Interview with Frank W. Shearin, September 19, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Interviewee: Shearin, Frank Winston Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 9/19/2007 Series: Military Chaplains Length 60 minutes
Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person with the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Randall Library. This videotape is part of the Military Chaplains oral history project, and today is the 19th of September in the year 2007. We're at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and we're going to interview Chaplain Frank Winston Shearin III. He prefers, I understand, Chaplain, you would prefer to be called Winston; is that correct?
Shearin: I go by my middle name, Winston. That's right.
Zarbock: Well good morning, sir, how are you?
Shearin: I'm well thank you, how are you?
Zarbock: I'm doing tolerably well. Chaplain, to begin with, what individual or series of individuals or event or series of events led you into the ministry?
Shearin: Well, the ministry decision was well ahead of the Chaplain core decision I suppose as it is for many people. I grew up in a church, a Christian church, Baptist church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Mom is fond of saying I was on the cradle roles before I was ever born, and West Lynchburg Baptist Church, a fine-- a fine home with people who loved me and cared for me. Grew up there; my life revolved around that particular institution, and I partook of it fully, not only physically with presence, mentally with my friends there, my peers, spiritually, and from a young age-- I-- about six-- I actually decided that I wanted to do those things that were inherent in ecclesiastical life. Following Christ as my savior was a commitment I made at a very early age; participating in Sunday schools, Bible schools. My entire extracurricular life was in West Lynchburg Baptist Church, so it was not a far shot for me at about 14 years of age to think "I want to go into full-time Christian service." I never really thought I wanted to be a Pastor, certainly not at 14, but I wanted to do something like music ministry or work with youth; something along those lines. And someone asked me that recently about my entry into the ministry, and I told them "Yes, there's a theological, spiritual drive for that," and Finley Edge said at one point in his writings that "A great testimony is when one looks back and never recalls a time when he wasn't a Christian," and I caught that later in my adult years after struggling-- with wrestling, struggling is not the right word-- wrestling with my testimony, you know, how boring it must have been growing up in a Christian home and growing up in a church and whatnot, until I found out that, you know, God had been there all along.
Now certainly I can point to places in my life where I made decisions and commitments and renewals of faith and my spirituality deepened, but I do recall at 14 years of age saying I wanted to be a full-time Christian minister, after having some sense of the theological commitment and what in our tradition we call being "born-again", what we call being "saved," but marking a spot in my life where I had committed to Christ but wanted to go further. The reason I remember 14 years of age being the time when I made the commitment is I was always an actor in school coming up; fifth grade standing in a straight line and doing George Washington evolved to middle school doing a few more plays and high school being involved in some of the musicals and what not, and in tenth grade as I was working on Showboat, they put a little blurb in under your picture in the program, and I mentioned that I wanted to go into full-time Christian ministry, so I had that piece of paper from my teenage years marking a very public decision to be a professional minister.
Zarbock: What year was that?
Shearin: '74, would have been, 14 would have been 1975, so it was when I was early in high school; 14, 15. Maybe that's only about ninth grade, somewhere right in there. It might have been '76. I might have been 15 and just turned, but it was my tenth grade year in high school. So what, is your question, what led to that call to ministry? There are a number of facets in that question still to explore and I'm sure if it becomes boring to your interviewers they can always hit fast forward. But, there is the spiritual. There is the sense of the Holy Spirit working in one's life to follow and to have an earnest yearning to do more for God. I cannot deny that that, as I look back over my 46 years of life has been a constant desire to try to be more pleasing to God, to grow closer to God, failing often yet feeling him pull me in his own strength to be more than I could possibly be on my own. I definitely remember that longing, that sense as an early teenager. But there's also a constructive life. There's the bureaucracy of church. My goodness, I had grown up in the bureaucracy of church much like a child might grow up in a family business and get to the point as a teenager they can think of nothing else. It was as natural to me as falling off a log to go into church work. As a matter of fact, as a child, as a teenager, my minister of music would bring me along and let me lead youth worship services occasionally, and we had preaching classes and we would teach the Sunday school classes, a little sermonette as teenagers. Find men like Herb Maynard and Bill Smathers--Herb was my Minister of Music, and Bill Smathers my Minister of Youth who took great time to invest in the lives of young people, so much so that I believed out of my high school class-- and I shouldn't say high school class; my high school era, three or four classes-- I can count five, six, seven full-time ministers that came out of a church of about 600 in Sunday School, so active membership, and a youth group probably of 100. So six or seven, almost ten percent over the course of three or four years, that comes from people investing in lives. So, a very spiritual call, a very pragmatic call, practical call, and one that as soon as I graduated from high school I went off to college to pursue.
Zarbock: Where did you go to college?
Shearin: I went to a little Southern Baptist school in the mountains of North Carolina called Mars Hill. It's north of Asheville and in Mars Hill, North Carolina, now a bustling little thoroughfare in the mountains there, but then a little quiet-- and interesting how I went to Morris Hill. My pastor at the time, Paul Bruner-- who is a Virginia/North Carolina Pastor and well into retirement now-- I mentioned to him my desire to follow the Lord, as everyone in my church knew, in full-time ministry, and he said he went to Mars Hill, and I said "Well that's set. Good enough for you is good enough for me," and so that's the only school I applied to. He told me to "Now when you get there, my advice is take anything but Bible, because you're going to get enough Bible in seminary. Take something else that builds a life skill that gives you another facet that you can use." Well, I had grown up in theater and on the stage somewhat and performing, so I majored in theater arts and I found that to be a wonderful skill to have in ministry, and sure enough when I got to seminary which was-- I'll anticipate your question, which was Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest North Carolina-- When I got there, sure enough all of the young men and women who had taken New Testament and Baby Greek and Old Testament took the same courses again at seminary, so I dodged that bullet so to speak. But, good advice from three men that I mentioned; three great men, not at all perfect as none of us are, but yet men who committed to the Lord and whom I thank for a great deal of their input in my life. That was my call to Christian ministry.
Zarbock: What year did you graduate from Mars Hill, and what year did you graduate from the seminary?
Shearin: And high school. High school was '79 just to throw that in as a mark. That put me four years later at Morris Hill, 1983 at which time I entered directly into the Marine Corp. I may anticipate another question there, but we can get back to that. I graduated twice from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest; once in 1989 with a Master in Divinity, and once in 2000 with my Doctor of Ministry. Fine institution and the one which has crafted a great deal of my theological construct as well as my academic background. I'm very thankful to that school. She's had a lot of change over the years, a couple of decades, as has the Southern Baptist Convention-- which I am not Southern Baptist now. I'm Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but I was Southern Baptist for the majority of my life. So, a lot of change, but I would very proudly own my alma mater, all my alma maters.
Zarbock: How did you segway into the Marine Corp?
Shearin: Well, I grew up in Lynchburg, again, a Boy Scout, an Eagle Scout, very involved in conservative life of my community. Lynchburg's a very conservative town. My church, a very conservative town. The Boy Scouts of America, fairly conservative institution. I wanted to do one tour of duty with the United States Military.
Zarbock: As a Chaplain, or...?
