Saving Sergeant Schoenberg

February 22nd, 2005

February 22, 2005

Saving Sergeant Schoenberg *

Although B.B. Govinda Swami has a place in Vrindavana next door to where I am staying, I rarely see him. He doesn’t visit much, only in the spring when I’m already in the West. When I heard today that he would be stopping here for the night on his way from the Middle East to Central Asia, I immediately went to see him.

It was nice to see Maharaja again, but he was talking long distance on a speaker cell-phone when I came in. I could hear the conversation. I was surprised that it was from a US soldier in Iraq! Govinda Swami immediately explained to the caller who I was and then introduced the soldier to me:

?This is Sergeant Schoenberg, Partha-sarathi dasa. He?s in Iraq. Everyday at 3 PM, when possible, he holds kirtan for over thirty soldiers. Fifteen also came yesterday for his Bhagavatam class. They?re even letting him use the camp chapel. His tour of duty is up in only thirty days, but he is thinking of staying on as a chaplain for soldiers of Eastern religion. There is talk that they may even offer it for him. Please offer him some inspirational words. He would appreciate it.? Govinda Swami then suddenly handed me the phone and asked me to speak.

What could I do but speak from the heart? Naturally, being here for almost six months, the mood of Vraja came out:

?Risk is always rewarded in Krishna consciousness. That?s why parikiya rasa is the highest. The gopis risk everything for Krishna, even their good karma?their reputation, their families?but that risk heightens their love for Krishna to the highest level of prema. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada told us that a preacher who takes risks for spreading Krishna consciousness, particularly in the Muslim countries, is especially rewarded. Your efforts to help give Krishna consciousness to others, even at the risk of life, will certainly be noted by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.?

I wish I wasn’t put on the spot so that I could weigh my thoughts and words more carefully. Comparing gopi bhava to fighting in Iraq? Who am I to encourage someone to risk their life?

Two days later I received the following letter and essay from Partha-sarathi:

Dear Maharaja

Please accept my humble obeisances. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada

Hare Krishna! My name is Partha-sarathi dasa. I am a devotee who has been fighting and preaching in Iraq for 19 months. We spoke briefly in H.H. B.B. Govinda Maharaja’s room in Vrindavana the other day. I wanted to thank you for the kind words you said to me. It was very inspiring and it helped me a lot with my day. I have enclosed an article I have written about it. I feel more devotees need to know more about death. Please let me know what you think.

Your servant,
Partha-sarathi dasa

Face To Face With Death
by Partha-sarathi dasa

Iraq is an intense place with death around every corner. You never know when some car bomb will go off or you might be killed in an ambush. Soldiers everyday die, but would it be possible for me to be fixed on Krishna facing death?

As I sit in my vehicle, I keep on staring at the crimson blood on my uniform. The events of today are indelibly etched into my consciousness.

Earlier, I was driving down the road as part of convoy heading to another base camp. It was three of us in our vehicle. We were scanning the surroundings to avoid an ambush.

I notice another US convoy coming our way. I briefly turn again to scan the road. When I turn back to the convoy ahead I see a flash of light and then the loud boom that always follows. The vehicle bursts into flames. The air quickly fills with the stench of burning rubber and metal.

My driver and I immediately jump out of our vehicle. Our gunner sets up to protect us and secure the site. Other soldiers in the convoy follow suit as we run towards the damaged vehicle. I prepare myself for the worst, but hope for the best. My beating heart calls out, “O Krishna, let these soldiers be O.K.!”

It was much worse than I thought. The passenger and gunner are seriously injured, each covered in blood. Thankfully, at least the driver was saved as the blast came from the right side. We quickly grab the two soldiers out of the smoldering vehicle to give whatever medical care we can. Two of us work feverishly to save the passenger, another two on the gunner. We are trained to reassure the casualties. While administering care, I bend down and start describing relevant teachings from the Bhagavatam, even something of the glories of Lord Nrsimhadeva. It?s intense, but I remain focused on his care while simultaneously concentrating on the powerful verses in the Srimad Bhagavatam that I continue to chant softly.

Medevac (medical evacuation) arrives. As we prepare to move the seriously wounded, I spontaneously rip a piece of Lord Nrsimha?s dhoti that I always keep tied around my wrist and place it in the soldier?s hand. I turn to him and chant “Hare Krishna!” Our duty done, I solemnly walk away hoping that my prayers have been heard.

* ?Saving Sergeant Schoenberg? means that Sergeant Schoenberg is doing the saving, not that he is being saved.

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