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Interview with Alan N. Keiran, December 17, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Alan N. Keiran, December 17, 2003
December 17, 2003
Chaplain Kieran explains how he was drafted into the Navy and was trained as a cryptology technician. He became a chaplain later and requested to be returned to active duty. Chaplain Kieran explains that the most important duty in his line of work is simply to be there.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Kieran, Alan N. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  12/17/2003 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  60 minutes


Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person assigned to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. This is a continuation of the Military Chaplain's Oral History project. Today is the 17th of December in the year 2003. We're in McLain, Virginia. Our interviewee is Alan N. Kieran. Good morning, how are you?

Kieran: Fine thank you, how are you?

Zarbock: I'm well. I'm going to start off in the traditional way and ask you what individual or series of individuals or events or series of events led you into identifying the ministry as a profession?

Kieran: Well I have to go back just a little bit to getting drafted in 1971. In 1971, I was an engineering major at Northeastern University and changed majors and during one of my coop semesters when I was working full time, I decided to take some classes to catch up with the class that I was in so I could change my major over to business administration. The Draft Board sent me a nice little letter saying you are now classified 1A. So I went to the Navy Reserve and took a battery of exams and got a very high score and was asked to go into cryptology. I did that. I went into the Navy as a cryptologist, went to boot camp in January of 1972 to Cory Station in Pensacola in the summer of 1972 and went through all the schools and then finally ended up finishing my two years of active duty as a reservist over in St. Vito de Normani, Italy working as a cryptology technician.

I got off active duty the 24th of January, two days later met my wife at Northeastern University where I reenrolled and had a significant spiritual experience in the summer of 1974 where my wife and I both I made deep professions of faith and were baptized into the church by our pastor.

Zarbock: What church and how old were you?

Kieran: I was 22, my wife was 20. We joined the First Baptist Church of Gardner, Massachusetts and Dr. Ruth Thompson prayed with us to receive Christ. The Sunday the 1st of September 1974 we were baptized together in the church and joined the church and the 8th of September 1974, we were married. I went back to school that fall and realizing I was veteran from Massachusetts, the counselors suggested I might want to transfer to a state school where I didn't have to pay tuition as a Vietnam GRA veteran. So we did that, we went to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and in the fall of 1975 beginning my senior year, I was an economics major, natural resource economics, God spoke to me in prayer one night and said you're going to be a Navy chaplain.

I was drilling as a 2nd Class Petty Officer in the Reserve unit in Springfield, Massachusetts at the time. So I approached the denomination, talked to the senior leadership and they said I had to go to seminary first and I had to pastor a church for a while. So I started the process, enrolled at Eastern Baptist Seminary in 1976, was there for three years, assistant pastor of a church for two years of those three.

I went to Chaplain School after my second year, after I was commissioned as an Ensign in the Reserve as a, what they call, Theological Student Program Officer, went to Newport for about seven weeks in the summer of 1978 and then that fall met Chaplain Black who became the Chief of Chaplains and is now my boss at the U.S. Senate in the Philadelphia Navy yard. A year later when I was pastoring a church in upstate New York (unintelligible), I was a Reserve chaplain and was in prayer one night and felt the Lord saying it's time to put your letter in.

This was about June of 1980, I put my letter in to come on active duty, request active duty and again the denomination told me it would take about 18 months to come on active duty and three months later I was on the U.S.S. Texas filling a gapped billet where the chaplain had hurt himself and had to leave.

Zarbock: How old were you at this time?

Kieran: That was 1980, so I was 28 years old.

Zarbock: And you were married.

Kieran: Married with one child. My daughter Jennifer was about two then.

Zarbock: And your rank was?

Kieran: Lieutenant. I came on active duty as a lieutenant because I had been in the Reserve for a year before I came on active duty so I was already a lieutenant 4105 was my designator and went right to the U.S.S. Texas and spent 14 of the next 28-1/2 months deployed.

Zarbock: Where were you?

Kieran: I was stationed in Norfolk. We made a 6-1/2 month med point at 3, six weeks to two months deployments to the Mediterranean and did a lot of time locally off the Virginia capes so it came to about 14 months out of 28-1/2 months.

Zarbock: What kind of ship was the Texas?

Kieran: The Texas was a beautiful ship, now decommissioned, was a nuclear guided missile cruiser, CGN 39. It had a complement of about 500 men, one chaplain and we had the first Religious Program Specialist aboard while I was there. During my 30 month tour, we had three different Religious Program Specialists.

Zarbock: What is a Religious Program Specialist?

Kieran: Well from the late 70s the Navy realized, had been trying to secure an enlisted rating to support the chaplain's ministry. So like the Army chaplain's assistant, the Air Force Chaplain's Special Management specialist, the Navy Religious Program Specialist as a combatant trained in warfare with Marines and supports the chaplain underway or in shore duty assignments in the Marine Corps and the Navy, but they do not work with the Coast Guard, but Navy chaplains do.

Zarbock: Let me clarify another point, did you go to Chaplain School as other chaplains have said they entered the military and off they went to Chaplain School.