Shearin: No, I hadn't thought, Chaplain. As a matter of fact, I thought of it as permission from God to take three years, or four years, whatever my commitment might be, to go and serve my country and then come back to the military. I never thought of the two melding. And so I was never interested in the Army, and not for negative reasons. My uncles Robert Simian Brett and Lynnwood Herald Brett were both Army men, soldiers. Right after World War II they were starting to get old enough to go in. Uncle Lynn went in first, served honorably, and Uncle Bob went in and served through Vietnam, was a career soldier, Master Sergeant in the Army. So very proud of the legacy that had come from my uncles, but wanted to do something different. Looked into the Air Force, first. The Air Force didn't want a theater major. They wanted a science major. I understood. I was a little-- There was an Air Force Junior ROTC in my high school, and they had always intrigued me but I never participated-- was in the marching band, but never participated in ROTC. So I went off to Mars Hill and tried the Air Force; phone call, they didn't want me. I said "Well, let's try the Navy."
So I had to go down to Asheville for a young fellow in the '80s who didn't have a vehicle. It was quite a trip. I don't know how I got there, but I remember having to figure out how to get the 28 miles or so down the road to-- 20 miles or so to Asheville. I walked into the recruiter's office, there was a chief there who struck me as slovenly, at least in my mind, who basically said that "I have nothing for you here. Call and talk to Charlotte, North Carolina," and they put me on the phone with an OSO, and I knew once he dismissed me that I didn't want anything to do with that, so I was kind of beside myself because I never wanted to go to the Marine Corps.
As a matter of fact, I remember one of my mates in high school joined the Marine Corps out of high school. What was Glenn's last name? I can't remember Glenn's last name. Glenn Beck, I want to say, but at any rate, I thought he was insane to go into the Marine Corps, and I was walking along campus one day, went to the Wren College Union, was walking through, there was a little table, and a gunnery sergeant in the Marines in his dress blue deltas-- I didn't know the uniform at that time but-- he said to me "Do you get a chill up and down your spine when Old Glory goes down the street?" and I turned to him and said "I do." "Sign here." So I signed up for officer candidate school the same day and completed that while I was in school and on graduation was commissioned to second lieutenant in the Marine Corp and served three years with the United States Marine Corp. After the Marine Corp I stayed in--
Zarbock: Served as a second lieutenant in what activity?
Shearin: I was a communications officer. Then there were 2502s. That was our MOS number. Now they're a different number-- I forget the number now-- because they have computers nowadays. We were just starting to get computers. But I was a wire platoon commander, I was a Section IOC, ground communications, radio, telephone, telegraph, teletype-- we actually had those-- and so I- I had some great experiences there for three years in active duty, was married right after college, went to six months of basic school in the Marine Corp, then married my college sweetheart. We went out to Yuma, Arizona and had our first child there, and came back and went to seminary. That's when we went to Southeastern. I stayed in the Selective Marine Corp Reserve during seminary, which technically is a policy violation; I did not know it, nor did anyone in the recruiting ranks. When you become a seminary student, you are not supposed to be a line member. You are supposed to resign and get away from that, and you may become part of the Theological Student Program or such, but you may not be a line officer. Well, it so happened I stayed in and was a Platoon Commander in Greensboro, North Carolina, Greensboro Com Company Minus right there on the highway Interstate 40 in Greensboro and was promoted to Captain there, worked in Camp Lejeune. That was my first time working here at Camp Lejeune leading communications work.
And then, as I began to get into the ministry, I had to take off the weekend duties to such time as I stayed in active ready reserve in the Marine Corps, and got my first church up in Hampton, Virginia and was actually activated for Desert Storm as a Captain in the Marine Corp. Came back down here and served as a Combined Arm Staff Trainer Communications Instructor in the tactics class preparing reservists to go overseas to Desert Storm, and children had come along by then. We had all three of our children by that time. That was my second time here in Camp Lejeune, and I was at West Hampton Baptist Church as a Minister of Music and Youth and after that, the Marine Corps and I-- I just couldn't continue that type of work.
To rise to be a Company Commander was not going to happen while I was in ministry. So at that point I looked-- That's when began to think about becoming a Navy Chaplain. I probably anticipate a question about how I got into chaplaincy. This is the very long story of how that happened. I remember sitting in Hampton, Virginia around the table with my three children. They must have been four, two and newborn sitting in a little highchair, and talking with my bride, Susan, and we had gone through the entire application process to become Navy Chaplains. All I had left to do was go take an entrance physical in Richmond, Virginia and I could enter into a class. This must have been 1991, something like that. And, I looked at those children and I knew that my first stop would be at sea, because I've been a Marine and I understood what was now to come, and I said "The Lord's not in this. The Lord's not in it," and so I never went and took the physical, which was no problem. I hadn't committed to anything; I just basically backed out of the process.
After Desert Storm then the Navy had no reserve openings, which I was interested in, not active duty; I wanted to go reserve. And so I went in the Army National Guard for three years, took a pastorate on the eastern shore of Virginia, near Chincoteague Island, a little town called Atlantic. Wonderful church, wonderful people, Atlantic Baptist Church. Served there for three years while I was in the Maryland Army National Guard. I was a Chaplain for the Second Battalion 115th Infantry Battalion line, 29th Infantry Division. Fine organization, Normandy, great legacy of war fighting 29th Infantry Division. Proud of that, honored in that and active National Guard Battalion and lost some men in service around the state, you know, through accidental death and what not, and had the opportunity to minister to their families in times of duress, and yet we had some great times together too, training and preparing. In a time of relative peace, this was the mid '90s, so '92-- well actually, early '90s; '92, '93, '94, and I was pastoring a small church, after which the children had grown just a bit. Now they were four, second, first grade, something like that, and it was time to go on active duty in the Navy. I applied, they had openings. In '94 I came on active duty in the Navy and went straight to sea, and so that's how I got into the Navy with my Marine Corp background and then a little hiatus in the Army and letting the children grow. As I look back on it the Lord was in it all and I never could have planned it.
Zarbock: One of the things the other Chaplains have said, have alerted me to, was that prior to deployment, husband and wife go through some interesting emotional curlicues. "I'm going to be gone and I'm going to be gone for X period of time. From now on, you're Mr. Mom." There's probably some-- there may be some resentment on the part of some wives about taking total control and management over the family and family obligations. Other chaplains or interviewees have said that sometimes the husband and wife would purposely pick fights with each other so that the departure was made a little easier; you could depart easier by saying "Thank God I'm away from you," than "I'm going to miss you very much and I really don't want to go," so as you reflect back with your sensitivity and appropriateness, your first deployment at sea, what sort of, if any, emotional curlicues did you go through?
Shearin: Well I...
Zarbock: And with the children too?
Shearin: Perhaps the children more so than my bride. I can't of course speak for Susan. I can only speak for my own recollections. The nature of our relationship from the time we dated in college through our marital relationship now-- I'm sorry, it's taking me a moment. I need to think about this; 24 years-- '90-- yeah this is 2007 so I've been married 24 years now. It has always been a very gentle relationship, very caring for one another, very respectful, very much best friends with one another, and you also have to recall that we were married right out of college and went to the Marine Corp and so separation in our first couple years was a known entity. We spent maybe a month together out of our first year all told if you wrapped up all the time, because I was in and out, in and out deploying as a Second Lieutenant, so we were not strangers to separation.
