I had never seen a "blow-up doll" before. My infantrymen made sure that shortcoming was fixed.
Being a chaplain in an essentially all-male unit is guaranteed to put you in a tight spot. Yes, you are officially the commander's advisor for moral and ethical issues, which isn't a problem. It is the unofficial element, the "man of the cloth" part, that makes you a walking representative of morality. While there are, of course, those chaplains for whom simply being a moral person is a problem, the real issue is how to balance that perception with approachability - yeah, you're the God guy, but are you a prude, too?
I remember my first chaplain when I was an aviation officer. He decided the best way to manage that tension was to smoke, swear, and look at the soldier's pornographic magazines right with them. You know, he's "one of the guys", non-threatening. This is the route some chaplains take - even though those elements may seem like "not a big deal", the chaplain leaves his moral authority behind in an effort to be cool. Other chaplains think they are the morality police, stirring up the chain of command because they found pornography somewhere.
But, if you're going to spend a year in combat with a bunch of infantrymen, neither of those are what they need. They have no sexual outlet, and we aren't talking about committed religious people, as a rule. Some of them had significant others who sent them racy pictures, but, generally, porn is everywhere, their conversations about what they wish they were doing back home is loaded with sex talk, and their horseplay even has sexual elements to it, as some guy is invariably "raped" in an impromptu (clothed) wrestling match in the dirt. There is a curious blend of Venus with Mars.
I tried to walk the line. I didn't let anyone know about the wall of Playboy centerfolds behind the American Flag at one combat outpost (COP), and couldn't help but laugh at the "sex toys" accidentally left in view when men had to roll out the door in a hurry. One of the men at the same COP even had a girlfriend who sent him a blow-up doll, which they dressed (seen above). The guys knew I wasn't ok with porn, as evidenced by the smiling yell of, "put the damn porn away, the chaplain's here!" often given by a sergeant upon my arrival. As often as their lives were threatened, I didn't think demanding purity was my role.
So, there is very little actual sex happening in combat, unsurprisingly. Unlike common assumptions, most of the men didn't project misogynistic views of women, and they missed their wives and girlfriends as people, not objects - their conversations I overheard proved it. They never talked about local women in a disrespectful way - they actually expressed compassion for their condition (as one soldier said to me, "All a daughter has to look forward to in this place is getting beat and married off at age 12").
Despite Maslow's "hierarchy" claim, they all survived with no sex. They didn't "need" sex, but the sure would have liked to have it. Thankfully, in our area, there were plenty of outlets for aggressive energy release, and when they visited "safer" locations that had women permanently located there, they stayed well within the bounds of the law. Sex wasn't a problem in a hot zone.
But, killing, the subject of my next blog article, was an issue.
** The photo above is a photoshop - originally I was pranked by the men who ambushed me with a camera right after they presented me this doll. I made this image for a joke briefing a couple of weeks later. I didn't think it was a good idea for a picture of me holding a blow-up doll to be on INTERNETS.