Kieran: I mentioned that. In the summer of 1978, I went through the basic course and am still close to many of my friends there from that course.

Zarbock: And where was that course taught?

Kieran: In Newport, Rhode Island. Admiral Ross Trower, the former Chief of Chaplains, was the Director of the School. Admiral Donald Muckow was my course officer. He also became the Chief of Chaplains so I had the privilege of being with those folks. I've also attended the nine month advance course in Newport, Rhode Island. That was the year 89-90 and then I was the course officer for the advanced course for four and a half years from '92 to '96.

Zarbock: What was the nature of the curriculum then?

Kieran: The nine month course at the Chaplain School ended in 1994, but up until that point it was a fully graduate credited 21 hour course in leadership. We also had a relationship with the Navy War College so all of our students would take at least one elective at the War College and with Salve Regina University we had a reciprocal relationship. They accepted all 21 of our credits and many chaplains chose to go to Salve Regina, take three courses there and get a Master's degree in Human Relations Management.

Zarbock: So continuing the stream of events in your life. You're on the Texas.

Kieran: Spent 30 months on the Texas, worked 28-1/2 months on the Texas. We made one Mediterranean deployment. We were in the Gulf of Sidra during the little strange event that happened with the president of a little country Libya down there named Kadafi. We were escorting the U.S.S. Nimitz and during that time the Nimitz shot down two Libyan fighters off the coast of Libya. We were about five miles closer to Libya than the Nimitz was and there was big scramble. The Libyan Air Force was launched to come at us. We got out of there. Other than that one time going to general quarters it was a fairly normal deployment. We stopped at a number of countries. We stopped in Egypt, we saw the Pyramids. We went to Israel and had the tour of all the big places to go there. We stopped four times in Italy. We stopped in Spain on the way out and came back. It was a very good deployment.

Zarbock: Characteristically what were your chaplain's duties while on the Texas?

Kieran: My main duty is to walk around and care about people. That's what I did all day long. I did the whole ship, I walked the whole ship twice a day. I'm not a sit in the office read kind of guy. I'm a walk around person. So I had the ministry of encouragement. In one day on the U.S.S. Texas, I baptized as many as 12 new believers so God was moving. I'll just give you one vignette. When I got to the ship after having been a pastor, I was very prayerful about what God's focus for the ministry. I realized my plans would add to nothing if God is not in them so I asked God what to do. To make a long story very short, I felt led by God to just be in my office every night to pray starting at about 7:30. The third day underway a group of people decided that they would like to join me in prayer and so for the whole time I was on the ship we had an evening prayer meeting from about 7:30 at night to about 10:00 every night.

We had a number of people make first time professions to Christ. As a matter of fact in one morning the guys around the ship of course were very excited about their faith and one morning I had three people come into my office and ask how to accept Christ as their savior. So it was a beautiful ministry. When I left the ship, I think 14 out of 30 officers in the ward room were Christians and very strong evangelical Christians and there were many, many people. Our services were always packed on the ship.

I attribute that to the Lord's blessing at time of prayer for people who are sinners saved by grace and God chose in His love and providence to move through the ship and touch people's hearts and many people came to Christ and were active in bible study, were active in our worship service, were active in outreach.

As a matter of fact in most of our deployments whenever we were in warm weather, we were baptizing somebody on some beach some place. St. Croix, St. Thomas, Curacao, Jamaica, people were always wanting to get baptized. Then we discipled them. As I said I had a 30 month tour, but part of that time I was waiting for the ship to come so I was only actually physically aboard the ship for 28-1/2 months.

Zarbock: What was it like when you left the ship? Was there a ceremony of departure?

Kieran: Yes, everybody gathers on the deck and they pipe you overboard and they salute you and they say, "Chaplain, U.S.S. Texas departing". I'm still close to a number of the guys in the ward room. As a matter of fact my prayer partner, George Spencer who is also a Navy captain, just came to visit me about six months ago, came to church with us. We're going to Virginia Beach to visit another family from the ship. There are three or four other families that we still are with. One family came from Ohio for my retirement ceremony on the 2nd of August. There was an intimacy on the ship in the ward room amongst the Christians there that's hard to describe unless you're part of it, but it's a very beautiful thing. It's probably very close to what the fellowship of Sharing and Caring was in the other church. I left the Texas. I went to Oceania Navy Air Station, I was the junior guy.

Zarbock: Where is this located?

Kieran: In Virginia Beach, I went there, had a wonderful tour there for 30 months. The focus of ministry there was preaching, teaching and weddings and unfortunately a lot of funerals. We lost a lot of planes. We lost three F-14's one day when I was there. We had two A-6's crash, we had a F-4 Phantom crash. We had Lieutenant Goodman shot down in Beirut so we did that whole...I think Mark Langley was the bombardier navigator who died in that. We did that funeral and we had all the networks there for the funeral, and I participated in that.

Zarbock: Did you have to make a pastoral call on the families?

Kieran: Unfortunately I made too many of those.

