beyond three. The guarantee was only for three years. At that point, you had to go before a board, and only about 30 percent went beyond that. It was really, really tight, those early years.
Zarbock: When you came in, what rank did you have?
Milliner: I came in as an O2, or Lieutenant JG, with one year in-grade. What they do, is they give you credit for your seminary; they give you three years' credit. So you miss the first rank, which is Ensign, and you come in as a JG with one year. So we made a decision, and within three months I was in active duty.
Zarbock: Where were you stationed, first time?
Milliner: Went to a chaplains' school in Newport, and then went to a ship out in San Diego. So we packed up the car, and had the two young ones, and took off to San Diego, California, drove all the way across the country. Went to San Diego, California.
Zarbock: You had not been there before?
Milliner: Never been there before. Fortunately, we had a base house waiting for us; I moved my family in, I went to a ship and for two and a half years I was underway, most of the time. The ship was deployed for seven months one time, four months another time, and a lot of small deployments in between.
Zarbock: What kind of ship?
Milliner: It was an LPD-2 ship that had a crew of about 400 people. USS Vancouver. It carried Marines; we carried about 600 Marines on deployment. So our ship purpose was to take them overseas, let them do training, if there's any kind of crisis, the Marines would go ashore.
Zarbock: And what did you call the ship? And L?
Zarbock: That stands for?
Milliner: Landing Platform Dock. And because it had a platform in the back, it could land two helicopters. So it had a platform in the back for helicopters, and it had a well deck underneath, so the ship could go down in the back, and then the boats could come out of the well deck. So, when you have operations, boats would come out of the bottom of the well deck, go to the shore, and the helicopter would take the Marines off the deck and go to the shore. So I was the only chaplain on the ship with a crew of 400 for the 30 months. So it was a brand new experience for me. As the pastor of a church for four years, come in the Navy, and then going to a ship.And here is the real challenge: you go to a church, you know you're going to have a congregation of people. You go to a ship and you go to sea, you know, you may have a congregation; when you're in port, you might have one or two. But you always go to that ship on Sunday for the duty section. So you might have one, two, three, you know, sometimes four people show up, and that's really all. When you go to sea, then those people who normally go to church will come, so you might have 30, 40, 50; it just depends. So when your focus has been preaching and teaching religion, and now it shifts to more counseling and crisis ministry, so I learned quickly that I was weak in that area. So I began to take courses, correspondence courses and the like, in counseling. Because you're the only counselor on the ship, you're the one that these sailors go to any time they have a problem, and you're the one that the command expects to address these issues.
Zarbock: And the people in need of support,counseling, guidance-- any of those, are not exclusively enlisted men, am I correct?
Milliner: Well that's correct. Correct, all ranks.
Zarbock: I mean, troubles don't have any-- a catalogue of job titles...
Milliner: Well that's right.
Zarbock: And say, "Well, I can't touch him."
Milliner: Exactly. And deployment is challenging on families, especially. And with the Navy people, that their career is Navy; they deploy all the time. They go from sea duty to sea duty. So, a lot of challenge in families, so you have a lot of marriage counseling. At that time, back in the early '80s, you had a lot of substance abuse problems. So I went and received training on substance abuse counseling.
Zarbock: Alcohol, was that a...?
Milliner: Alcohol, and marijuana, and then they finally came out with the policy that any drug use, you're put out of the service. But that was after, what?, two or three times caught, I think. So you had to be caught two or three times. By now of course, there's zero tolerance, but then, they didn't have the policy. So I was in charge also of identifying those people who needed treatment. So I had to make judgments of who needed to go to alcohol rehab, who need to go to substance abuse rehab, what type of rehab, level one or level two. So we'd send them off the ship, they would go to rehab, receive counseling, then come back to the ship, and then I would do follow-up counseling.
Zarbock: Now Captain, let me do a little role-playing.
Zarbock: Assume that I am a middle rank petty officer, and I come to you and I say, "Look, Chaplain, I've been drinking heavily, and I mean heavily, and for years." Now you can promise confidentiality, is that correct?
Milliner: That's correct.
Zarbock: But I really am in trouble. I tell you I'm thinking about suicide, you know, a whole variety; you know I'm in trouble.
Zarbock: So, how do you get around confidentiality, and yet you have to serve your parishioner?
Milliner: That's correct.
Zarbock: How do you do it?
Milliner: The first thing I do, is I tell them, "This is confidential. You've come to me as a chaplain; let's talk." And I talk, I listen to them about their problems, where they are, and I say, "Now, what do you want to do about? Do you want to move on from here? If you do, then I have to notify the command; we have to get you help. There's certain processes that we have to go through, but the only way we can go through these processes, is if you give me permission to go to the command and say, "This person needs treatment.""
Zarbock: But if I told you, again role-playing, "Chaplain, I don't want you to tell anybody; I can handle this by myself," that ties your hands; am I correct?
Milliner: It does. And then I say, "Well, come back and see me next week, and let's continue the process."
Milliner: So I do all the help-- I do everything I can to help the person, in hopes that the person will recognize that they need further help. And I'll take cases that way. Often, you know, they might be nervous about telling the command. They know their career might be in jeopardy, especially if they're a senior petty officer. They've been in 13, 14 years, you confess that alcohol is a problem for you. You cannot handle it anymore, you admit it, you go to rehab, your career is in jeopardy, very tough decisions for...
Zarbock: Is that a court marshal offence?
Milliner: It is not.
Zarbock: But drugs would be.
Milliner: If you get in trouble because of actions of drinking or drugs, yes.
Milliner: But if you come forward on your own, say, "I want treatment," nothing will happen to you at all. Self-referral. That command will take care of you and send you out and get you help.
Zarbock: Except you've got a reputation.
Milliner: Yes. Yes.
Zarbock: And the one thing that will carry us mutually to our graves, is our reputation.
Milliner: That's right. So it is a very challenging decision, especially for the senior ones that have been in a while, and invested so much in the Navy. But by that time, a lot of them are beginning to recognize that the alcohol is ruining their life. That they've lost marriages, they've lost relationships with children, their career is still in jeopardy, and eventually, they come around and say, "Chaplain, I do need this. I need referral." And then my job on that ship was to say, "All right, let me get you the help."
Zarbock: But you can't send them off the ship. I mean, you're out in the middle of...
Milliner: Oh, yes. If we're out-- if we're at sea, the first port of call we come to, if they have a alcohol rehab program there, we send them there for a short period of time. Like, in the Philippines at that time, had alcohol problem, we send them to the Philippines. We send them to Hawaii, mainland Japan. Then when we come back through, we pick them up; these are short programs. And when we get back to San Diego, we send them to the rehab program. So I spent a lot of time counseling on that first assignment.