Going to sea the first time, the big decision we had to make was I was assigned in New Jersey at Naval Weapon Station Earl on USS Detroit, which is now a retired ship in the Merchant Marine. It was an oiler, an ammunition auxiliary ship. The biggest decision we made was for her to go back home to North Carolina, because the schedule was such that for two years I was not going to be home, and so when I was home I could take leave and come to North Carolina as easily as I could stay there in New Jersey. There was no need for her, a good southern belle to be in New Jersey-- Love New Jersey, no problems with it, just not the South. So, umm--
Zarbock: What was your wife's hometown?
Shearin: It's Eden, North Carolina which is north of Greensboro, about 45 minutes, near Reidsville. So she was only an hour south of me. Lynchburg's another hour up the road in Virginia. So, my sense is, is that-- and the years have mitigated it some-- I don't recall a great deal of difficulty. It's also mitigated by the fact that we recognize the security that came from the military. We had been pastoring for years, and I love my churches that I serve, but we lived at or under the poverty level for, you know, all of my time in ministry trying to rear three children. I mean, you just don't get paid a great deal, and that time you need to have some appropriate funding is when you're young and have some children. We, we, I don't mean to cast dispersions but we participated in the WIC Program, Women of Infants and Children Program without a problem. We never paid taxes because we were so far below the poverty level. That's the nature of the church when you're starting off. So, it sounds a mean thing to say that when it was time for me to go to sea, we weren't overjoyed, but we certainly understood the sacrifices that we were making to minister in God's name to sailors and Marines as well as provide for our family. So, I don't recall in any deployments we've had, we understand the pragmatic nature of things. We get our paperwork in order, we make sure our kids are in place and we try to communicate while we're gone.
Zarbock: So that was your first shipboard--
Shearin: And only ship. There's so few ships in the Navy nowadays. It's rare to get more than two ships in a career. Often one-- Some chaplains will get just the one, and perhaps not even see a ship. There are just so few ships now and we're losing billets for chaplains at sea, so I did USS Detroit. I'm in my Twilight Tour. This is my last tour before I retire. I could retire. I mean I could also stay around. I'll reach 20 in another couple years. If I don't stay around I will have the one ship, and not by avoiding them.
Zarbock: What about overseas posts?
Shearin: I was at the Naval Hospital Guam which is considered overseas, although it's a territory of the United States. I was the only Chaplain at the hospital. It was a civilian Catholic priest who assisted me. I couldn't have done it without him. Guam is a heavily Catholic island. Father Tom McGrath, a wonderful Jesuit Priest who basically ran things there and the Navy Chaplains would come in and assist him, but-- and then a wonderful island community, two years with my family there. It was a long way away. You missed not being able to get in the car and drive home, but it was a good tour overseas. So the ship at sea, then I came here to Camp Lejeune and actually served in this office at the base office, then went to the hospital in Guam, came back to command and staff college. We send one Chaplain every year to command a staff college in Marine Corp command staff, and the Naval War College. So I was selected for one of those postings and enjoyed that year, and then the payback for that was three years in Washington DC at the Chief of Chaplain's Office which is ministry through a computer, and not the most scintillating of activities. My final year there I was sent temporary additional duty to Baghdad and had the opportunity to serve with General Casey and General Petraeus's staff as the Operations Officer for the Command Chaplain of Multi-National Force Iraq.
Zarbock: When was that?
Shearin: That was just 2006. I got back in 2007 before I came here.
Zarbock: So you really are fresh out of Baghdad.
Shearin: Fairly, fairly, although things change so quickly there that I'm beginning to lose the situational awareness of that area, and my previous supervisor, Colonel Michael Hoit, an Army Chaplain, an Army Senior Chaplain over there has just returned from Theeder if I understand correctly, and-- but a fine, tactical thinking Chaplain-- operational strategic thinking Chaplain. I learned so much from him, and we really are-- This is the new flavor of the military where Navy and Army and Air Force serve together. That staff had one Air Force Chaplain, one Army Chaplain, one Navy Chaplain, an Army Sergeant Major and a Navy Enlisted Religious Programs Specialist, and so it was truly a purple staff. We went throughout the Country of Iraq--
Zarbock: I'm sorry, why do you call it purple?
Shearin: That's the color that we say you get when you mix all the Army and Navy and Air Force together; it comes out purple, so that's the jargon.
Zarbock: Our responsibility was for the entire country of Iraq, and it was called "Hoit's Responsibility." I just helped him do that. But it was a good tour, and learned a lot. And then finally after-- that would have been five years-- one in school, three at the chief's office, one in Iraq which was also a very senior level billet, so behind a computer-- finally I come back to Lejeune and I'm at the Eighth Marine Regiment now, Second Marine Infantry Division, and working daily with Marines and Sailors, and it's a wonderful, wonderful ministry. I had mentioned off camera that this tape will remain in the vault at the University as long as the planet Earth is capable of making-generating electricity so that none of us can predict who is going to see this tape, how many years from now, but given the tumultuous and fast-moving nature of international events, I wonder if you wouldn't mind, again from the standpoint of doffing your hat to history, reflect as much as you care and as little as you dare about Iraq, and I make no restrictions. Just again, you're now talking to people that are going to say "Oh, wow, he was there."
Shearin: Well first, that I was there seems so irrelevant. I have such a small part each of us play, but perhaps the grain of sand that each of us moves makes the mountain when put together, so researchers can mine all they want to. I certainly don't feel like my story is much more than that, than a grain of sand in the whole thing, but I'm certainly happy to give you my reflections. 2003-- 2000 to 2002-- I'm just trying to get the dates right. 2003 was when I was in Command of Staff College. I graduated in 2003, Masters in Military Science, studies, I'm sorry, Masters in Military Studies out of Marine Corp University. That Spring, we're ready to go have the war kick off, and I make no apologies for it, I thought we failed in our strategic national decision making policy. I felt like we were ill-advised to pursue military actions, to bring about political decisions. Now very clear, warfare is an extension of politics by other means. I don't disagree with the use of warfare in politics. I just felt like we had not engaged the national community enough.
Two things-- well, three things led me to that. One was a personal conviction, but I have to admit that two other things drove that personal conviction. One was the fact that Command and Staff College at the Marine Corp University is an international class. We had students from Saudi Arabia there, we had French students there. I shouldn't say a student; they were not plural, but one from Saudi Arabia, one from France, others from other countries. Also as a part of that course we took a trip to Cairo, Egypt for a couple of weeks, and engaged the people there in the Embassies and in the streets and talking, but before the war started. Without fail, our international students-- no slouches by any stretch of the imagination, selected by their militaries to come to the United States and study with us-- without fail, each of them registered the United States arrogance to fail to engage other countries.
We had people in Spain when we stopped on layovers, and it happened to be Carnival, Spain's equivalent of Mardi Gras I believe, so it must have been that time of year. In the midst of partying-- because we would be out there all night long-- and I didn't do anything wrong, honey, if my wife ever watches that-- but they would say to us "Please" through their blurry eyes and a little bit too much to drink, "Please don't go to the war. Please don't invade Iraq." I mean, it was the talk of the world, at least the Western world that we were encountering. And in some way, they were begging us to engage, as if some Chaplain, Lieutenant Commander in the Navy could influence national politics, but the average rank and file of the people we met in Cairo, in Italy where we stopped, in Spain, the people in our classes at the worst called us arrogant for not engaging at the least, begged us to think of some other way. All of that tallied together in my mind found it ill-advised to pursue a war in Iraq.