Zarbock: Describe that. Again 50 years from now, 100 years from now...

Kieran: Well you know the chaplain is not the bearer of the bad news. There's a Navy officer or senior enlisted person who's coming with you to be the bearer of bad news because if the chaplain is the person who brings the bad news, it's very difficult for that chaplain to provide pastoral care to the family if they are always the reminder of the bad news. My first casualty call was to a Lieutenant female whose husband was killed in that crash of two F-14's that I mentioned. We had two that crashed in one day and then another one that crashed at sea. There were two at one time and then one on the Kennedy, U.S.S. Kennedy. I had to go to the door with the senior officer from the squadron and he announced to the wife that her husband had been killed and they could not find his remains and that there was no doubt that he had died because of the nature of the crash and the fire.

We provided pastoral care. We did a memorial service for her husband. Then six months later some fishermen dragged up his remains in a dragnet, crab net, so we actually did the internment part of the funeral then.

I also had a young Navy enlisted guy who was watching television with his wife who went to sleep. A friend of his came over and they went out drinking and the wife was asleep and did not know that the husband had gone out and he died in a car accident and they were incinerated literally. We had to go at about 1:30 in the morning with the commanding officer of Fighter Squadron 101, The Master Chief Petty Officer who's the senior enlisted person in the squadron, and his wife, to tell the wife her husband was dead.

That was the hardest one because they'd been married three months and she was about 19 years old. We almost had to hold her physically because she was screaming so loudly and wanted to call the parents of the husband that died and the parents hadn't been told yet. They would not be told until 6:00 in the morning. I've had many other equally sad occasions through my tours in the Navy of having to go to families and provide pastoral care.

But, the suffering I experienced as part of that is part of the empathy that makes it such a powerful experience. I have a very specific illustration. When I was the duty chaplain at Oceania in 1984, I got a call that a baby had been shot, get immediately to Virginia Beach General Hospital. So I got in the car and drove out to Virginia Beach, got a beeper, got off the road, didn't have cell phones in those days.

I made a call and the baby was transferred by helicopter to Norfolk to the Trauma Center at Kings Daughter's Children's Hospital. So I turned the car around and went all the way there. I showed up at the hospital, looking around trying to figure out what's going on. Finally I got directed to the Intensive Care Unit for infants and there was a woman sitting all by herself, husband, no family was there and she'd been there probably about two hours at this time before I was able to get to her.

Her child had been shot right through the face, a six month old son, when her husband had bought a new pistol and was cleaning the pistol, had a round in the chamber, it went through his hand, through the child's face and exited the back of the child's head. So you know there's not a lot of hope at that time. When the doctor said the child wouldn't even make it into surgery, but I stayed the entire night through to morning with the wife.

Her husband's supervisor came at about 5:00 in the morning. But to make a long story short, those occasions you may not say much as a chaplain, but if you're present and you care and you pray with the person, it has a powerful impact. At about 3:30 in the morning the doctors came out and said they didn't know how it happened. We told you he had a 1/1000 chance of getting through surgery, but somehow or other that child made it through surgery and now was in intensive care.

They didn't think he was going to live more an hour or maybe two hours but they wanted her to come in and see him. So I went with her. The supervisor wasn't there yet. We went in to see the baby, just a little baby. Stitches right here was the only thing you saw. No scarring, no black and blue anything, just one little hole that had been stitched right here below the eye. Of course the wife was distraught. She was almost in shock at this point and I actually assisted her. I prayed for the baby with the wife there and the staff gave the baby a 1 in 1000 chance.

Well Oceania Navy Air Station at Dam Neck the training base shared the duties so I was...this lady who was ____ husband was stationed at Dam Neck, which is the complete training center which is right on the ocean out in Virginia Beach. So the next morning, I went home when the supervisor came at about 5:00. I had about three hours sleep, went back to work. In the afternoon I got a call from the chaplain from Dam Neck thanking me for providing pastoral care to one of his families during the night and I forgot about it.

I continued to pray for the baby with normal prayer, but six months later a lady came in and I didn't even recognize her. She walked into my office at Oceania, she said, "Chaplain do you remember me?" I told her she looked familiar and asked where I knew her from. She said that six months ago her baby had gotten shot, and I said oh yeah. She said he was outside. I said what. She said she wanted to show me the baby.

So she brought him in. His name was Noah. She introduced me to Noah who was about eight months old at the time and by God's grace alone, he survived the surgery, survived the trauma of having a bullet go right through his brain and he had no ill effects whatsoever from the trauma of that gunshot.

Zarbock: Pastor, where was the father at the time that you entered the hospital?

Kieran: He was in the hospital having his hand repaired in the Naval Hospital at Portsmouth, Rhode Island. His hand was shattered, but the bullet had enough velocity to come right through the baby's head and exit through the back of his head. But the Lord provided a miracle. I mean that, as far as I'm concerned, is as close to a New Testament miracle that I've ever seen. That was one of the high points of my time in Oceania. From there, I'm not sure what you want me to do next. If you want chronology, I can do that, but probably you might want to ask me some specific questions since our time is limited.