Zarbock: Again, let me do a little role-playing, or observation. You're on a big chunk of floating iron, or steel, and you've got an awful lot of heavily armed men who are very experienced with arms. You're in crowded conditions, it's day after day, after day. Now, irrespective of what you try and do to try and reduce the monotony, it is still basically very predictable what's going to happen a week from today, and so on.
Zarbock: Then, given these conditions, that tensions arise, and were there fights, trouble, difficulty? And if so, what was your role?
Milliner: Yes. The-- it was not so challenging for the Navy personal on the ship, because the Navy people all had jobs to do all day long. So they knew when they got up in the morning; they worked all day. They had shifts, and you rotated your shifts. Marines come onboard. They're onboard, you bring, you know, five, six-hundred Marines on board, nothing to do but clean weapons.
Zarbock: And how clean can you get a weapon after a while.
Milliner: Exactly. Then it was very challenging. So, one of my jobs is to say, "What can I do about that?" Marines like to run, they like to PT. We had a ship that had a deck that-- flight deck, that was large enough that you could run around it, and they did not have flight ops. So I stared a running club. Our ship was called a gator ship, so I called it the Galloping Gator Running Club. And we said, "If you run around the flight deck during the course of this deployment for so many laps, then you get a t-shirt. If you do it for a thousand laps, you get a trophy." So-- and they would run their laps, come by my office and sign in, say how many laps they ran that day. So that gave them something to do.
Zarbock: Yeah, and you gave them a goal and reward.
Milliner: Exactly. So first thing you know, I had people from the Navy side, engineers, that never came out of the dark from down in the bottoms of the ship, coming out running. Tremendous-- we won an award for that program. Tremendous moral booster for those Marines. Of course, they all enjoyed getting a t-shirt, you know, but it gave them something to do during the daytime; they could run. This is long before they built gyms on ships. You know, now you go to large ships, they have a nice gym, workout facilities. But back in those days, there was nothing like that; Marines just sat around with nothing to do. They didn't have video games. They had a library with books in the library, but that was about it. I maintained the library. So it was very important, I think, to deal with stress when we noticed it with the Marines. The Marine leadership, when they saw there was stress, they would tell the chaplain to come down and talk to their unit, talk to some of their people. We did that, but we had port calls probably about every three or four weeks; they knew that was important for the Marine and sailors to get off the ship. So, we would...
Zarbock: Port call in the United States?
Milliner: Port call is overseas. You've got port calls to Hong Kong, and Hawaii, Australia, Singapore, Japan. So we made port calls about every three weeks, give a chance to the people to get off the ship for about three or four days. Australia, we were there for about a week. So good opportunity for people to get off the ship, take tours; I led many of the tours. Good for morale. So that's my first experience as a Navy chaplain.
Zarbock: One last question, then I'm going to move ahead.
Zarbock: You pack up the car, you've got two children, they're in the back seat, or maybe migrating back and forth; you drive transcontinentally, you arrive in San Diego, and in no time, you're on that ship, is that correct?
Milliner: That's correct.
Zarbock: And in no time, you're out in the ocean.
Zarbock: That means that your wife has crossed the country, and for the first time you're going to be gone from her life for a fair piece of time.
Zarbock: How did she get along?
Milliner: Fortunately, my wife grew up in a military environment. She grew up where her father was deployed to Vietnam for a year, Dominican Republic for a year; she knew a little bit about military life. She was a school teacher, she was-- she had her own job. She was able to find a job right away, connect with a church, had a support group in that church; it was very valuable to her. So those connections I think helped her and the children while I was gone.
Zarbock: Other Navy wives, too.
Milliner: Other Navy wives; all the ships had a wives' club where they would get together every so many weeks to meet, so that made a big difference. Not to say it's not challenging, you know. For people to leave civilian life and come to military and you're faced with deployments, you know, it's difficult, you cannot deny that. Difficult on the children. At that time, my young daughter I think was in her second grade, and she started having some behavioral issues. She and I were so close before I went, so it was a challenging time for her, missing her father for seven months.
Zarbock: And, "If you love me, you wouldn't leave me," type thing.
Milliner: That's right, exactly.
Zarbock: Mystical thinking that children go through.
Milliner: Yes. At that time, we didn't have videotape, or we couldn't call on the phone, except when we hit port calls. Letters would take weeks and weeks and weeks before they would arrive, so very, very different then today's deployment. But we survived, and we survived, I think, because my wife was able to keep the home going and have a positive attitude. And communicated that positive attitude to the children. Just like my mother had done for me when I was growing up. So it was a positive-- about 30 months on that ship. So my wife and I liked the ministry, we liked what we were doing, and we just said, "Well, we'll take another assignment."
Zarbock: Now you went in for-- Your first tour was to be three years.
Milliner: Three years.
Zarbock: You spent 30 months on the ship?
Milliner: 30 months on the ship.
Zarbock: Now, that's two and a half years, plus the time getting there.
Milliner: That's correct.
Zarbock: Well, you're just about out of three years, now.
Milliner: That's right. In fact, I went before a board before I left the ship to determine whether or not I could stay beyond three years.
Zarbock: A board was made up of whom?
Milliner: A board was made up of senior chaplains, D.C., and they would choose which chaplains would stay in active duty, which ones would not. And that decision was made by your, what we called Fitness Report, your evaluations from your C.O. Your C.O. would give you evaluation, give you marks, how well you've done in the military.
Zarbock: Now this is a Navy C.O.
Milliner: That's right, the Navy C.O.
Zarbock: This is not another chaplain.
Milliner: That's correct, Navy C.O. The captain of the ship.
Zarbock: Can you get along with the Navy, and are you doing what you're supposed to do.
Milliner: That's right. That's right. Are you beneficial to us, do you have a future with us? Can I recommend you to stay in this business? And so, that paperwork goes to Washington D.C.; the senior chaplains get together and they decide. You know, who stays and who does not stay.
Zarbock: Captain, whom did you see yourself as primarily relating to? Were you primarily relating to the Marines, or since you're a Navy officer, were you primarily relating to the Navy personnel?
Milliner: On this first ship, I was strictly Navy. I was assigned to the ship to the C.O. of the ship. The Marines came onboard; I helped them when I could, but my priority was to the Navy people. The Marines would have a chaplain, but oftentimes he would be on another ship. We would go in a group of about six ships. So every once in a while, the Marine chaplain would come aboard to see his folks. But my job was to work for the C.O. of the ship and take care of the sailors.
Zarbock: And provide, I'll call it "emergency"...
Milliner: That's right. Emergency support, crisis ministry, to those Marines when they needed it.
Zarbock: Okay. But you were Navy, serving they Navy.
Milliner: That's right.
Milliner: Wore a Navy uniform, serving the Navy.
Zarbock: Yes. Well, back on shore, what happened?
Milliner: Well, when I finished my two and a half years, 30 months, I was assigned to Yuma, Arizona.