However, when it happened, I told my wife "You know, I have to be involved in this, because my calling is to serve and minister with Marines and Sailors in times of duress and the most stressful time is warfare." That came later, as I've already told you in 2006 when I went to Iraq. That was my first opportunity after three years later to go and minister. So for the record, I felt it was ill-advised. I've said that three times. I emphasize that.
However, moving forward, once the discussion is done, as a good officer you execute, and I do, and gladly with Semper Fidelis the faithfulness that comes with being a Marine, and now a Navy Chaplain. The year in Iraq, I find that we are taking a very Western approach to a Near Eastern country, Near Eastern culture, not to mention-- I can't add any more than what other people have said. It looks like we failed to think about what to do after the war. From what I hear from battalion level commanders and others that I'm engaged with, I engaged with them, I'm engaged with now, the first couple years were our biggest mistakes in that we did not engage the local Sheiks on the ground, did not engage townships. Commanding officers evidently wanted to get in there and show up the existing infrastructure and the national decision that was made was to eradicate infrastructure and start to build from scratch.
Well, in our Western mind, that's what we do. When the Twin Towers are blown up, you eradicate it, you build something that says, "This is who we are." When you want to fix something you raze it to the ground and you put something else in its place. That's Big West, that's Big America. I understand that. I do that. I mean every little hobby I do, I raze and build, raze and build. How long do you stumble forward with your Western view before you realize it's not working and begin to engage, or maybe you find yourself in this sandwich, so to speak, this bad sandwich, and you decide the only thing you can do is continue to eat it to get out of it. I don't know what the national decision making policy. I'll give you an example. I note that you're checking the distance on the tape, so let me know if we need to pause and I apologize if I'm going too long but again, you can fast forward.
One of the programs in which we engaged, my supervisor engaged while there-- and I'm only pausing now to ascertain in my own mind-- there is nothing in this that is secretive I'm thinking, and I may stumble if I think something is, but I don't, I can't imagine it is. It's all been discussed publicly-- was a desire to gather the religious leaders of Iraq at the national level with the Malachi government, along with the State Department and the military, the three legs of the tripod there. I bet we worked on getting those people together along with the other tripod legs for the better part of the year we were there, and we received assent from the leadership, US leadership, "Yes go forward, go forward."
When the time actually came to go and have a meeting in England with some of the players who would make up the council, inter-religious council, Sunni, Shia, others-- Christian, a small group, people from all religious walks of life, we couldn't get Visas. Why couldn't we get there? It appeared that the US State Department had changed its mind at the last minute. So "No problem, aye aye, can do, we'll back off," and we looked for other venues and we were going to have it in Iraq. I left-- after being there for a year-- I left and that council had not gone any further, and all we needed to do was talk.
It appears-- and this is Winston Shearin speaking. It's not the United States Navy, it's not the United States Government, it is Winston Shearin, a Baptist, Christian Minister who also served. It appeared to me that the United States and all of her entities wanted to set up a Westernized secular organization within a culture that was steeped in religiosity. The constitution of the Iraqi government says in the first paragraph-- the first page-- they are the defenders of Islam in that country. I'm a Christian. I believe in Christianity. I would die-- God willing-- for my faith, but as an United States citizen and a member of the military, would die for anyone else to have their right to faith in our construct. What a wonderful and wholesome idea to have about religiosity and faith, and yet it seems to be national policy in this time that we will enforce a secularism on another in contravention to our values, and woe be unto the nation that strives against her values. You cannot succeed in what you endeavor to do.
And that, to me, is the crux of our problems in engaging the world at this point. Where we should be leaders in liberty we are failures in our own myopic vision. So, that's my take on Iraq. Will we come out of there? I also said-- and this is what I think our exit strategy should be if I were running for President-- The exit strategy is to go in, to use as much as force as necessary to stop the bleeding and to redefine success. I kid you not, I would go in, I would publicize the good, I would mitigate the negative, and I would redefine success. "This is success, this is what it is. We're leaving," and somewhere down the road we'd leave. We are going to take a black eye for this in history, and the best thing to do is to-- but, how did you do it? You're in that sandwich. You've got to eat your way out. You can't kill your people as you're coming out, etc, etc. I understand that. Support my forces, support my leadership, and I'll do what I can to minister to Marines. Now, if you'll just hold this for a couple of years until I retire I'll be alright (laughs). That's what I truly think about what happened in Iraq.
Zarbock: Your wonderful comments reflect one of the interests that I have in the Military Chaplain Oral History Series. You know, you are a military officer and have rules and regulations, and a religious leader with all of the demands placed upon you and yet you're Winston and you are entitled to say whatever you want in the public square whether with the exception as you remember the law, you can't shout fire in a crowded theater, and you're not shouting by the way fire in a crowded theatre.
Shearin: Actually, you bring something up that just crossed my mind. As long as I'm Winston-- you know, one of the difficulties is appearing in this uniform. You know, I essentially have sat under the auspices of the Public Affairs Office in this uniform to be interrogated-- interviewed; interrogated is not the right word-- So the caveat should be, once again, I've said it before, that these are my personal views and that I fully support with my actions the leadership of our country. And you know, this brings up another issue. Recently we've had some chaplains, Navy chaplains in the news for their disagreement with the Navy and telling them how to pray a certain way or how to live a-- how to do certain things in uniform. I submit to you that when we enter military service, we abdicate some of our rights, and while I am sharing with you for posterity's sake my innermost feelings, my regular work-- I don't share those.
I have a responsibility to all the citizens of the United States of America to serve their people. Someone once asked a chaplain, you know, "Is it true that there are no atheists in a fox hole?" and that is not true; there are atheists in fox holes. There are Wiccans, there are Presbyterians, there are Catholics, there are Baptists, and it is my responsibility as a chaplain to serve everyone, even those who have no faith, or who have a faith in living like the atheist who believes that this is our existence, and it ends with death. It's my responsibility to come alongside that man or woman and to be a human caring companion. To do that I must set aside some of my preferences; not my commitments, not my callings, but my preferences, and some of the things I've spoken to you are obviously recollections and preferences, but they do not get in the way of the balance I have to hold as a United States Navy Chaplain, coming along side of all people, and that means doing my duty to my leaders.
Zarbock: This may be the time to ask the question I've asked all other chaplains. Has there been any time in your military career that you were ordered, hinted at, or as subtle as a wink and a nod to do something that you felt was against Navy regulations or against your personal belief and ethic, or your religious denominations, belief system? Have you ever been ordered or has it ever been suggested?
Shearin: Oh, yeah. I mean yeah, that kind of stuff happens. One of the difficulties that I think chaplains have-- and a benefit I had of being a prior Service Marine-- is that I came to the Navy understanding the need for policy and for the legal construct in which we live. When I was a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corp I was in charge of a section of Marines, and it was communications section. This goes to, but it is not a story of being told to do something wrong. We also had in our unit, very expensive radar equipment that tracked airplanes-- because I was in an air control squadron. One of our ANTPS65 radars was down for a little part no bigger than your hand. I don't even know what it did; it wasn't my equipment. It cost about $5,000 but it was combat dead lining the entire multi-million dollar radar. Well, it had been on backward for ages, and the part finally was delivered on a weekend out in the desert. We would frequently go out in the desert, set up all of our equipment and track the aircraft for a course called "Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course." My job was to put the ground communication link back into the main side and we could talk.