Zarbock: Who pastors you? At times like this as stressful as they were, on whose shoulders do you lean?

Kieran: Well first of all it's nice to have a Godly wife, a wife of prayer. My wife has always been a great Barnabus for me. She's been an encourager and a supporter. Of course any woman that's been around me in our 29 years of marriage, she's moved 18 times so that tells you what a champion she is. As a matter of fact as we moved this last time, she said, "It's a good thing I'm a Christian because I'm hanging in there with you and this is great that we're actually getting to settle down." It's interesting. I think that every minister should have a Timothy to mentor, a Barnabus as a peer to be there and I have a number of friends that are my peers and then also Paul to be your teacher. I have those Paulene figures, my pastor at my church, Chaplain Black for whom I work, other trusted pastors that I go to for teaching.

People that I read, people that I watch in video sermons, , the kinds of people that I go to like the president of my denomination who had a retreat last summer for pastors, chaplains and pastor counselors. That's the kind of feeding that I get because I realize if you're not fed and fully nourished you have very little to give anyway.

Zarbock: Let me skip ahead, how far am I speaking ahead to describe and define your situation with the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune.

Kieran: Sure, I've had four tours with the Marine Corps, three in Japan at the Marine Corps station, the last year of which I was the Command Chaplain through 1989. I went to the advanced course in Newport from '89 to '90 so that was a sabbatical year. In 1990 in July I was sent down to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I went to North Carolina, initially was assigned to 3rd Battalion 6th Marines because the chaplain there had been injured and had to leave to get them ready for an Inspector General Inspection and they weren't ready for it. So I went there selected for Commander which is O-5, Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, but went to the battalion first for experience, second to help them and third just to get up there and meet Marines. So I spent about six weeks in the battalion.

Zarbock: Did you dread the assignment?

Kieran: Absolutely not. I will real excited about going. As a matter of fact, I was asked if I would go to California to San Diego and really did not want to do that. I really wanted to go to the Marine infantry. I'm an outdoor guy who was a Boy Scout Explorer, did a lot of camping, hiking as a kid, was in the Northeastern University Outing Club. I just thought it would be really fun to be outside for a living. I thought that would be great. So I started running with them, had dislocated my knee six weeks before coming there so it was a little bit therapeutic for me to run, but it was a little hard too.

Zarbock: Again for the purpose of this record, when you say you ran with the Marines, could you be specific?

Kieran: Oh sure. Every morning, well three mornings a week the battalion would fall out for a battalion run.

Zarbock: At what time?

Kieran: About 5:30, so I'd have to work just around every day at 5:00 in the morning., 5:15. you take breakfast and lunch when you go. So you fall out and everybody's dressed the same. You have the same green t-shirt, same green pants. You have your own sneakers on, unless you're running in flak jackets and boots which you do sometimes. You just gather together. You do about a half an hour of exercises and you go out and run for five or six miles in formation.

Zarbock: In formation?

Kieran: In formation, three lines formation, run in formation. Then when I transitioned over to Regiment, the 6th Marines Regiment and the Regiment of course is in charge of three battalions of infantry. At that time there were only two battalions assigned to 6th Marines which is 3-6, the battalion I was in and then the 1st Battalion 6th Marines. So when I was regimental chaplain I took care of the chaplains that were there. Then one of my battalions in the middle of July had deployed to Okinawa, Tom Burner was the chaplain, so I took over the care of the families of that battalion which was about 800-900 guys so there were numbers of guys. So I met with his wives' group, provided pastoral care to them and then I had the 6th Marines family that I took care of both.

When Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait, of course all the Marines were on alert. The battalion on Okinawa was moved by ship over to the desert and so that was the whole evolution, it took for a few months. Eventually we got ready to go. In getting ready to go to war, a chaplain in the regiment or the battalion or wherever you're stationed does a lot of pastoral care to families, is part of the orientation process for getting people deployed, making sure that they have all of their spiritual needs, their family needs taken care of.

Chaplains also help with a lot of family readiness issues and that's a very big part of the chaplain's life in the battalion or the regiment or in the division. So we basically packed all our gear. We filled up our ____ boxes with bibles, communion supplies, teaching materials. I took a year's worth of materials for all the holy days and seasons and bible studies because I was expecting to be deployed for up to a year.

We deployed in early December of 1990. We flew to Jubail, Saudi Arabia. We unloaded a Camp 15 Alpha. We were there, the 1st Battalion 6th Marines was way forward from us at that time. 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines were with us there and 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines was augmented in the 6th Marines and they came with us because their other group was also deployed as well.

So we waited until after Christmas and then we just progressively moved forward in the war. My main focus was daily prayer and bible study and walking around to see everybody in the camp every day.

Zarbock: Tell me about Christmas.