Zarbock: [laughs] There's not much ocean there, is there?
Milliner: No, not at all. To a Marine assignment. So I went from a Navy assignment to a Marine assignment, so I was with the air station with the Marines. So that was traditional chapel ministry. We had a large chapel there, so my job was the Protestant Chapel Coordinator. So everything I would do in a civilian church, I did right there on that base. We had Sunday school, vacation Bible school; we had youth retreats.
Zarbock: Occasional marriages.
Milliner: Marriages. Counseling. But the primary focus was to run that chapel. So I did that for two years. I ran the chapel there in Yuma for two years.
Zarbock: Good duty?
Milliner: Good duty. We were surprised. We didn't like the idea of going to the desert-- Yuma, we didn't think anything was there. They had a tremendous program for the children, sports programs, soccer and swimming, so my children enjoyed it. It as a two year assignment, and then-- but it was considered kind of a hardship duty because it was in the desert, not much there. So after that ,I really had my choice, and I chose Hawaii. [laughs] So when they gave me a few options like that, I said "All right, I can go to Hawaii." So we went to Hawaii for three years.
Zarbock: What is your rank and what is your age at this time?
Milliner: At that time I was 33, 34, 35 years old. Went to Hawaii at 35 years of age. My rank was still a Lieutenant. I was a Lieutenant 03. Went to Hawaii and was assigned with the Marines in Hawaii.
Zarbock: Did you ask to be assigned, or were you just arbitrarily...
Milliner: I just-- they told me "You're going to Hawaii and you're going to the Marines." So I went to the Marines. This is what we call the Fleet Marine Force Marines, or the operational Marines. These are Marines that go to field, these are the Marines that hike and do all those things. So this was not a chapeling, this was with the operational Marines.
Zarbock: I've been told by other chaplains that when they got assigned to the Marines, the Marines, at first, would be looking over their shoulder to see if chaplain could do the 20 miles, could do the...
Milliner: Oh, yes.
Zarbock: If they marched, you marched.
Milliner: Exactly. Whatever the Marines did, you were expected to do.
Zarbock: If they slept under canvas, you...
Milliner: Oh yeah, even if it's raining. You know, you go to the field with them; if they didn't have a canvas, you know, you slept just like they slept. So we made deployments to Korea, short deployments from there to Korea for about three months at a time. And so I spent the three years with those Marines.
Zarbock: Where were you billeted?
Milliner: Well, we had a house out in town.
Zarbock: Not on the base.
Milliner: Not on the base. They did not have enough housing on the base, so we had a house in the community. So we lived there, and my children went to local schools right there in the area.
Zarbock: So then, possibly, you got home only on the weekends, if the Marines were deployed to Korea, or...
Milliner: Yeah. If we were deployed at all, I just-- I was gone for that period of time. Otherwise, it was a eight-to-five job. If we were not deployed, 8 to 5. Get up in the morning and go to work and come home at 5 o'clock and go to the beach. Very good time. Good family time.
Zarbock: Did you have chapel responsibilities?
Milliner: No chapel responsibilities. My job was to take care of the battalion. We had about 500 people in battalion. So my responsibility was the Marines in this battalion. This was a radio battalion and these Marines would go over to Korea, and they would man the listening post. We have listening posts on the border or South Korea and North Korea. These were language experts in Korean. So they would go up there and they would just, in shifts, sit in these little huts right on the border, and listen to the enemy.So my job was to go over there and visit them. So I'd go to Korea and visit them, a live ministry, come back and do visitation, do a lot of counseling, but no chapel responsibilities during that three years. My two oldest say it was the best time. They-- not just because it's Hawaii, but it was good family time, I was gone for short periods of time not long periods of time; they enjoyed the beach, so they learned to surf and do all sorts of things at the beach. So it was really a tremendous time for us.
Zarbock: It doesn't snow much there, either.
Milliner: Doesn't snow, good weather. All the family wants to visit you in Hawaii, so we had a lot of visitors.
Zarbock: Hadn't thought of that.
Milliner: I made 04 when I was there, so I came up for my next promotion, so I was promoted to 04. And then they put me in another job there where I was in charge of another chaplain.
Zarbock: 04 is?
Milliner: 04 is Lieutenant Commander. So then, I was in charge of one other chaplain, a Lieutenant. And so I became the group chaplain, and I was a group chaplain for a year. Taking care of-- at that time we were taking care of about three battalions.
Zarbock: All on the same island?
Milliner: All on the same island. Yes. Same place, at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Zarbock: Well, we're going to sorrowfully take you away from Hawaii.
Milliner: Take me away from Hawaii, and then I went to Groton, Connecticut.
Zarbock: Navy base.
Milliner: Navy base, yes. Did not want to go to Groton, Connecticut; leaving Hawaii and going up north. So we went to Groton, Connecticut, and went from the nice 80, 90 degree weather, to freezing weather in Groton, Connecticut, and there I went to Submarine Base. I had a chapel at Submarine Base, managed the chapel for a period of three years. Led the command religious program at the chapel. But I found the Submarine community, a lot of people don't know that much about Submarine community, but they are gone all the time. These crews go out for six months, they come back for six months, go out for six months, come back for six months, just on a continual cycle. And when they're gone, they're gone, they're under the water, so they don't have a lot of port calls. The family stresses were tremendous for Submarine community.
Zarbock: I never thought of that.
Milliner: So I did a lot of marriage counseling. In fact, I worked on a Doctor of Ministry degree in counseling. And I did a research paper on providing a proactive ministry to Submarine families. And during that time, we developed programs for young people, for children, and for married couples. The chapel became, really, a community that provided support. The chapel was right in the middle of the housing area, so we provided support to these families when their husbands were gone. Tremendous opportunity to reach families and help families during very difficult times. So that was a learning experience, learning about submarines, and the Submarine force, and how every community is different, and how all their needs are different, and how you have to tailor the ministry to that community and to those particularly needs.So I was there for three years and then I was selected for school, so I went to Newport, Rhode Island, to do an advance course for a year, and attended Salve Regina University, and got a Masters in Human Resources Management. So that took a year, Newport, Rhode Island. Then after that, I came here, to Lejeune. I asked for Marines, came here to Lejeune to-- at that time, I was still Lieutenant Commander 04, and I came to my most difficult assignment. And it was a new command, called the Second Surveillance Reconnaissance Intelligence Group. They combined all the intelligence groups into one community, so you had the recon folks that do the long intelligence, you had the people that would fly in and go behind the lines and do deep intelligence, you had the intel community that would look at and evaluate the intelligence. You had all these units together; they formed one group. You had the radio battalion folks that would be the listeners, and you had all the communication people.
Zarbock: Here at Lejeune.
