Only sinners lose their souls, it's said, through evil that they do. Not Robert Shannon. Incapable of anything but good, he lost his soul through savagery that he witnessed, horrors that he saw. When you lose – or have ripped from you – the spirit that directs you, you have two options. Fight for your soul and win it back, and you'll evermore be a noble human being. Fail, and you die from loss of truth.
It was late September 2005. I was delayed at the gate of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia, while my orders were checked and a pass and parking permit were issued. Oceana is the home base of the Pukin’ Dogs. A sign announcing that fact is posted beside an F-14 jet fighter just inside the gate. The Pukin’ Dogs, or Strike Fighter Squadron 143, is an operational fleet squadron that now flies supersonic F/A18 E's. The squadron's distinguished history is honored at Oceana. It includes service during the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Persian Gulf War, and over Bosnia. During their 2004 cruise aboard the carrier George Washington, the Pukin’ Dogs were involved in forty sorties over Iraq, including bombing runs over Fallujah during Operation Phantom Fury, when the Marines attempted to retake the city after the failed Operation Vigilant Resolve, which had been prompted by the widely publicized murders and burnings of Blackwater mercenaries in the city in spring 2004.
I was at Oceana on that balmy early fall day for the validation of the second year of a professional development training course (PDTC) on ethics for Navy chaplains. I was a member of a small team of professors hired by a company that won the contract to teach ethics to the chaplains serving in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Our team worked for about half a year to create a weeklong course, a sequel to the PDTC on ethics we taught in 2004 for the sea service chaplains, intended to acquaint them with various virtue concepts and character development issues and to help them deal with moral conflicts and the ethical education of the troops during their deployments in the combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as at other postings.