Well, I had gone home for the weekend; we were allowed to go home when we weren't training, and we had left our duty out there. There was a supply sergeant, E5, and I had a young PFC-- I can't even recall his name right now-- but he had been in a little bit of trouble. He had been a lance corporal and he had been reduced in rank to PFC and he had come over to my unit. Well, this $5,000 part for the radar was finally delivered to the supply section. It was delivered in a little brown paper wrapping as they come in the military, and it was in a clear plastic bag along with a bunch of other parts. Well, the supply sergeant called down to my tent. I'm back in main side now out in the desert is my tent, with the PFC and a sergeant were watching the store over the weekend. Said "Hey Sergeant, come up here and pick up your supplies for communications." Sergeant said "PFC, go get the supplies," so the PFC dutifully went up there, picked up a bag of supplies for communications and he was also given the bag that should have gone to the radar section. Thought they were out of supplies.
He came walking back and he set the two bags on the table. Later, when the trash run came through the tent on the weekend, the same weekend, another person grabbed both those bags and took them to the dump. The $5,000 had been on backorder, combat deadline day and TPS65 along with some other batteries and things that were of no import whatsoever was taken to the military dump, and when it was discovered that it was missing and what had happened, it was never found again. So the ANTPS65 sat on combat deadline for five more months or whatever it took to get another part. I received a lesson in what it means to be responsible and be a responsible officer, because weeks later the PFC was brought into the commanding officer and read the riot act. The sergeant, my sergeant, was brought into the commanding officer and read the riot act. The sergeant who was a supply officer-- you can imagine, all the way up the chain. Well, my gunnery sergeant was brought in and spoken to by the CO.
I don't know what each of these people had, but I know that was in my service outfit-uniform on that same day and walked in and locked myself in front of the commanding officer and he said "I'm giving you an unofficial letter of reprimand for failure to control your unit. It is your responsibility to train your Marines, to supervise your Marines and ensure that your Marines know right from wrong."
You've heard the story. I don't need to embellish the fact that the PFC was probably not the worst sterling person in the world in a comedy of errors, and why was the package that way, and who signed, and whatever. That was not my place to respond. My place to respond in front of that Marine Corp Lieutenant Colonel as a Marine Corp Second Lieutenant was "Aye, aye, sir." I took my unofficial letter of reprimand and I walked out. And, I was none the worse for wear, but was better for having learned a lesson.
Zarbock: Okay, tape number two. 19th of September. Take it away, Sir.
Shearin: Okay, tape number two, continuing, and you probably wish it would end, soon, but where we were is, I learned from my story, from my time with the Marine Corps that one takes responsibility, one needs to know the rules, the laws, the regulations, and be prepared to stand by them, own up to them when the time comes, especially the leaders. So, when I came to the navy, if someone were to ask me to do something that was wrong, or I perceived to be wrong, it was incumbent upon me, I felt, to know why it was wrong, to speak the policy, to quote the chapter and verse. >We've had a number of, in the past years in the Chaplain Corps, just training conferences on ethics and moral decision making and ethical decision making and I get beside myself sitting in these classes for a week or so, because it will routinely devolve to discussing some, "Should Chaplain Johnny have done this?" or "Should Chaplain Jane have done this?" or "Should somebody stand up for that?" and nine times out of ten it is not a matter of ethic, it is a matter of law. It is a matter of policy. Read the rules.
I don't care if you disagree with the rules or not, if it's a rule and it's a legitimate law of the land, legitimate law of the government, you are mandated to obey that. If you disagree with it, as Justice Scalia said in the conference that he gave at our Commander State College, he said, "If you disagree with the law of the land, you go back to your area, you get likeminded civilians, citizens, to come together, go to your representatives and get that law changed."
There's nothing ethical in that decision. Well, there are some ethical constraints, but whether you obey it or not, is not a product of your ethos. It is simply a matter of will you do what is required. And then comes, what my good chaplain friend Gary Core says is, the crux of all decision making, which is courage. Now there is moral courage that takes place in a number of cases. And often what we interpret as an ethical dilemma is really a dilemma of courage.
So that I was asked by a senior member one time to allow a funding action to take place to move one person from one place to another and the reason was outside of the scope of military travel regulations and I mentioned it as the policy person in this particular section and the chaplain, who happened to be a senior chaplain, said to me, "Well, just make it happen." I said, "Well, sir, if you'll put it in writing that you just want it to happen, I'll append the policy to it," and I never heard anymore from it. It's amazing how, when one stands on chapter and verse, not only holy writ, but also policy, how quickly those in authority will back down.
So, I have never been asked to do something unethical in the chaplain corps that went very far. It usually was so in contravention to the policy and the law that it was easy to refuse. But one must know their policy. You can't just say, "Oh, well, I've heard somewhere that you can't do that." You're not going to go very far. But if you say to someone, "I'm not going to tell you what I heard in confidence, at the very least because the Military Rules of Evidence 503 preclude me from sharing that as a matter of legal principle and a matter of legal," the word escapes me now, it's procedure, it is only a procedural law, but a rule.
But nonetheless it is what we have and now, by the way, there is a policy in the United States navy and in all the services, chaplain services, that prescribe confidentiality, as well as privilege in our communications. So, things develop as chaplains stand on what they have.
Now, I've studied some martial arts along the way, and one of the things that one of my teachers used to say is, "When someone is grappling with you and you get a hand held, hold what you got, hold what you got," and sometimes you got to take a piece of policy and you got to hold what you got in order to stand on the right, because commanding officers don't understand, now I'm getting into confidentiality and privilege and whatnot, but it lends itself to the discussion that we're having, because commanding officers don't understand your priestly penitent, confidentiality and privilege, but they understand Military Rule of Evidence 503, Uniform Code of Military Justice. You get that much out and the commanding officer's starting to go, "Okay, chaplain, I got you." That's all you got to do.
So, no, I've never really been asked anything where I've been, you know, really had to bet my bars, as we used to say, you bet your bars. Never really had to do that, because it always was dismissed with good policy.
Zarbock: Would you discuss with me along that theme, "Okay, I order you to do something," you point out the regulations that prohibit that from being accomplished, and "I'm going to fill out your efficiency report." What is, how dangerous is that Sword of Damocles that dangles over the head of all?
Shearin: Well, my initial reaction was to say, "So?" That's not fair. It is real. There is a real leverage that people have when one thinks about one's career, when one thinks about one's livelihood. One of the reasons why I initially go, "So," is because having served in the Marine Corps for three years of active duty, then in the Army National Guard for three years of active reserve time and some active reserve time in the Marine Corps, selective Marine Corps Reserve, when I came on active duty I really only needed to do about four or five, six, seven years, something like that, in order to get a reserve retirement, you know, and I knew I was going to get something. Once I picked up Lieutenant Commander, which is not at all a foregone conclusion for any chaplain, but once I had Lieutenant Commander, I pretty much knew I was going to retire. Because once you get over 17 and a half years, I believe it's 17 and a half years, 18 at the very latest, you are what they called grandfathered. So, even if you fail to select for the next rank, they'll get you to 20 and you can retire and go home. But in reality, the navy has extended most Lieutenant Commanders who've reached 14 or 15 years on to 20, so I'm a Lieutenant Commander, I've picked up, I've gotten to 14 years, I fail to select for Commander, they're going to let me continue pretty much to 20. So, what I'm saying to you is, is in my case, because I had some seniority coming in, it was pretty quickly along the line that I said, "You're not going to kick me out. You may not promote me, but you're not going to kick me out." And so the Sword of Damocles was fairly well attached over my head and not dangling by a thread.