Milliner: Here at Lejeune. So I came here, and because it consisted of recon and deep intelligence, they were really into PT and really into hiking; I'd just left a year of school, but I didn't do much of that. So I came here and they were doing ten-mile, 15-mile, 20-mile hikes every quarter, here in this moisture, and the sun and humidity. We went every Friday; we would do a three or four mile run, sometimes-- one time, we did an eight mile run on a Friday. So it was challenging.
Zarbock: Woe be unto you if you dropped out of it.
Milliner: Yes, oh yes. Oh, yes. You better stay in there. You better run with them; you better hike with them, no excuses. If you didn't, then you lose your respect; you had to be out there. So, that was hard, because it was a different type of challenge. The challenge wasn't the ministry, the challenge was to keep up, physically, with these young people.
Zarbock: What size unit are you talking about?
Milliner: At that time we had-- that was about...
Zarbock: Couple of companies?
Milliner: Oh, no. No, we had battalions. We had radio battalion, com battalion, each battalion, about 400. Headquarters battalion, intel. I would say, probably 1,500, 2,000 people. And I had two other chaplains underneath me. So, I was a senior chaplain, and I had two other chaplains. I had two other chaplains who took care of two of the battalions; I took care of headquarters battalion. The ministry was primarily counseling, a lot of counseling. We went on short deployments to Korea, but primarily, the challenge was the physical aspects of it all. When you're out there, hiking with kids that are 19, 20, 21 and 22 years old, you know, 38 years old, and you're going on a 20-mile hike, you know, it is-- it takes everything you've got, to do that.
Zarbock: I've got to ask, a 20-mile hike, carrying what?
Milliner: Oh, you carried about, I don't know, 30, 40 pounds I guess, pack. You'd always have to carry a pack.
Zarbock: So you did carry a pack.
Milliner: Oh yes; you have to do everything they do.
Zarbock: Helmet, no rifle.
Milliner: Helmet, no rifle. Helmet. And I had a staff that was given to me by a chaplain, I had a staff that was about three feet long, and I used that, and people always would know where the chaplain was. So I would go up and down the line, you know, encouraging folks, and they would always see the chaplain out there. I thought that was so important for them to see that the chaplain was out there. A lot of time they'd talk to you, you'd come by there and they'd have a problem and they'd say, "Chaplain, what about this? Can I see you some time?" So, you make those connections so they know who you are. So, if they're having problems, then they can seek you out. And that's so important with Marines, you know, is for you to be out there, they see you, and they know where your office is; they come and see you. So yeah, your credibility, your reputation is being built. So those were difficult times because of the physical requirements. But thank God I was able to keep it up. I think playing sports in high school and all that-- really, getting into playing-- really helped me.
Zarbock: Probably lost a little weight, too, didn't you?
Milliner: Lost some weight.
Zarbock: Or turned it into muscle, more likely.
Milliner: Yeah. But it was a great experience for me to learn about what's important to the Marines. You know, to the Marines, that physical, those physical abilities are just as important as anything else. It's part of their teamwork. Unit cohesion. You know, doing it together. You know, suffering together. So, I think that really helped me later on, when I became a more senior chaplain and was assigned to Marines. So when I left that assignment, I made 05 at that assignment, which is Commander, then I went to the Naval hospital here. At that time, I was-- they ran out of money, so they couldn't move you anywhere, so they asked me if I would stay in the area, I said "Certainly." I liked it here.So I went to Naval hospital here at Camp Lejeune. So I was the hospital chaplain for two years. And again, totally different environment. You are the chaplain of the hospital; you visit patients; you respond to the death and dying at the emergency room; you provide classes on grief; you provide classes, marriage classes. Just typical hospital ministry. So I did that for two years. Which I think really helped me when I went to Iraq, because I could draw on that experience working with medical folks, working with the death and dying, and working with people that are sick, so I was exposed to that for those two years. So I think that really helped me to gain more knowledge of how to deal with people that are suffering.
Zarbock: Did you leave the hospital assignment, and then the order to Iraq?
Milliner: No. I left the hospital, I went to New River Air Station. New River is about, what?, ten miles from here.
Milliner: Air Station. I was there for two years.
Zarbock: How many chaplains are there, by the way? I was thinking about going to New River, myself.
Milliner: Yes. New River, you have two at the chapel, and then you have three at the air wing.
Milliner: Most of the ones at Air Wing are deployed. You have two assigned to the chapel, one Protestant, one Catholic, and they run the chapel program. So that was very similar to what I did at Groton, Connecticut; I ran the Protestant program. So we did everything you would do in a typical church. The preaching, the teaching, the Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and the like.
Zarbock: Religious festivals, and that type of thing.
Milliner: Yes. So I did that for two years, and I made 06 when I was there. So I made 06; it was time to move on. So he said, "You've had a lot of experience with Marines. I need a chaplain with a division in Okinawa. If you know anything about Marines, division Marines are the ones that are at the point of spear. They're the first ones to go to war, first ones to fight; these are what we call the grunts. So I went to Okinawa, and was assigned to 3rd Marine Division at Okinawa for two years, with Marines there.
Zarbock: And again you're not sitting in an air conditioned office, in a comfy chair.
Milliner: No, no. That was a challenging experience, 'cause you're in the field a lot. You made deployments again to Japan, artillery went to Japan, so you went to Japan, you lived out there with the artillery. And of course, when artillery goes to field, they have nothing. You're out there in the snow, freezing to death for weeks at a time.
Zarbock: Was your family with you in Okinawa?
Milliner: Yes. My family as there for the entire three years. At that time, my daughter had already gone off to college; my son was off at college, so I only had one son with me. One son at Okinawa with me. It was a good assignment for the family, but it was challenging for me with operational Marines; lot of deployments. We went to Thailand every year for deployment, stay in the field during all this time. Went to Korea, went to mainland Japan, went out with the artillery, went to all the field exercises. So I did that, and then they moved me up to the head job, which is the senior chaplain job of Okinawa. So I was in charge of all the operational chaplains that were in Okinawa and Hawaii. So by that time, I probably had probably about 25 chaplains underneath me.
Zarbock: Again, how old are you, and what year are we talking?
Milliner: That time, I was probably 40 years old, 40, 41, somewhere in that time. Still doing the running.
Zarbock: And the year was?
Milliner: This was, let me see. Wow, this is '93, I think, around '93, yeah.
Zarbock: You're 40 years of age; if you were a "civilian" pastor, Lubbock, Texas, I just picked that, would you be running eight miles in the morning, and being...
Milliner: No, no.
Zarbock: Have the responsibility of a large number of chaplains?
Milliner: A lot, that's right.
Zarbock: And, first of all, you're being demanded in several areas. One, physical, two, administrative responsibilities, three, you've got your, in a generic way, priestly function.
