US Military Base, Iraq, April 17, 2008 – It’s my fifth year on active duty as a sergeant here in Iraq, and I’m back doing missions, which means long days. But I still rise early, worship my salagram sila deities of the Lord, and chant Hare Krishna as if I can die at any moment – which, here, is a reality. Twenty-two soldiers now come for the mangal arati service I hold in the dorms, and we hold other Krishna conscious programs too.
During one of these, the incoming alert system suddenly blasted into our ears. A second later, a rocket impacted one hundred feet from our “ashram.” I directed everyone to run to the bunker, grabbing my salagram silas and mrdanga drum as I dashed after them. I knew that I might be waiting in the cramped little bunker for a long time. That’s how rocket and mortar attacks are. Sometimes there’s only one rocket – but sometimes there’s five or six.
Everyone in the bunker stared at me as I ran in with the Lord and my weird-looking drum. I placed the silas down on a box, and slowly people started coming up to me to ask questions. I explained how the Lord comes in His deity form, and told them about the Holy Name. They listened with rapt attention. As I taught them how to chant the Maha-mantra, I could see that their minds were gradually becoming fixed on it.
They asked if I could play the drum, and I showed them a little. I suggested we all sing to pass the time. One man disagreed and had some negative comments to offer, but he was far outnumbered and everyone began singing, nervously at first, but loosing their inhibitions as time went on and giving their hearts to the Holy Name. Some closed their eyes and strained with concentration, while others wore huge smiles – but all were chanting as loud as they could.
We chanted on and on, not even hearing the announcement that all was clear. Soon others from outside heard the bhajans (devotional songs) and joined us in the bunker. When we finished, I looked at my watch. Two hours had passed. As we left the bunker, one girl and a few boys talked with me and asked if they could come chant with me everyday.
Once again here in Iraq, we experienced the mercy and compassion that Srila Prabhupada has given us. We saw through his eyes the happiness that the Holy Name brings. And in a place where people see death everyday, they managed to forget about it for once and instead focus on their relationship with the Lord.