Kieran: Christmas was interesting. We built a Christmas tree with pieces of wood and cargo netting, green cargo netting and we actually made ornaments. So it was in the middle of our little hooch that we used for services and we had Christmas services, sang hymns. I had prerecorded, my wife had prerecorded service tapes to use in the field with my player, my battery operated player. We had song sheets for every service, Christmas hymns, we had messages. We even had a little Christmas party with cookies for the whole group of people that were in our camp.

Zarbock: Was it hot?

Kieran: It was warm, it was hot, it was December, it wasn't terribly hot.

Zarbock: You were sleeping under canvas?

Kieran: Initially we were sleeping on the ground. The next day we had some canvas up and within about three days my own Regimental Chaplain's tent was set up. We slept on cots. It's very interesting, you know when you go from luxury to deprivation where you don't even have showers you feel like you've just gone way down, but the chronology of this I'll explain it if I may just very quickly. We went forward and still had tents, we went forward again and still had tents, but now we were at a place where we didn't even have showers. We were at Cement Ridge. Then we went forward to Hill 315 which was way out after the ground war started and we still had tents. Then we moved up, had to leave our tents behind so we started digging into the ground and having canvas over ourselves. Then we moved again as we were moving forward before the ground war and we were basically sleeping under the trucks or in whatever shelters we could make.

Then the ground war started. Of course we were in chemical suits. For about a month before the ground war started we were breathing oil smoke almost on a regular basis. It was completely dark during the middle of the day so that's the horror of that whole thing.

Zarbock: I'm sorry, again for the purpose of this tape, why was it dark during the middle of the day?

Kieran: Well there were oil well fires all around us and the oil smoke, that dark greasy smoke would be blowing down on us. There were many people who were in Desert Storm who came down with respiratory issues. I came down with chronic asthma from having breathed all that stuff. So as we moved forward, life got much more simple. We left most of our gear. By the time we were ready to go in on the attack, we basically had a truck, bibles, some basic gear, a change of clothes and that's all we had. We slept during the invasion part of the process we had very little, we stayed moving. I just want to talk about one thing that's important from a pastoral standpoint.

The night before we invaded Kuwait we were on the border of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and there was a big sand berm that was about 15 feet high that went down the whole border that was built up by the Iraqis. Our engineers dug holes out of it so that trucks could get through. As we're getting ready to go at any time, the chaplain's job is bring comfort to people. So I walk from truck to truck to pray with the guys, talk with them about the Lord. I say you have to be ready. This is a time when things are going to get very difficult. We may take a lot of casualties, you need to be right with God.

I just went down and prayed with the guys and I heard lots of stories. "Chaplain when I get home, I can't wait to have apple pie", "Chaplain did I ever tell you about my sister", "Chaplain you know my mom's a great cook", "Chaplain you know my best buddy was going to come into the Marine Corps with me, but he decided not to and he's in college right now. I wish he was here with me". You just hear the stories. People just reminiscing about life and it's a very beautiful, a very personal, very intimate and very trusting time of lives.

Well as we got the movement order to go in, we went through the breach lanes, we went into the second breach lane, which is the minefields. There were two minefields and the engineers that were with us threw a line charge down and explode the mines. We got into the second line field and the vehicle four ahead of mine blue up. Right in the middle of the minefield. We were stuck in the middle of the minefield with artillery going over our heads, with mortar shells coming in on our position and they were coming closer and closer to my vehicle and I was absolutely sure I was going to die.

I had absolutely no doubt. My Religious Program Specialist was in the truck with me and he was coming out and I said to him that this might be a good time to pray that sinner's prayer with me that I've been talking about. He said this was no time to kid around. I said we weren't kidding here, that this was very serious business. He ultimately by the way became a much more gentle person and was a wonderful guy to be around.

Two Huey Cobra gun ships piloted by Marine pilots flew over my vehicle and shot missiles and took out the mortar position that was shooting mortars at us or else we would have been killed. Eventually, they were able to very heroically pull the vehicle which was the mail truck, out. It's amazing that no one in the truck was killed. The mine was an anti-personel mine, not an anti-vehicle mine, but it blew off the tires. It blew up right underneath Sergeant Dozier who was sitting on 24 cans of orange juice and it punctured about 18 of those cans and never hit him, it was the most amazing thing, and he was blown up into the ceiling and right out the door.

We got through that. We got out into an area where as the movement goes, the battalions go up and the second element pulls up which was the Reserve like us which was the second command post which is where the Executive Officer was. We stopped in a huge circle. The chemical alarm went off. There was a lot of fire going on around us, artillery and missiles were going over our heads. We were all fairly nervous.

We were dispersed in a large circle about a quarter of a mile wide just to keep ourselves apart so in case anything blew up around us. The chemical alarm went off. We all got our hoods on and our gloves on and two shells exploded over our position with yellow gas and went through about 9:00 through our position and no one that we knew of was negatively impacted. We were all down in the ground, we had dug in and we were in the ground when that happened, but I watched it. It happened right in front of me.

My position was at 9:00 on the circle where we were where the regimental aid station was where the doctors and the corpsmen were. Then as the day wore on...

Zarbock: What was the yellow material that exploded?