Milliner: Yes. Yes, you have, and the challenge at that point, I think, is the leadership challenge. When you have so many chaplains, you have 25 chaplains, so you're responsible that they receive the training that they need. A lot of chaplains had adjustment difficulties, so you had to help them with their adjustments. These were all-- most of these were new chaplains, 03 Lieutenants. So you might have to encourage them, you have to guide them; sometimes they don't understand the military system, so you've got to teach them how to adjust to the military. Some of them don't want to PT, don't want to hike and all those things, so you have to encourage them. Sometimes you have to advise them, "This is not the place for you; you probably need to get out." So, it's a challenging leadership job when you have so many chaplains, and you have to make some tough decisions about which ones you recommend that could stay on active duty, which ones probably need to go home. And then you have some chaplains that get in trouble. You have chaplains, for one reason or another, you know, make some bad mistakes. You know, or errors of judgment.
Zarbock: And I'm going to say something that you haven't said, and that is, all this time when you have the demand placed upon you physical, intellectual, spiritual, administrative demands, you're being graded, yourself.
Milliner: That's correct. Exactly right.
Zarbock: You can do anything you want, as long as you don't make a mistake.
Milliner: That's right. That's right, and people don't realize that in the military, you are responsible to a military commander. You work for military commanders. So I worked, at that time, for a General, a two-star General; he was my boss. And he evaluated me on my performance.
Zarbock: This is tape number 2, Chaplain Milliner. We're at Camp Lejeune. Today's the 2nd of May in the Year 2007. I'm Paul Zarbock. Well, Chaplain, where do we go from here, with you?
Milliner: See, we ended up, last time I think we were in Okinawa, Japan.
Zarbock: That's correct.
Milliner: When I was over there as a division chaplain with a division. Then I was the MEF chaplain, which included all the senior chaplains at Okinawa, Japan and Hawaii; so I visited most of those chaplains. And then, when I left there, I came back here to Lejeune, became the 2 MEF chaplain, which is the senior chaplain for all the operating chaplains here at Lejeune; so all of the operating chaplains here at Lejeune, including the ones at New River, and including the ones up at Cherry Point.
Zarbock: So, how many chaplains were there?
Milliner: Oh, we, probably, about 55, 60 chaplains, that came under me, and you had 406s. And during my course of arrival, we received orders that we'd be going to Iraq. So, my first six months was getting all the people together, making sure we had all the equipment we needed, making sure we had all the personnel we needed, all the billets. We had to request reserve billets, we had to request reserve chaplains to come onboard to deploy with us. So we had to do all the training to make sure the reserve chaplains were ready to go. We had to get all the chaplains' assistants trained. They had to go to the rifle range, making sure they were ready to go, because chaplains do not carry weapons, so our assistants had to be trained in the use of the right weapons. So we had all the training to do for about six months, and then we, from there, the entire MEF, under a two-star, went to Iraq to Camp Fallujah.
Zarbock: The date is?
Milliner: The date is-- this is 2007; this is 2005, January of 2005.
Zarbock: What was the political and military situation in Iraq when you arrived?
Milliner: When I arrived, they'd just finished clearing out Fallujah. Fallujah is hot-bed, of course, in Anbar Province; mostly the Sunnis and the insurgents. It is the place where they've had the most difficulties. Fallujah was considered to be the most challenging place in Iraq.
Zarbock: But that campaign had just finished when you arrived?
Milliner: Yes, that campaign to clear out Fallujah had just completed. So we arrived and our job was to maintain that security in Fallujah and to expand the security all the way over to the border of Iran, all the vast desert, and all that was Anbar Province. So we had to provide the security for that whole area, our Marines. So we were spread out.
Zarbock: What size?
Milliner: We had about, oh, my goodness.
Zarbock: You got a division or--?
Milliner: We had what they call a "division minus;" we had an MLG minus; we had Army National Guard; we had Army that came under us. I had over 100 chaplains that came under me. We covered the whole western part of Iraq. Our force was called Multinational Force West. So everything west of Baghdad belonged to us. So it was a new experience for me, in that number one, I was in a combat environment; I was at Fallujah, but I had chaplains spread out everywhere in the west. And some of these were Army National Guards; some of these were Army Actives. Then you had the Navy Seabees, and then-- so I had to visit them all, I had to provide ministry support and encouragement to these chaplains.I had to make sure religious ministry took place in all these areas for our Protestant, for our Roman Catholic, for our Jewish personnel. So I had to bring a rabbi in twice a year, make sure we had a rabbi there. I had to make sure we could get the rabbi out to all the sites. So it was not just the leadership part of it but it was making sure that religious ministry took place at all these sites. If we had sites without a chaplain, then I had to make sure we could get a chaplain there. We had a shortage of priests, so I had to make sure that we could get a priest out to areas that priests normally would not go to. So, in other words, you had to work out transportation, helicopters and all that to get them there. So that was probably my most challenging job since I've been in the Navy, and it was the most rewarding. Being with Marines in combat was-- I guess, always-- you're in a war. I've always said that if I had anything really rewarding in the military, it be with Marines in combat.
Zarbock: Scratch that apart for me. Why did you say that?
Milliner: Because Marines are considered the best warriors, and to be with them, in those moments, to provide spiritual ministry, to provide pastoral care, to provide support to them, these 18, 19, 20-year-old kids, who are out there risking their lives every single day, to carry out a mission given to them by someone superior; I mean, I have never been impressed in my life with the quality of young men and young women that I saw in Iraq, in combat, every single day risking their lives. They'd come in from patrol, they'd sleep, they'd go back out and do another patrol, not knowing if that's going to be their last day or night, because you just never knew if you were going to get hit by an IED or not. We had casualties all the time. We had over 2000 wounded; I don't know how many killed when I was there. And our chaplains were always there. Our chaplains would provide ministry at all of these sites, in all circumstances.
Zarbock: Did you have a direct hands-on obligation for the wounded, or for the families of the deceased?
