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"Jesus was very clear. He didn't care if you were a Samaritan, a Roman, or a Jew… He ministered where there was a need. And I felt that that's the attitude I had to take with me." (Video Interview, 37:58)

   David Roy Ellis
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David Ellis [2006]
War: Iraq War, 2003-2011
Branch: Army
Unit: 744th Military Police Battalion (MP), Army Reserve
Service Location: Fort Monmouth, New Jersey; Fort Dix, New Jersey; Fort Devens, Massachusetts; Tallil Air Base, Iraq; Baghdad, Iraq
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
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In 1982, David Ellis was living in Massachusetts, a married minister with the United Church of Christ, when he decided to join the Army Reserves. Just over 21 years later, that decision would take him to Iraq, when his unit was activated for duty in the invasion. Attached to a military police battalion, Ellis encountered mostly positive reactions to America's presence in the early days of that war--though he does not minimize the danger his men were in on a daily basis. He practiced what he called a "ministry of presence," as he "loitered with intent" around the men to let them know he was available to talk about their concerns. His unit was responsible for sorting out captured Iraqis, both innocent and guilty; he had several encounters with one very high-value prisoner: Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (15 clips)
»Video interview of David Ellis 
Download: video (113 min.)
»Photo Album  (1 photo)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (15 items)
How he joined the Army Reserves; saw a TV ad with his wife, who suggested he go into the Army; she suggested he go in as a chaplain; recruiter got him into the reserves in March 1982; explains how he served his reserve duty while he was a pastor in Oakham, Massachusetts; took on a second congregation in West Brookfield; his wife, also an ordained minister, covered for him on drill weekends. (03:39) Getting the call to report to active duty in January 2003; process of training and certification took several months; training for desert warfare during a historically cold winter in Ft. Dix, New Jersey; assigned to military police battalion; hurry up and wait for plane to show up. (02:27) Landing in Kuwait; told to prepare for chemical warfare; wore their masks, but everyone on the ground had on full chemical suits but no masks; under attack from Scud missiles; sleeping with mask nearby; accommodations in enormous garage/warehouse. (02:30)
Did not go immediately to Baghdad; traveled in civilian vehicles; wondering about what reception they would get from locals; recalling a man dancing and excited children; gaining trust of people is key to their not harming you. (08:05) Function of unit changed shortly after they arrived; became a trans-shipment point for captured personnel who might be local, foreign fighters, or Saddam followers; sorting the good from the bad and the ugly; encounter with an imam who had been fingered as an enemy but turned out to be friendly; Ellis helped get him and several other detainees released; emotional encounter with the imam. (08:26) Guard telling him they had a young boy in custody who wanted to be shot; Saddam had placed military installation in his neighborhood; bomb dropped near his house, killing several siblings; he was taken away unsure if his wounded mother was all right; he was oldest son and responsible for burial arrangements and was frustrated; Ellis felt he had to minister to the boy no matter that he was not Christian. (05:40)
Taking more fire in Baghdad than in other towns; many neighborhoods with different political or religious allegiances; Christmas Day 2003, doing a worship service in Katameya; he would sometimes fill in for other chaplains; never a shot fired in that neighborhood on any American; locals would report outsiders to the Americans; good will gesture of a cake left for Americans; saw many positive things about Muslims. (04:29) Man stopped him in Baghdad; told him in English that Iraqis didn't want Americans there forever, and Ellis agreed; man added, "But you cannot leave now." (02:20) Story about insurgent from another country; people told him he was helping Saddam to stay in power, to go home; was eventually captured; surprised that he wasn't killed in prison; saw prisoners get food and water, medical treatment; he became unglued; his interrogator told Ellis the story, that he started to cry during their meeting, apologizing; had believed that when he went to fight to liberate Iraq, that Americans were torturers and monsters, and he was ashamed to see that was not the case. (03:34)
Counseling soldiers; making acquaintance with officers to make sure they understand he was willing to talk with them and the men; "Ministry of presence," being where the soldiers are; "Loitering with intent" to ferret out problems; Friday he worked round the clock to catch soldiers on the graveyard shift; more likely to hear about problems at night. (03:14) In Baghdad from November until March; providing road security, performing raids (more like arrests); joke was that MP stood for Multi-Purpose; main reason they were in Baghdad was to run high-value detention facility; they would see people who were on the Deck of Cards, though he never saw a deck there; one of his parishioners back home who got one at a gas station as a promotion sent it to him; most of the leadership in Saddam's regime spoke very good English; worked with Tariq Aziz, who was a Chaldean Christian; Aziz showed him an annotated Bible he owned; they talked about the ancient history of Iraq; Aziz complained about the lack of heat in the "rooms;" Ellis said he had no heat in his room, Aziz comforted himself in the idea of shared sacrifice. (10:57) Was never at Abu Ghraib; heard about the photos and was livid; his own soldiers knew how to conduct themselves; the soldiers at "Abu" "might as well be in the pay of the enemy;" another side of Abu Ghraib--the town with the same name; coalition soldiers went in under suspicious cloud; looters had stripped the school buildings; soldiers started rebuilding schools and won over populace. (05:25)
Soldier from his unit went home for Christmas, came back reporting that news stories were all about negative exchanges between Army and civilians; one reason he's telling these positive stories is to offset negative coverage of the war; acknowledges there is combat, bloodshed, and treachery. (02:42) What looks in a photo to be a soccer field is actually burial ground for tortured and murdered American soldiers, some of them in Jessica Lynch's unit; Ellis' unit had the commander of the death squad in custody and medically treated him for an anxiety attack; the 11 bodies were exhumed and sent back to the States; cleric told Ellis that the people who committed these murders were not really Muslims. (02:26) Helping to clean out a mosque that had been accidentally semi-buried by dirt piled up by an American construction crew; spending all day on a Good Friday working to clean the inside of the building. (01:55)

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  October 26, 2011
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