Kieran: We think it was mustard gas. The people who were there and the Gulf War people who interviewed me think it was mustard gas. I was interviewed by the Department of Defense commission of the Gulf War illness. So then we stayed through the night. It was completely dark. The oil smoke came in, we couldn't see a thing. There was stuff flashing through the air. Artillery was near us. It was firing all night long off and on and no one slept. We just kind of waited until morning. In the morning we were told we were going to move out. We were waiting and waiting and waiting which is pretty normal for any evolution in the military. Just before noontime, a whole sheath of rocket artillery came in on our position and exploded about 250 yards out to my left. There were big high tension wires, big telephone poles, the big metal ones out there and the wires were falling off from being hit by the shrapnel.

Shrapnel came in on our position and hit some of our vehicles but not one person was hit with the shrapnel. It was amazing. Then soon after that we moved out and we kept going forward. It's a very slow pace. You eat as you can. We were taking pills that made us all nauseous so it was very hard to eat anything anyway.

Zarbock: Pills for what purpose.

Kieran: Pills to counteract the effect of nerve gas. So we were moving forward. We were still in our gear. I think the next day around noontime we took off our MOPP gear, I don't know what it stands for, chemical suits, because they said the threat of gas and biological chemicals. The second day of the ground war we start moving out and we're very slow pace, slow pace and moving, moving and then it gets very dark. We start taking fire from the right side. We're getting Iraqi infantrymen or somebody shooting at our vehicles and there's three lanes of vehicles and I'm in the right lane, right seat. So I got down and we stopped the vehicles, I got out and got down by the front tire and the Marines were engaging and then went out to take care of the business and they did.

When we came back it was very very dark and I was sitting on the ground with my red lens flashlight just kind of looking around and I noticed that we were right in the middle of a cluster bomb minefield. So our vehicles had cluster bombs all around us. For some reason we hadn't hit any. That's another miracle. I have a lot of miracles that happened to us, but that's the other one

So because I was the only non-driver I used my red lens flashlight. I got the vehicles behind us that were not yet in the minefield to go back and go around and then the Senior Chief Corpsman whose name I don't remember, had had two tours in Vietnam. He was a very helpful guy. He knew the game. He was directing them around the other way. Then I was using the red lens flashlight to walk the vehicles through the minefield to get us out.

So we got out of it. I had to get three vehicles out. We got out by just driving around the mines. They were dispersed in an area about maybe 100 feet in a circle or so.

Zarbock: And you're walking in a minefield with a flashlight leading trucks out.

Kieran: Right, there was no choice. It was one of those if you don't do it, nobody does the things.

Zarbock: Was that defined by the Marines as a heroic activity.

Kieran: There's a V on my award, yes. So when we got out of that, we went for probably three or four hours at a very slow pace in actual pitch darkness and the only thing we could see...

Zarbock: Now you mentioned pitch darkness before.

Kieran: This is nighttime now. It's coming to be twilight, nighttime and it's so dark that you can't see your hand in front of your face. That's how dark it is.

Zarbock: The gaseous material is still around you?

Kieran: Yes, always the whole time. The whole time this is going on we're seeing this stuff, not the gasses, but the oil smoke. Okay so to make this story a little more succinct, there were glow sticks the kind you break and shake and they were taped to the back of each vehicle and we had to stay close enough to the vehicle in front of us so we didn't lose sight of the glow stick. The first vehicle in each line that had night vision goggles and they were leading us. We stopped in an area. We set up the battalion, the regimental aid station. The senior chief who had two tours in Vietnam was just like a magician. He just knew everything about being in the dark and doing triage and all that stuff. So we dug in right near him, we dug down in the hole and it was completely dark. The only thing we could see is wherever the red light of that flashlight was shining. Someone could be sitting three inches and you couldn't see them.

So we dug down and all of a sudden we see a whole bunch of mice fall in our hole because we hit a mice nest. We had to fill in that hole. We had to dig again and when we dug again we were looking around the area and there was a tank barrel right in front of us from Iraqi tank. It was sitting right in front of us in the dark.

So we got down on the ground and crawled over to the Senior Chief and said there was a tank right there. He said "oh my God, what do we do?" So we went over and found out that the tank that was there had been hit by a bomb and the turret had come off and landed, but the tank itself, which was still full of ammunition, was about maybe 10 or 30 yards, not yards, but maybe feet away. So we dug in and just waited.

Things were flying through the air. You could hear bombers going over. You could hear jets flying, helicopters. Everything was happening and we couldn't see a thing. We tried to eat when we could. The next morning we woke up. We looked out and the entire horizon was blown up vehicles. And that's when a whole bunch of media reporters came forward.

Some guys from our unit went over to look at the tank and one of them was going to climb in and I said no, the senior chief said you can't get in the tank and I had to order him down. The senior chief walked over and found that there had been a booby trap inside the tank. So if that guy had gotten in, he would have killed himself so it was just a leadership thing.