Milliner: Not for the families of the deceased, because they were back here. So we had chaplains back here to take care of the families. Our job was to take care of the wounded. Once they came into the Aid Station, a chaplain was called immediately. So, whenever we-- a helicopter, we could hear the helicopter come in, we knew we had wounded. So the chaplains immediately would gather at the Aid Station, and we provided ministry. If they were killed in action, then we would-- and if they were Catholic, of course we'd get the priest. The priest would do the anointing of the sick for those. We'd provide spiritual ministry, any kind of pastoral care. We stayed with them. We had a chaplain that would go with them in the operating room and stand there at the operating room while they're doing the surgery, offering prayers.And often overlooked-- we also provided ministry to the staff, to the nurses, to the doctors, to all these people that were providing ministry to these young men. I'll never forget an experience I had. I was sitting on my porch. I built a little porch-- we had a little wooden hut-- I built a little porch in the back, so the Marines could come over there and just talk. And the doctor came over, a surgeon came over. And I'll never forget looking at him-- I didn't know why he came over, he just started talking, and I looked down at his shoes and he had spots of blood all over his shoes and blood down his pants, and he started talking, and he said, "Chaplain, I just lost my first Marine." He said, "In fact, I lost my first person in surgery." He said, "He came in wounded." He said, "I had his heart in my hand," and he said, "I tried my best to find out the artery, which-- where the bleeding was coming from, and I could not find it." And this surgeon, an experienced surgeon, had to tell his story. He was hurting. He'd lost somebody on the table; he could not save a life. And that reminded me that I needed to make sure our chaplains minister to these caregivers; that these people are over there every single day. They're seeing this every day, and they're seeing it in 18, 19, 20-year-old kids. So we said, "It's not just the wounded, it's the people that are providing care for them." And of course we had those people that worked in Mortuary Affairs. And Mortuary Affairs is different in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps, Mortuary Affairs people, they have to go out and retrieve the body parts, as well as come back and process those body parts. So these people have to go out to the site, retrieve all the body parts, no matter what condition these body parts are in, come back, then have to process every single body part. And these Marines would come over and sit on my deck and want to talk. I'll never forget one explosion. It was so well planned by the Iraqis. They had a gathering in a camp. These Marines got together for a formation, and all of a sudden a bomb went off, and the Marines began to spread out, and as they spread out, they began to hit triggering devices, and as they hit the triggering devices, more Marines were wounded. And the team went in there to extract body parts. And these people were telling me they saw body parts in trees, they saw them in buildings, they saw them everywhere; and their job was to find every body part. And they'd come back, they wanted to talk. So they sought out the chaplain and wanted to tell their story. What a lot of people don't realize, is that when they tell their story, it also becomes your memory. See, that's why I tell Marines here, "Be careful when you come back and how much you tell your spouse, because there's secondary trauma, and secondary trauma is they don't have to experience it, they can experience it through you." And so, when they come back and tell their story, you find out yourself you're dreaming the same dream, and reliving the same experience, and you weren't even there.
Zarbock: Chaplain, let me turn this lamp on you. Who was your chaplain?
Milliner: That is a question that I have asked, many, many times; in fact, I wrote an article on that very subject. I wrote an article that said, "Who does the chaplain talk to?" Because there's really no one. In our camp, we had no psychologists, we had no mental health workers. We had fellow chaplains. Oftentimes, chaplains are hesitant to talk to another chaplain, because they don't want to come across as weak. They don't want to come across as: they can't handle the situation. So they keep it inside.
Zarbock: Plus, there is a military status differential.
Milliner: Plus, you got the military status. So oftentimes, chaplains internalize it, internalize it and cover it up and deny it. And I think that's a challenge. I encourage people, since I've been back, as much as possible, to get help, find people to talk to, find people that are not chaplains to talk to. But over there, you don't have that option. Over there, you hope to find some chaplain that you can trust, and a friend that you can just sit around and talk to, and share your experiences with.Fortunately, I had a good staff, and I had some chaplains that I could sit down and we could talk and we could debrief each other, especially after crises and after deaths. Give you a good example of the quality of ministry that was being provided. We had a truck in Fallujah-- we had-- our women had to go down to the sites to be at these camps-- when women would come in, they went in at Fallujah, they had to be searched, and they had to be searched by females. So we had to have female Marines to go down there and search them. Well, a truck would gather them from Fallujah and take them down there. But this truck was going down there and a bomber in a truck came out from the side of the road, and hit the truck right in the gas tank and exploded the truck, and we lost five female Marines killed, and we had about three or four wounded severely. They came back to the camp. We provided ministry to them, and then, everybody gathered around and provided ministry to everybody that we could. The very next night, that truck was going out again with the women. These women were scared to death. They knew what happened the night before; they knew it could happen again. One of our chaplains-- we always prayed with the convoys; any time a convoy goes out, we always have a chaplain there for you. So a convoy doesn't leave the camp unless a chaplain meets them and offers prayer. This chaplain prays with them, and then he did the expected, he got in the back of that vehicle. He said, "I'm going to ride with you." He rode down to Fallujah, through all the dangerous streets of Fallujah, as they dropped off the women at the four different sites, and then he came back in the truck, and he gave a blessing to each one as they left. And I thought, many times, I said, "That's real ministry." He didn't just say, "Go; God bless you." He went with them, because he knew that they needed that support. And those are the type of things that happen in war that people never see.
Zarbock: That's a real shepherd.
Milliner: A real shepherd, a real shepherd. And I went to visit a Marine that had just lost a leg in Fallujah. He just came in, hit a IED, lost his leg. I went in to see him. He was in a lot of pain. I walked over there and started talking to him. He said, "Chaplain, thank you for coming." He said, "But can you please find my battalion chaplain and tell him I'm here?" See, I'm a chaplain, but I wasn't his chaplain. He wanted his battalion chaplain. And I went out the door, and the battalion chaplain just happened to be arriving. He walked in there, that Marine was in pain, lost his leg-- he looked up, and a smile came across his face, and he reached out and hugged his battalion chaplain. Because this battalion chaplain went with him on patrols; this battalion chaplain went wherever he went; same dangers. That battalion chaplain was-- the bond that takes place in those type of circumstances cannot be described. And this chaplain was there with him, and for him to say, "Yes, I'm important-- " "You're an OC6 chaplain, but you know what? I want my lieutenant, I want my battalion chaplain because he's there with me." And that's the kind of things that take place in combat, when that chaplain's out there with him, day in and day out, suffering, going through all the dangers they go through, and is with him; eat with him, talk with him, informally. When they want to talk, he's there to talk with them, about whatever they want to talk about.That's why I say it's the greatest ministry. Challenging, because you endure the same dangers they do. Every time you go out in convoy, you don't know if you're going to come back alive. Every time you get in a helicopter-- I've traveled all over western Iraq, and I don't like to fly in helicopters, and I was in them all the time; two or three days a week, I was flying somewhere. But, to go and visit those-- for me, my primary ministry was to the chaplains, to encourage them, to give them support-- "Hey, do you want to talk to me? Anything I can do for you?"-- and help them through their difficult times.
Zarbock: What's you general feeling about the Iraqi people and their attitude towards coalition forces?
Milliner: Where we were, in Fallujah-- I can only speak for my experience-- we were making tremendous progress. We were opening up the doors of communication. We were setting up camps outside of our main gated community. We would take units downtown and put them in storefronts, and they lived there during the week. They would come back, maybe for a weekend and go back out there. So they were having a dialogue with the community all the time; they were out there with them. We took toys; we took Beanie Babies. They'd bring in Beanie Babies; they'd send them to our office, and we would take them downtown and give them to the kids; kids love Beanie Babies. Other kind of toys, we'd take them down there. And the kids would gather. I'll never forget, we'd go down there and the kids would come but the mothers would always stay off, and as you'd go for months and months, the first thing you know the mothers started to come up. Then the fathers began to come up. Little by little, you're making those connections. And we saw that taking place.And now I read in the paper that it's really taking place in Fallujah. They've got councils together now, the people are beginning to communicate. And that's how it started. It started with-- there was no trust; they didn't trust us-- it started with us going out into the community, not staying in a camp, but our Marines living out there with them, walking up and down the streets, giving them little gifts, giving them candy. If you can't speak the same language, you can smile. And that really made a difference. And like the General says, winning the hearts and the minds. And that's a long process, it doesn't take place overnight, because you got the insurgents that are there saying, "Don't you dare talk to Americans."