Now, I will say as a lieutenant, and I don't recommend this particular story, my position was more tentative than the illustration of me not caring. That's confusing, let me just tell you the story. When I was a Lieutenant I had gotten off of the ship the U.S.S. Detroit. It's two year tour of arduous sea duty away from your family. I had been extended for eight months on that ship quite by a mistake of the detailer, unintentional, but what had happened was at the end of my two years they ran out of money to move people, and so what they were supposed to do was move everybody to the new fiscal year until money was available, so that was about a four month extension for me.
Well, the mistake of the detailer was they forgot about me and so the first quarter passed and I didn't have orders. So, I called and I said, "What's the story?" And they said, "Well, you're not due to rotate." I said, "Check your date. That's last year I was supposed to roll." So, "Oh, sorry," so they got orders for me. I ended up being extended on arduous sea duty for eight months. Ah, whine, whine, whine, who cares? Two years eight months, fine.
But I was with my family, I came to a shore station and I was enjoying my family. Halfway through the shore station I was called into my supervisor's office and they said, "Chaplain Shearin, you're going unaccompanied overseas for, I think it was a year, unaccompanied overseas. It's a great billet, it's a great thing for you, it will be a good career move." I said, "Hang on a second." I said, "I'm here in a tour with my family, my kids, an important time in their lives, I'm willing to do what the navy chaplain corps asks me to do, but you're short touring me. You're cutting a year and a half out of that tour to send me a year unaccompanied overseas? What, and you're just telling me. What options do I have?" "Well, you don't have any options." I said, "Well, I have an option," and I put in my papers to retire. Or not retire, to resign, because I was nowhere near retirement.
What happened was nine months later, the navy chaplain corps was hurting for chaplains and as I was getting ready to get out and go to a church, which oh, by the way in fairness, I hadn't lined up a church yet, it had been nine months later, they said, "Would you stay?" and I said, "Yes, I'd stay. And do you want me?" "Yes." Now I had three years with my family, almost three, it was two and a half by this point and I went to Guam overseas and I was happy to go and take my family.
But for me, and orders are orders, don't get me wrong, when someone says go and do, you go and do, but there's also the practical realities of people's lives. If you take a kid off of a ship and he's been away from his family for awhile, you ought to have some other options beside turning around and then sending him somewhere else, blah, blah, blah, etcetera, you may agree or disagree.
The point is, I never really cared about the Sword of Damocles. I figured if God had me one place, he could provide another place for me, and if he called me one place, and I don't mean to, I don't mean to blame God for the call, because of my decision, but my point is I never really cared about the Sword of Damocles. If it was the right thing to do for my family and for the navy in that case, they didn't need a chaplain who was unwilling to go to Fuji. I needed to get out, but at least I put my money where my mouth was.
Zarbock: But generally, no, escalating the response beyond your particular comment, it is a situation.
Shearin: It is. But I guess in the midst of all that murky story there, which was not real clear, I think the key is if you are, if Winston is in a position that an institution, a bureaucracy, a job, or anything, is more important than my honor, than I'm in a precarious situation.
Zarbock: And this is probably a good time to ask you, reviewing your life experiences, all the way from coming of age through educational experiences, the variety of military experiences that you've had, things that go bump in the night with you, and all the rest of life experiences, what sort of credo have you put together for you?
Shearin: Well, I believe a lot of things. First of all, I believe in God. The Apostles Creed is a great one for me, although I don't think you'd expect to hear that out of a Baptist, but you know I believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and I believe in the Holy Catholic Church and the fellowship of the saints. So, those things which are part and parcel of Christendom I believe, but not without a great deal of shaking. I have tested them and found them to be foundational. You know, the Lord, I struggle with the Lord a great deal, continually, about what it means and what is the construct of man and what is the construct of an eternal God, you know? And which, how do I find God's and eschew man's? So that is a struggle with my credo.
But, yet I believe in God, and at the end of the day, as Chaplain Don Morris used to say to me, at the end of the day I end up with Jesus Christ. For me, that's it. So, so for me, with my credo, I believe in those things that go with what one might call fundamental Christianity, but I think for a thought that makes me very comfortable.
I like the phrase, "Everything in moderation." My current CO calls, he says it, "80 percent across the pillars," that's his phrase and I like that very much, too. Of all the pillars that underpin what we do, 80 percent across them is good, solid support. It's very similar to everything in moderation, because if one gets to doing 100 percent in one, yes, that pillar is very strong, but have you taken something from somewhere else to shore up that side? And one of the things that we are very uncomfortable with conceptually, in the Marine Corps especially, is saying, "We're less than a hundred percent."
You hear this phrase, "I give it a hundred and ten percent." How do you do that? A hundred percent is the last full measure. It's the giving of one's life. So, 80 percent is pretty good.
Patton said, I think it I was Patton, and I won't quote him exactly, he said, "A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed next week." You can wait forever for a perfect plan. So, I think everything in moderation. Don't be so difficult on yourself that your perfection gets in the way of your living. We say it in our family, "You got to stop and pet the kitties."
Zarbock: You got to what?
Shearin: You got to stop and pet the kitties along the way. I just have to stop sometime and bend down and pet my cats, because it's just what life's all about. So everything in moderation.
Zarbock: Well, I'm going to ask you to reflect, reminisce, in your military career, irrespective of where you where, reminiscences of happy times, of events that took place that still make you smile, at least inside.
Shearin: You know, I don't really think of myself separate from my military career. The way you phrase the question is what's making me think this, you know, in your military career, happy times. I think of my life and I am a military man, a father, I'm a student, my wife says I have a crush on school, you know, I love going to schools. I'm a husband, I'm a son, and so to think of it in the military, happy time, my life has been happy. I have no, I'll give you something, but it's a couple of caveats going into it. I have no reason to, I can't think of any reason why I should have had such a wonderful, blessed life. It's just, I thank God for that.
Zarbock: It sounds a little guilt wracked, there.
Shearin: It is a bit of guilt, isn't it? Thank you for that, because there is so much pain in the world and I do think that my sense of fulfillment, the things that cause me to stop and talk to my wife about the day and just share things, are those times when I feel like I can engage with my marines and sailors through their valleys of the shadow of death, through their difficult times, and it brings a smile to me when one can say, "Thank you, Chaplain, that helped." That lifts me up, but oh my lands, happy times have been when my daughter would bounce and sing a song and when she says to me, "I like you, daddy." When my snowy head little boy would say, "I want to be like daddy," or, "I love you," or when he would question his ties to family and be ready to move out, and yet the intervening years brought him back around. It's when my other son, who's 20 years old, and who hopefully will never be compared to this DVD when he hears this scene, still calls me daddy. "I love you, daddy." When my wife holds my hand. I can't, it is the little things of life. And I would, my corporal and I were talking the other day and we talked about things of life and an automobile accident had occurred and his family was okay, but the car was damaged pretty badly, and I was able to, we were saying together, and I said, "You know what, my friend?
