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'Reborn on the Fourth of July'

A Divinity student reflects on his military service in Iraq and the challenge it posed to his faith

As the country prepares to celebrate the Fourth of July, a graduate student who served in the Iraq War finds the holiday bittersweet. Logan Mehl-Laituri, a master of theological studies student at Duke Divinity School, wrote a book, "Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism and Conscience," about the tension felt by many Christians in the military.

"From an ethical perspective, as well as a social one, I think the Fourth of July, with its heavy focus on military personnel, is a key moment to articulate the epidemic-scale rate of soldier and veteran suicides," Mehl-Laituri said.

Like many others, Mehl-Laituri says he finds a conflict between his love of country and "God's love for the world."

Mehl-Laituri grew up in a community in Southern California that celebrated military service. He said he joined the Army and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom believing that it was one way to proclaim his faith and express his love for God was to participate in war. He was honorably discharged in 2006 as a noncommissioned officer after receiving numerous medals, commendations and badges.

However, his service challenged his assumptions about faith and the military and returning home he found both church and the country in poor shape to help soldiers address the pain and wounds that came with service.

"The acts soldiers commit are not their own, but they are tragically forced to interpret and internalize them without much meaningful guidance from religious leaders," he said in an interview with a Christian book website.

According to a recent Pentagon report, the rate is one suicide a day for active-duty soldiers. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the rate is 18 suicides per day for veterans.

"There certainly is much to celebrate on the Fourth, such as freedom, popular sovereignty and the birth of liberal democracy, but part of me mourns the fact that we continue to look past the very people we venerate so much," Mehl-Laituri said in a news tip earlier this week.

"Whole generations are growing up with the understanding that war is the norm (and) perpetual conflict is a way of life," he wrote. "But is it the way of Christ?"

This morning he shared his views in an interview with the Armed Services Radio Network, which broadcasts to military service members and civilians overseas.

He was a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War and helped organize, After the Yellow Ribbon project with Milites Christi, an emerging Divinity School student group that helps churches and military groups "heal the unseen wounds of war."

"Reborn on the Fourth of July" aims to counter cultural assumptions about how patriotism and faith intersect. Mehl-Laituri shares what he deems are the lived challenges Christians in military service face on and off the battlefield. The title has personal meaning for Mehl-Laituri as he was baptized as a Christian on the national holiday in 2006 at age 24.