Zarbock: Or we will kill you.
Milliner: Or we'll kill you. So, they're very hesitant. But when we would go down there and we'd give them things and we helped them-- and they had their wounded, they'd come to our camp. We took care of their wounded. And we'd go over there and we'd ask them-- they're Muslims-- "Do you want to start to pray?" They would ask us to pray. So they were Muslims, but we would offer prayers to them and they were very appreciative. So yes, it was a challenging time, because you can't get away from the death and the dying; you can't get away from the suffering, but you find that these young men and women, they want their chaplains; they want spiritual ministry.My general asked me, one time he said, "Chaplain," he said, "why are we sending a rabbi out to Al-Qanat?" Al-Qanat was way out there, about a four-hour helicopter ride. He said, "Why are we sending a rabbi way out there?" I said, "General, because we have two Jews out there. Those two Jews have been here six months, and they haven't had anyone from their faith visit them. We're going to make sure that they have somebody." And that is my job. I'm a Baptist, but my job is to make sure that all of their religious needs are taken care of. So we got that rabbi out there, and that rabbi saw those two Jews, and he spent Passover with those two Jews. And those two Jews will probably never forget that that rabbi visited them way out there in Al-Qanat, where no one wanted to come to. So that was critical, to recognize that these Marines had religious needs, and our job was to make sure that they're met, to get our priests wherever we could get them.
Zarbock: Chaplain, what was it like to leave Iraq and re-enter life? You came back to Lejeune?
Milliner: Came back here.
Zarbock: Okay, what was it like? You flew in to Wilmington, was it?
Milliner: We flew in to Cherry Point; Cherry Point, got a bus, and came back here to Lejeune.
Zarbock: What was it like?
Milliner: Let me just say that over a period of time, it was stressful, very, very difficult, for several reasons. One is, people don't understand the mystical connection that takes place among warriors. When you're in combat, you become very close to people; you become very close to those people that you work with, day in and day out, your staff people; you're in danger together. There's incoming, and you run the same places together. And there's that connection, and that's why these Marines, when they get wounded, what do they say? They want to go back to their unit; they want to go back to be with their people, that band of brothers, because you share the same experiences.When you come back here, you go to your family, and yes, you miss your family and you love your wife; you love your children, but there's that mystical connection, that band of brothers, that you miss. And that's something that people figure out real nice. That's a powerful feeling that you can't recapture. And for a lot of people it's a challenge for them, and some of them try to recapture it in other ways. So I found that very, very difficult, making that adjustment with the family, making changes. You get used to a simple life. You're over there; you live in a little room. You come back, you got all the responsibilities of the house, again; you got all the other responsibilities that you've got to take over-- that's a challenge. Things that happened in combat, you still got the memories, you got all those things you got to deal with. I didn't like noise, loud noise. We had guns all the time firing around us. I come back and I found myself jumping because of all the noise. So you got to get used to all those things again. And your whole priorities of life change. You've seen people suffer; you've seen people die. What's really important in life? You come back, and people say, "Send this report to us, send this report," and you say, "Is that important?" Higher headquarters thinks this is the most important thing, but you come back and say, "No, that's not important." You know? What is important, is ministering to people that really have needs. So, I think your priorities change a lot, too, when you've been in combat. You come back, and you recognize these people need all they can provide them. And our job here at this base, now, since I'm over here at the base, is to provide support to the families. We do everything we can, to provide support to our Marine families, no matter what the problems are. I tell our chaplains we will minister to them, we will find help for them, we will find referrals for them, we will provide ministry to Marine families because their young spouses are over there in combat.
Zarbock: I'm going to exercise an interviewer's prerogative and change a little bit. Off camera, I asked you if you would mind recounting a warm-hearted experience, and then swing the pendulum the other way, and give me-- or maybe you have already-- an incident that was very sad and is imprinted on you, and then tell me something that's absolutely ridiculous that's happened in your professional life: the good, the bad and the foolish.
Milliner: Okay; the good, the bad and the foolish. Let me start off with the foolish. You asked me if anyone has asked me to do something that I consider unethical or against my principles. And I worked for a commanding officer at a time, and there was a Marine that came to see me, because they wanted to be out of the service because of homosexuality. And at that time, there was an investigation going on, because they thought there was a ring of homosexuals in this military unit. This Marine came to see me, and talked about his homosexuality, and he told me to keep it in confidence. He didn't want to be out of the service; he just wanted me to hear him and he wanted to share with me. He visited me on two other occasions, and finally on about the third occasion he says, "Chaplain," he says, "I just can't adjust to the military." He says, "I really want out." He said, "I really want you to report it to the Command and ask them if I can get out." So I reported it to the Command.The commander then told me, he says, "Well, he's part of this ring, I know he is. I want you to investigate him. I want you to begin to ask him questions, and I want you to give me names of people he's associated with. I want you to give me places they go to. I want you to do this investigative work to find out about all their contacts in town." And I told him, I said, "Sir, I cannot do that." I said, "I am a chaplain. All I'm doing is telling you that he wants to come forward and he wants to be out of the military. What you do with it is up to you." He says, "Chaplain, I'm telling you right now, as a commanding officer, I need this information. We have Marines that are involved in this ring, and you can get the information and I want you to investigate these people and talk to these people that are coming here for counsel."
Zarbock: He's now applying the military model on you.
Milliner: That's right, that's right.
Zarbock: "Your rank is such and such, and my rank is higher than yours."
Milliner: That's right, that's right.
Zarbock: "And I'm giving you an order."
Milliner: "I'm a Marine Colonel, you are a Lieutenant-Commander, and Chaplain, this information is critical to us and to our mission. I've got to have it." And I had to stand my ground, and say, "Sir, I'm sorry, I cannot do that. You do what you have to with me, but the truth of the matter is, my chaplain will back me up, that I am bound by privileged communication. He came to me; he told me what I have reported to you. I reported to you exactly what he said. Beyond that, I cannot say another thing." I said, "Now if you want to talk to my superiors, you may do so." But he did not talk to my superiors. He let it go. And I was lucky. I was lucky that he didn't hold it against me, and I think at the end, he was probably pleased that I didn't give in.But it was a lot of pressure; when you have a commanding officer saying, "You do this," and you're looking at your whole future. You say, "Well, I'm a 04 in the Navy; my family's well being is dependent upon my career, and upon my paycheck and whatever. If he writes me a bad fitness report, I'm out, I'll never be promoted." It's a lot of pressure. You have to think and say, "Well, what's more important here?" Is it your own personal values, your own principles, your own calling? You make those decisions based on that, and you say, whatever happens because of that-- it happens. And so, I made that decision, and I'm glad I did. And every chaplain will make that decision; sometime in his career, chaplains will have those opportunities to decide what's more important. Is it career or the calling?