There will come a time when Winston's lying in the casket and the best you may do is put me in my full dress uniform, but I will take nothing else with me. And the cross and whatever rank is on that collar will soon tarnish and turn to nothingness and I will carry nothing with me out of this world, not a unique thought, everyone knows it, except for those people."
I truly believe that beyond the pale of this earth lie the people that I have known, that have known me, and that they exist beyond time. For we are, at our very core, spiritual people who are in relationship with one another, and for every moment that something gets in the way of that idea of relationship in this life tend to be defined as less than happy times, and the happy times in life are when my spirit connects with another, whether it was a wedding in U.S.S. Detroit or whether it was a Hail and Farewell with some of my friends with whom we laughed and joked together, whether it was baptizing my children, or looking into my wife's eyes o an anniversary. Those are the happy things in life, and they occurred in the military, and they occurred in the church, and they occurred in my home, and they're probably not, probably a great deal of schmaltz, and not at all very riveting, but that's who I am.
Zarbock: What about the periods of the absence of happiness? There must have been periods?
Shearin: There have been times when I have not been happy, but looking back there has been a baseline of joy, even in the midst of unhappiness. I don't want to evade your question with universalities. I mean sure, I can remember sitting in seminary and needing 200 dollars in order to be able to pay my fees in order to walk the stage. To me, that seemed like a horrendous thing. Thank God for my sister Susan who was there to loan me 200 dollars. I can remember a time when we were so in debt to the IRS because I hadn't learned in seminary that I was supposed to pay all of my taxes as a minister, so I had gone a year without paying half of my taxes and had no money to buy milk, much less taxes and looking at my wife and saying, "Whatever shall we do?" But--
Zarbock: What did you do?
Shearin: We called the IRS, said, "We'll pay you on time," and we took each other's hand and moved forward and we paid it off on time. There's always an answer, you know, short of going home to glory, there's always an answer and there are people, and we've always majored on the people in our lives. You know, the wise servant went out and said, "Here, your debt is forgiven, your debt is forgiven, your debt is forgiven," so when he came on hard times there were people around him. It's when we think that the dollars and the bills and the cars and the things of life are so much more important than the people, that we end up bankrupt. So, you know, sad times, I mean even when my father died, I cried, I was sad at the loss, and there have been times when I wished my father were around to share some of the accomplishments of life, in my life, you know, Frank Winston Shearin Jr., but in and through it all, my only statement can be thank God for the Christian man who was my father. I mean, how can you not be joy?
You see, because ultimately in life there is, everything is so much greater than this existence and it is easy for someone who's gone through great trial and tribulation and there is that guilt that comes and it is going to come out in this statement, to say, "Well, you have not been through the fire. You have not been challenged. You have not been tested." Probably true, but yet in some way in the tapestry of the universe, God has created me for this role to walk alongside those who have been through the fire and I accept that role, and I'll walk and I'll hold and if I die today I say to you, I have lived a satisfied and full life. Yeah. And that's my story.
Zarbock: Off camera I had mentioned that I was going to ask you, like bookends, joyful times followed by the other bookend sorrowful times, and in between those bookends ask you for any reflection and reminiscences that you have. Again, not indicting any individual, but just reflecting upon some of the hilarious goof-ups and snarl-ups and errors, of one kind or another, that have taken place in the military during your career. And again without indicting...
Shearin: Oh, I know, absolutely. That is not my desire to indict anyone, anyway. I know that you don't say that, but just to protect others, but I mean there's no need to bring pain to other people. Our existence should be about bringing joy. (laughs). A friend of mine named Lieutenant Washington, Lieutenant J.D. Washington, and I were going through the Suez Canal, on the U.S.S. Detroit and they had this requirement that you purchase lights from the Egyptians for your ship, notwithstanding that we had many lights on our ship, but they required two lights on the very foreword portion of the bow of the ship to light the canal, which was well lit throughout. Anyway, they, you know, it was to make money, obviously. And so they brought the lights on, we were going to write them a contract, the lights wouldn't work. They tried for miles and miles of this canal work to get the lights working, and oh, they were at one another and, you know, will this contract go through, who was going to pay, who wasn't, and my friend, Mr. Washington, was caught in the middle of all this. He was the young man responsible for executing the contract and making the lights work.
At any rate, halfway through the Suez, after we had gone through the whole night, the, somebody came to him, because they couldn't get the lights to work, the Egyptians came to him and said, "The requirements for the lights have been lifted," you know? It was just a willy-nilly decree, and of course it was done with a little accent and so he and I laughed for some time after that. "The requirements for the lights have been lifted." And everything that represented bureaucracy failing became, "The requirements for the lights have been lifted." Everything was lifted. I remember laughing with him about that.
Another one of my friends, Bosun White, on that same ship, the ship's bosun, one night was on watch and I came up to do evening prayer and he had said to me, "Hey, Chaps, how about doing a prayer for me one time?" you know, ship's bosun, you know, I said, "Okay," so a couple of nights when he was on watch again I crafted one that used a lot of nautical terms and Lord be our anchor and lead us safely to port, some such verbiage like that and I said a prayer for bosun White and it just, it's the little things that connect you to people and then years later he came by and saw me at another duty station and we shared a cigar together, he said, "Hey, Chaps. Good to see you again." Those type of things make me laugh, make me smile, little stories like that. I suppose there are other humor in uniform stories that, I keep a journal and have written some down and perhaps I could let you have a few of those as I think of them, something like that.
Zarbock: As a matter of fact, unless it's embarrassing, and too much, if we could copy the entire journal.
Shearin: Well, if you can read my chicken scratch of a pastor's handwriting I could certainly submit portions or--
Zarbock: Portions would be wonderful.
Shearin: --whatever, you know, in actuality, I think that's a service to me. It allows some of my story to go on, so thank you for the offer.
Zarbock: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Shearin: Of course, this could be one of those pieces of data, as we read about in the Old Testament, that are referred in the chronicles, and yet are these not recorded in the other books, and what are these other books and where are they? And someone will read this one day and say, ""Where's that journal?" There is no journal. Believe me, it's no more interesting than this, so.
Zarbock: Which happens to be very interesting. I'm going to lead you back to Baghdad for some very, very practical low level questions. Where were you billeted? What was the nature of comfort or discomfort?
Shearin: Very comfortable in Baghdad. I was on the four star staff, so we were in Camp Victory, which was seven miles due west of the Green Zone, which most people know about the Green Zone, at least contemporarily we know about it, the future may not, but that big crook in the river down there was the Green Zone where the embassy was and then seven miles to the west was Camp Victory. Camp Victory was, the name slips me of what Saddam called that, Alfaw, A-l-f-a-w, his Alfaw Palace. It was an area that he had one of his palaces with many grounds that he had let grow up so he could have wild game there, and he and his sons, Uday and Qusay, and others, would go hunting this wild game, mostly Uday and Qusay. They also had a place called the Perfume Palace there, a circular building that was most, like a hotel, and Uday and Qusay, reportedly, would sequester women that they had taken from families, and others there, quite heinous acts, to take them, young women from their families and would basically keep them there as a harem and that building is there, and often gave me cold chills when I would go there for work because we used it as office spaces. I was housed in one of his palace buildings.
