I walk from the ashes…my crucifix warm on my kevlar.

Was thumbing through a news mag the other day—you know, the kind that still comes out on paper, because I’m old-fashioned like that sometimes—and happened upon an article on threats to national security. This picture was randomly used in it.

U.S. Army Pfc. Ryan Genaw, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, observes a hill for a possible enemy threat in Kandarou, Afghanistan, July 25, 2009. Afghan national army soldiers and U.S. forces patrolled the area together looking for possible improvised explosive devices. Photo by Spc. Evan Marcy

Solid picture: the American fighting man scanning the hillsides of Afghanistan for hostiles. I was taking a closer look at the weapon, the scope, his gloves, and the overall evolution of the battle kit for our troops even since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when something caught my eye. Something didn’t quite fit the pattern (such as it is) of the camouflage on his kevlar helmet, just above his name tag.

Here, let me blow it up and lighten the color of that area for you…

It might be a uniform violation (really not sure), but Pfc. Ryan Genaw has his priorities right.

I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. (Psalm 18 KJV)

Reminds me of a song by one of my favorite bands, The Avett Brothers. A song called “In The Curve.” In sum, it’s sung from the perspective of a guy who is driving intoxicated, takes a curve too fast and… “I lost control in the curve / and a gas line broke in the wreck / I walked from the ashes with just a few scratches / my crucifix warm on my neck.” Next verse: “My good Lord was with me tonight / just riding beside me tonight / now we’re just talking, hitchhiking, walking / we’ll see you in Concord tonight.”

Maybe Pfc. Genaw has it as more of a lucky amulet rather than a token and testimonial of faith, but I prefer to take the stronger view. Pfc. Genaw is out there on patrol with his comrades. Given the unpredictability of the locals and roadside bombs and even the spate of Afghan police and military who have turned on their American co-workers and trainers lately, any of those guys on active patrol could catch a bullet or be in the blast of an IED at any time. He’s not taking a walk in the park. What he chooses to include in his battle kit means something.

Fitting, then, that he arms himself with the ultimate sign of the victory of life over death: the image of Christ crucified, the cross that stands revealed as the tree of life. Christ went to his death for all of us so that we might have everlasting life. Our soldiers put their lives on the line and accept the possibility of death so that we might live with the blessings of liberty.

“Greater love hath no man” applies most perfectly to the God-man who laid down his life for all mankind, but it also applies to all others who lay down their lives for their buddies, their families, their friends, and even the countless people they do not know but who live in liberty because of their sacrifices.

May the absurdity of the Cross of Christ—“a stumbling block to Jews and madness to Gentiles” (see: 1 Cor 1:18-25)—provide the spiritual strength for all of our fighting men and women to come through in health and endure the wounds—the ones we can see, but more especially the ones we cannot see that hurt even more and for a longer time.

I hope Pfc. Genaw was helped by that crucifix and his faith in what it means, and I hope the silent witness of its presence on his kevlar aided those around him in that warzone.



  • Randall

    Thank you for the reminder that we are, indeed, in yet another Crusade against the scourge of radical Islam. Maybe this time, through the righteous faith of Christian soldiers like Pfc Genaw, we will win. It would certainly help if we didn’t have a commander-in-chief who was rooting for the other side.


    Pray my brothers and sisters that he makes it through his deployment safely and is returned to his loved onEs.

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe


      • Don Grant


        The soldier’s reasons for carrying the Crucifix with him which I believe are noble, can be taken separately from
        the reasons the US Govt has for sending him there. tz 1s comment is well taken. A lot of people of good will, a lot of good Catholics wonder what we are doing in Afganistan at this point. I would doubt that JPII or Benedict would approve.

        Don Grant

        • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

          Don Grant— A few things. First, regarding whether our action in Afghanistan is just or unjust, the approval of Benedict or JP II is immaterial, per the criteria of Just War doctrine. They can have opinions and we would do well to take their opinions into account, but as to whether the war is just or unjust the pope has not the competence to make that determination for the U.S. That said, tz1 took a rather dim view of Pfc Genaw’s service and ascribed “mortal sin” to his actions as a soldier. A rather bold statement that 1) assumes the war is obviously unjust; and 2) assumes much about Genaw’s conscience vis-a-vis his actions as a soldier. At most tz1 could say that Genaw and others have participated in something that is grave matter, which I would also dispute, but ascribing “mortal sin” when all you are able to say is “people of good will, good Catholics wonder…” is more than an overreach. Good people can, in fact, disagree on whether this war is just. That questioning does not make participation by any given soldier ipso facto grave matter. If a Catholic who held that is was unjust enlisted and went to fight explicitly because it was unjust and they wanted to kill people, that would be fairly obviously mortally sinful, but that is far from the case here.

          • Don Grant


            I think you are getting into the weeds just a little. I don’t think Genaw is committing a mortal sin in fact I admire his courage and faith. When a soldier enlists he is duty bound to go where he is sent. I dont think you give Pope Benedict the credit he deserves for his ability to discern whether a war is just or not. He is a brilliant and good man and last I knew he lives in the same world we do. He also has intimate knowledge of the Nazi and Communist era. I’m not sure what you think would make him less qualified to discern whether or not a war is just than any of our polititions. His opinion is the first one I would look for. I enjoy your posts and the Catholic Vote
            generally. For the good of the Faith, Don Grant

  • tz1

    It is easier to put a crucifix near your brain than to meditate on what Augustine and those who came after him said about “just war”. And is it the greatest love that a man would kill – often without time to avoid “collateral damage” – for his friends? There is some absurdity or irony in holding a gun with the prince of peace nearby.

    There are no shortage of those on the left cohabiting that have similar or even more symbols, even gays, who maintain that God is love so he would approve of anything. Or those who contracept and claim theological or philosophical complexity or just staying in ignorance so they can say they have no indication there is anything wrong.

    I hope PFC Genaw’s soul is right with God, and that he is at least right in intent or ignorant.

    Both Lust and Anger were mentioned. In the sermon on the mount because both feel good and your body likes feeling aroused or angry and will push for more.

    We are condemning the HHS mandate over lust which leads to murder which kills the soul of the murderer. Why is there never any condemnation over government paid violence, torture, or other heinous acts? Is the only way we can sleep soundly is to have men committing mortal sins on our behalf to protect our bodies?

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      tz1 — Interesting. Where I see a man willing to sacrifice himself for others, you see a man killing unjustifiably. I wonder what that says about our perspectives. … I think if you meditate on what the Church actually teaches on just war you would tone back your categorical condemnation of what Pfc Genaw and his comrades are doing. Hint: there is such a thing. Ergo, holding a gun while cleaving to the one who wielded the cords in the Temple against the money changers and who very much approved of necessary defense of others introduces no contradiction at all. Who said anything about anger? Just war, just defense of others, is not, ipso facto, anger. I’m sure you recognize that. On those living in manifest sin but surround themselves with holy symbols—we must hope a) that they retain a semblance of knowledge that what they do is wrong, and that their nearness to holy items will inspire a return to goodness; b) those who claim complexity are not in the same category as Pfc Genaw, so we can dispense with that line.



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