Zarbock: I remember a quote from Dag Hammarskjold, way back when, when he was head of the UN, and he was referring to somebody as a blown egg, lightly floating on the ocean of indecision.
Milliner: I didn't see that.
Zarbock: And whichever way the wind blew, that's the direction he would go.
Zarbock: Well, tell me about the good and the bad.
Milliner: Okay. The bad, I think-- for me, the bad-- it's almost a mixture of good and bad, in that in my job in Iraq, I also had the responsibility to visit our wounded in Landstuhl, Germany, and when I came back at Brooke Army Hospital in Bethesda. I think the bad, for me, was visiting Brooke Army Hospital. Brooke Army Hospital is where we took our burn victims; some amputees, but primarily the burn victims. I saw some of the victims in Iraq, but we only saw them briefly.When I visited them at Brooke Army, I saw the real effects of what those burns did to these people. I saw the disfigurement of their faces. I saw one of our Marines burned on 90 percent of his body; a miracle he was alive, but what kind of life he was going to ever have, I don't know. I saw the pain of family members. I saw Marines trying to struggle whether or not they were going to live, or die. Every day to them was a decision: "Whether or not I want to live today or whether or not I'm just going to give up now." And to me, that was the bad. It was-- I was thankful for people that have a calling to provide care in those environments. I couldn't do that, but there's people that are there, every single day, providing the care to those people. But to me, seeing those 19, 20, 21-year-old people coming back from war, in those kind of circumstances, knowing what their future is going to be like, was probably the most difficult.
Zarbock: And a facial burn turns you into a monster.
Zarbock: You don't look like a human being.
Milliner: Exactly right, exactly right.
Zarbock: Really, it looks like something out of science fiction.
Milliner: Yes, yes, yes. Not only does it impact them, it impacts the entire extended family. It impacts their families, their spouses. Some of their spouses leave them as a result of their experience.
Zarbock: If they have children.
Milliner: If they have children. The struggles of parents being there, and the Marine feeling dependent upon the mother, when they don't want to be dependent on the mother anymore; they thought they got away from that, and now they're dependent upon everybody for being dressed, to eat, to everything. It's just-- to me, that was the hardest, that was the hardest experience. I made three visits, there, and that was the most difficult.I think the best experiences were my experiences in Iraq, when I went to the surrounding areas where senior officers normally didn't go, and I would fly in and make visits to the Marines. These were the small camps, these were out in the middle of the desert. You might have 15 or 20 Marines out there and we would fly in with a Black Hawk helicopter. We would sit down, be there for two or three hours, and I'd get to visit the Marines, sit behind a table and just talk to them, hear their stories. And to see the smile on their face that someone came that far to visit them and to have prayer with them-- to me, those are the kind of memories I want to cherish, those opportunities to go out to those what we called the outpost; the outpost way, they don't have any conveniences. If you go into some of our camps in Iraq, you will find Burger King, you will find pizza places. Civilians have moved in, and have built these things. We didn't have that at Fallujah, but you had it at Al-Asad, you had it at Baghdad: had a swimming pool, they had all those things. But you go down to an outpost, there's nothing; they have nothing at all. And when they have visitors, when they have a chaplain that's come in, they really appreciate it. And I think those are my most precious memories.
Zarbock: I got two more questions. First of all, I'm going to say that I've told other people whom I've interviewed, facetiously, that the one thing that I'm going to offer you is immortality, via the electronic component here. Once this goes on DVD, you will never be a day older, you will never look any different than you look right now, and when your grandchildren see you, they're going to hear your voice in addition to see your gestures and hear your speech patterns and your vocabulary. So with that, immortality, before I get to my final question, Chaplain, what have you learned from all of this thing called your life-- your education, the obligations that have come your way, the rewards and I'm sure some painful times? But, what message would you care to give? For somebody who sees this tape 50 years from now, maybe 60 years from now, what would you like to say? What have you learned?
Milliner: That's really a tough question, because we go through life, and we learn a lot of things. I think in recent times, the thing that has come across to me the most, is that life is not always fair. We all have experiences in life. A lot of those experiences can be negative. People go through divorces, people suffer sicknesses, people have disease, people go through war. It hits families, and sometimes there's no reason for it. One person may eat healthy and still get cancer or still get sick. Others will not. So, I look at this and say-- I've seen Marines on the same patrol, one gets killed, the other one, not a scratch-- and you think, "Well, life's not really fair."But how do we respond to that? And to me, that is the key to life. How do we respond to life, how do we respond to the situations that come to us in life, to the challenges of life? And we all have those choices to make. Are we going to respond in a positive way or in a negative way? Are we going to take everything we've learned and say, "All right, I don't understand why bad things happen to good people, but I'm going to be positive, I'm going to do everything that I can, to help others to make my life of value, to make my life of worth; I'm going to live a principled life, I'm going to make my life count." And to me, to me, that's what's important, is that attitude. And that's where faith comes in. Faith comes in, and God says to us, that I can do all things through him; and he can give us the strength to face these crises of life. And for those of religious faith, we can turn to God and say, "God, I don't understand." I'm like I'm back at Kabul. Why do the righteous suffer? Why do these problems come our way? And I may not have answers. People come to chaplains all the time for answers, and I'm here to tell you, I don't now how many times in life I'd say, "I don't have any answers for you; I don't have any answers." Life sometime is unfair. But I can tell you this: God is available to help us; God is available to sustain us. And we have communities and support systems around us that can do the same thing. So I think what I would like to say, is our reaction to what life brings us is the most important thing, and turning your faith to God and being positive.
Zarbock: Final request. If you look right into the camera, you're now going to talk to your grandchildren or your great-grandchildren, and make them a wish-- what would you wish?
Milliner: Make them a wish. Well I will not wish for my children or my grandchildren a life without difficulties or a life without challenge or a life without pain, because those are learning experiences. I think what I would wish for, for my children, is that they find peace, they will find peace within their family, peace with a spouse, peace with God, and I would hope that they find meaning in life. The most important thing, I think, about in this life, whether it's short or long, is to find meaning, to find value, and how to find that meaning. If you find that meaning, then I think it brings life fulfillment and completion. And I hope my children and my grandchildren find that meaning and that value to life.
Zarbock: Thank you Captain.
Milliner: Thank you.