And they had trailers, row upon row of trailers, that we lived in. As a Lieutenant Commander, I shared a trailer with a roommate. Every month I would get a Baghdad bulletin newsletter at home and one of the bulletins has a picture of my trailer in it and some, you know, very tongue in cheek kind of humorous little Baghdad bulletin that talked about what we did. One day, I was walking home to my trailer about a half a mile away and three rockets came in, boom-boom-boom, and one of them hit the trailer right next to mine. Threw shrapnel, just destroyed that trailer, threw shrapnel through the wall, that opening in the, we had blast walls around every trailer, concrete walls, but there was a gap in between the two trailers and my bed was right in the gap and there were quite a few pieces of shrapnel in my bed and I thanked God that I was on my way home, and not home, at that point in time. So we lived in row upon row of trailers. We ate in mess halls, more food than you could ever need. I had to go on a diet, you know, 30 flavors of Baskin Robbins. The senior enlisted there used to say, "I went to war and a garrison broke out." You were in most danger when you traveled. That's where we lost our people in helicopter fires.
Zarbock: Did you have perimeter guards?
Shearin: Oh, yes, absolutely. Very large places, so much so that you really had a hard time mortaring in and rocketing in. I mean you had to use rockets to get them in and it was very willy-nilly from the adversary, from the enemy, whomever they might be, they might be Al-Qaeda, they might be people who were subversives, whatever, they would rocket into these places, occasionally. And, I don't think we lost anybody to rocket attacks.
Zarbock: The phrase "siege mentality" comes to mind. Was there any of that?
Shearin: No, I didn't sense that then, because we felt we controlled the airspace, we felt we controlled the roads. IADs were the biggest problems in killing our troops, but the main road between us and Camp Victory was well patrolled, well cleared, I drove it in Humvees and flew it in helicopters and I mean, yeah, you were taking a risk, but it was a calculated risk. It wasn't a gamble. And flew about the country quite a bit, I did, and I mean I always felt safe, but then again there were other planes that went down. We lost our command surgeon while I was there in one of the helicopters that went down in January of 07.
Zarbock: As the result of enemy fire?
Shearin: Absolutely. Went down, there was a spate, if you look back at your history in the newspapers, you'll see a spate of helicopters that went down, three or four right in a row and he was on the first one that went down, and a very dear friend of my boss, and it was a sad time.
Zarbock: Did you perform any religious services while you were there?
Shearin: No, I was an operations officer, so my responsibility was to ensure command religious program distribution throughout the country, making sure that there were enough chaplains. And actually, I made sure that others made sure there were enough chaplains. I was at the highest level and there was another level below us, so I was really a staff officer. Occasionally, I'd be asked to bring a service, do a prayer, just to, you know, be a part of the worship community there. And we actually did Godspell. We took, we got a bunch of people together and we--
Zarbock: Wait! Wait! For the sake of the camera, what are you talking about, Godspell?
Shearin: Godspell, the musical. The musical Godspell from back in the '70s, I believe, and oh, do you have time for a quick story on Godspell and what it means to me? It kind of goes to my understanding of theology. When I was in high school, I told you I grew up in a very conservative town and church and Godspell had come out and it was, you know, it was Jesus as a clown and people in my church, "Well, that's terrible, terrible, musical, can't do that." And we did it in our high school and my theater teacher wanted me to play John the Baptist and Judas, and I said, "No, I can't do that. It's a horrible musical, a clown, I can't do that." And so I opted out, and when they did it, I loved it. It moved me. I thought this is such, and it was the beginning of an education to me that I needed to test what people said to me, not just buy their theology, but make it my own.
Well, then 20 some years later, we're doing Godspell and I'm 46 years old, I can't play Godspell with these kids, but I went in and I knew one of the songs that John the Baptist and Judas did and I did it for the audition. They said, "Yeah, we'll put makeup on you, you're not too old." And I did it and we did it there for the troops an d it was a lot of fun and it was a real coming about in my old age of finishing up, so there's a happy thing from that time. So I was involved in worship in that way and leadership.
Zarbock: Were you every involved in Jesus Christ, Superstar?
Shearin: Well, as a theater major in college in the '80s, of course Jesus Christ, Superstar was a topic of conversation, although even by that time it had become a little bit of age on it, but I never was able to present it. We might have done some scenes from it, and I know a great deal of the songs from it, and I don't have too much of a problem with that. Now, the people that reared me would have a problem with me not having too much problems with Jesus Christ, Superstar, but I take it with a grain of salt. (tape change)
Zarbock: Lieutenant Commander, how about a message for your, for whomever.
Shearin: Yeah, okay, well thanks. I think I would like to say a word to my children and just think about the long view. It's a new tape, I don't want to take too long, but to start off I'd like to share a little story about my three great grandfather named Solomon Green Boone who was a man of 35 years old when the Civil War broke out. He was in North Carolina and was reluctant, apparently reluctant, to enlist right away in the Civil War. As many people know, North Carolina was one of the last states to succeed from the Union and was greatly conflicted about its involvement in the war and Solomon Boone was a planter. He did own slaves, here in eastern North Carolina and he went off to war 35 years of age, and by all accounts by his company commander who left a story about him, he was a man of God, a quiet man in camp when on the march, but a firebrand in battle. He paid a last full measure of his service at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia and died there on the battlefield and was buried in the valley of Virginia. From his daughter I have come. Her name was Indiana Flora Boone and it was some years later that I traced my lineage back through Solomon, because he had died in war and there were not a lot of documents that survived him, except for this one paragraph in a book that had been reprinted by his company commander who said that he was a man of God and a man of valor.
And I thought to myself, "What would Solomon have said? What would he have been like? What would he have liked his three great grandchild to know?" And I think about that myself. I love, with all my heart and all my life, Matthew and Christopher and Samantha, my three children, and they are my joy, and they know I love them.
We've done everything from silly ol' film projects to written letters to each other, but it never hurts to tell them, you know, "I love you, and everything I've done is as a product of you." When I go to war to support my country, it's mostly to support my family and those others who live around them in our great country.
I often wonder if somewhere down the road a piece of writing or a letter that I have penned to my bride or to my children might fall into the hands of my three great grandchild, and I would want them to know that now, as I live, as I serve on the battlefields our nation, whether I agree with them, what took us there, or not, I believe in liberty, I believe in the God-given freedoms that we have in this country and that every human being alive in this great nation must give of themselves to support them. And in doing so, and in paying with the sweat, and perhaps blood, I do my best to preserve that liberty for my children.
And in this time, I think about my grandchildren. I think about the prospect that this great nation will go on and will be a place where my posterity can live free and be willing to stand and pay. We must not forget that what we have, given by God, is not free. It comes at a cost of our lives and our dedication and I encourage my children, their children, and their children to be loyal Americans and faithful men and women of God.
Zarbock: Thank you, Chaplain. It's a privilege to know you. As I told you off camera, there are tellers of great stories and great story tellers. You've combined both. Thank you.
Shearin: Thank you.