But you do what you're told, then you can stay safe. So that day we moved out and as we were moving forward again, we stopped our vehicles and we were right in the middle of a tank battle. Our Marine Corps tanks and Army tanks were engaging Iraqi tanks and artillery and I was sitting there on the hood of my truck leaning against the window with front row seats to a tank battle. It was the most surreal strange thing I've ever experienced in my life.

I'm thinking here I am and half a mile a way I'm watching people shooting at each other in tanks. Then we eventually moved again and this is where it got very interesting for 6th Marines Headquarters Company. Our Executive Officer was wounded, almost lost all his fingers and was Medivaced out. He had to leave the area so our new boss was a Major who had been a reservist running a window factory in Connecticut who really didn't have a lot of experience with this kind of stuff.

So basically what happened was the attack went this way and we cut the corner. So we were way out ahead of the front line of troops which is called the FLOT, the front line of troops. So our little headquarter battalion is now lost in a dump outside of Kuwait City. So we're circling around trying to figure out how to get out of there and I will tell you that the Company Commander for Headquarters Company whose name I can't remember, his first name is Dan, he's now a Colonel in the Marine Corps, was the hero of the day.

He was the one that helped us figure out communicating back and communicating with other people where we were and helped us navigate through that. While we were in that place, everybody knew that people were watching us. We knew the enemy was right on us, but we were the chaplain, the doctors, the mailmen, the cooks, the bottle washers, all the Headquarters Company support people and even though we had gunners and a 203 grenade launcher and different things with us, we would have gotten killed if they had engaged us with machine guns. We would have been all wiped out.

So we got out of that area and went forward to a sandpit where we ended up staying for over a month after the war was over. The Light Armor Infantry six wheeled chain gun vehicles were sent to find us and to protect us and as they were coming through the same place we just came, they were engaged by machine guns. So that's another miracle. There's many of those. We ended up coming in to Kuwait, outside of Kuwait City. Our mission was to guide that highway of death and access to Kuwait City.

We stayed there for about 40 days or so before they brought us back into Saudi Arabia and kept us there for a few weeks and brought us back home. Here's what I was talking about in the beginning about the deprivation. I want to just give a quality of life comment here.

I was able to take a blown out building and make it into a chapel/the chaplain's house and Religious Program Specialist. We just took this building. We put old canvas seats we found. We found some cots. The mattresses were lice ridden so we threw those away, but we put our little mats down and slept on those. It was nice not to be sleeping on the ground so it was worth the backaches in the morning.

We had chapel there every day. We had a full house every day for bible study. On Sundays we traveled around and this is something I hadn't said, but during the deployment every Sunday before we went into the war, once a week, I would take the Catholic chaplain from Phil Criner or Father Pucarelli and they would come with me and we would go see all of the units to have Catholic mass because all of our units had Protestant chaplains.

That was a normal part of the regimental chaplain's, and this should probably go earlier in the transcription, but that's part of the normal thing that a regimental chaplain will do, is to carry the pastoral care of everybody. I also brought a rabbi up into Kuwait to be there with the Jewish guys. He also taught a wonderful bible study for the Christian guys on what the sacrificial system was all about in the early days so that was really wonderful.

Now we'd go from a nice tent in Saudi Arabia that I didn't appreciate at the time to showers I could walk a mile to, to progressively going longer and longer till 59 days without a shower, seven weeks MREs and with no hot chow, to Kuwait where the ground war was over and all of a sudden we got tray pack rations and we think we're golden, life is just fabulous.

Zarbock: What did you call the rations?

Kieran: Tray packs, large spaghetti's, apple crisp, stuff that someone brought to us and they were cooking them for us and we were eating like kings. Life got better so fast. After about a week up in Kuwait they brought a shower thing in and we took our first shower in just a little under two months. We literally had skin peeling off. You were scrubbing yourself with a washcloth and it was a short shower like one minute, but it was glorious. It wasn't even that warm, but it was just wonderful. You asked about temperature. The desert is cold at night, but when we were up in Kuwait, during the day it was always fairly warm, you asked about that. In the evening it would get chilly. So after that 40 days there, living in that hut, we made the long trip back to Jubail to Camp 15 where we started. It took a long time, but I remember how exhilarated we were, as we were driving along with washcloths over our mouth and noses, wet washcloths to keep that oil smoke from being breathed in, till we broke through that oil smoke for the last time, came to the Saudi border and everybody cheered.

It was like a party. It was fabulous. And we drove down into the camp and I stood there in front of a tent and it said Regimental Chaplain 6th Marines. I still get tears in my eyes thinking about it. I felt like I walked into the Hilton. I had a bed, I had a mat, I had a cold shower anytime I wanted one, I could shave anytime I wanted. There were phones within walking distance. It was like Shangri-La, to this day almost 12 years later I still thank God every time I'm taking a shower. I did it this morning. I said, "Lord, thank you for this shower" because when you go without something so basic for so long.

I slept on the ground for months and my hips hurt so bad that when I finally got to sleep in a bed for the first time and I slept through the night without pain, it was just exhilarating.

Zarbock: Chaplain, let me ask you, another Navy chaplain, a lady, described wearing these chemical suits as being just a terrible, terrible thing. You ended up sloshing around in your own perspiration.

Kieran: Right.

Zarbock: And again for the purpose of this tape, 25, 50 years from now this technology is going to be around, but what was it like? How heavy was it? What was it made out of?

Kieran: Well it's not really heavy. It's made out of thick, it's thinner now, but thick material. We're talking 12 years ago. It's camouflaged. You put the coat and the boots on and the trousers on and the boots are inside. You tape it with literally duck tape. That's what we had to do. Then most of the time they call that MOPP 2, level 2. That's what you are in because in about 30 seconds you can get your gas mask and your gloves on if there's going to be an attack. You go through training. It's a little interesting with glasses because I had a glasses insert. So I had to take my glasses off, put them in my pocket and then put my mask on. After about a day in the suit with the boots on, you feel like you have Velveeta cheese squishing between your toes. When you're in the mask for a long time, your perspiration builds up so that you literally have water coming into your mouth. You have to bleed it off because you'll drown if you don't. You just have to take the risk of putting your thumb in, getting the water out. You're not even supposed to get the chemical suits wet so you just kind of lean forward and you let the water drip out and you live with it. You have your helmet on over that too.

You're pretty laden. You don't have really good peripheral vision, but you're safe. The suit works. No one in my regiment was affected by the gas. It was not a pleasant experience. When I took it off, I had to bury my socks. I will just tell you that and my Marine Corps leather boots were completely saturated with water. So I at least got a new pair of socks on.

I would do things differently. I think I probably, if I had to do it over again, I would carry extra socks in probably two or three different pockets (laughter). I always carried extra glasses in my pockets. If I lost that, I was dead.

Zarbock: There seems to be a very, very strong bond between Navy chaplains and the U.S. Marine Corps.

Kieran: There's a very strong bond. When I left 6th Marine Regiment, it was on Good Friday 1992. I preached a sermon seven steps down, seven steps up. There were over 120 people including the commanding general of the division there, my regimental colonel and guys I was in the war with there and that was my last official act. That was the day I detached to go to the Chaplain School and report. A Master Gunnery Sergeant senior Marine almost 30 years in the Marine Corps who had been one of my prayer guys in the war gave me plaque. It said, "To our good shepherd for divine support from Camp 15 to Kuwait and back. We thank you with all our hearts". Greatest compliment I could ever get.

Zarbock: How long were you in the service?

Kieran: Well total service with Reserve time 31 years and 9 months.

Zarbock: Chaplain, the 31 years and 9 months in the service, your educational period before that, all of the life experiences that you've had subsequently, could you package that up and tell me what did you all learn from that. Take a look into the camera, you're talking to your great-grandchildren.

Kieran: The greatest thing I learned was that God is faithful and that we always have to be ready to go home. We always have to be ready because we never know when the moment will come to go home. I think we have to be consigned to the fact that we're mortal, that we have to have our spiritual lives in a place when we are ready to die at any moment. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to die when the orders were coming in and I was at perfect peace. Now the guy next to me was coming out of his skin, but I was at perfect peace because I knew there was nothing I could do. I couldn't jump out of the vehicle and run through a minefield. There was no place to go. I was absolutely trapped there.

So I would say that if I could summarize 31 years and 9 months, it's about people, people, people and it's about loving those people. It's about the relationships, it's not about being a Navy captain, it's not about having a chest full of ribbons. It's not about getting decorated for valor.

It's not even about the retirement check even though that's a very nice thing. It's about the people that I'll spend eternity with that I met along the way. It's about Tyler and Georgene Lunberry who nine years ago as a result of being in the chapel made a commitment to God to go to Uganda as missionaries and we've supported them financially ever since.

It's about young people. The driver, the colonel's driver, who's now an active duty Navy chaplain. When I was at the Chaplain School, three Marines with whom I served came through that school to be Navy chaplains. I don't think that's coincidental. I am an unabashedly evangelical Christian.

I have never pulled punches in preaching the Gospel, but more importantly I think what God's equipped me to do is to love the people with whom I serve, to build deep relationships with them, to be their confidant, to be their encourager, to push them when they needed it, to confront them when they needed it, to love them when they're grieving, to help them through those tough situations, to be their consoler even when I'm crying tears of loneliness and stress, to even be there and to be real with them and to love them.

I think if I have any jewels in my crown when I get to heaven, I want it to be every single person that's prayed the sinner's prayer with me. I want it to be every person that I've had to be able to dunk under those waters of baptism. I want it to be every one of the 60 adults that came to my Sunday School class in Japan. I want it to be Jimmy Heit who was my youth group director ____ in Japan in 1986 who's now a pastor of a church in Kansas City. I want it to be the legacy of the remnant of Christ that's been left behind because I lived in this world. That's all I want.

Zarbock: Chaplain, thank you. May be the Lord be with you.

Kieran: You're welcome. He will be. And with you.

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