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Commentary Search

January Chaplain's Reflection

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian Bohlman
  • 169th Fighter Wing
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."
                                      --The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

To those of you who enjoy history and adventure, the name Earnest Shackleton may be familiar to you. For those who have never heard of Shackleton, he was a famous British adventurer whose goal was to cross the continent of Antarctica from sea to sea, via the South Pole. In the paragraphs below, I will overview the story of Shackleton's quest based on historical accounts from several credible sources.

The story of Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance provide an example of courage, faith and resilient leadership. In 1914, Shackleton assembled a crew with a newspaper ad that read: "Men wanted; hazardous journey; small wages; bitter cold; return doubtful." Believe it or not, over 5,000 men and three women replied to his ad! From this large pool of applicants, Shackleton selected 27 men to join him on his polar expedition.

The ship, the Endurance, was named in honor of Shackleton's family motto: Fortitudine vincimus which translated from Latin into English as: "By endurance, we conquer". The crew of the Endurance set sail from Grytviken whaling station, South Georgia and headed South toward the Antarctic on December 5, 1914, before the start of World War I. While in the Weddell Sea, just 85 miles from their destination, they decided to give the engines a break. Unfortunately, in the short time their engines were off and not moving, the pack ice surrounded the ship, locking her in a permanent grave of ice, and eventually crushing the sides of the ship. It was here that Shackleton's actions personified resilient leadership.

First, while the pressure of the pack ice crushed the ship, that pressure never crushed Shackleton's ability to lead his men through hardship. Second, the goal of being the first to walk across the Antarctic continent was replaced with one new goal...that of keeping each man in his crew alive.

Shackleton built a community atmosphere as he organized tournaments with games like football (soccer) and dog sled races. In addition, he instituted evening sing-a-longs and daily routines like nightly meals, toasts to loved ones and saying prayers for families back home. Shackleton and the crew were hoping that the summer would bring warmer temperatures and free the ship. However when warmer weather did come, the ice twisted the Endurance like a twig, eventually crushing and sinking her on November 21, 1915. It's interesting that Shackleton never allowed the spirits of his crew to sink along with the ship. This is a testament to his resilient leadership actions in the midst of tragedy.

After the year and two months that they were stranded and drifting on the pack ice, Elephant Island appeared on the horizon and they attempted to row to it in the three life boats they salvaged. After seven grueling days, they were able to reach the island and set up camp. Then, Shackleton announced that he and five others were going to attempt to cross 800 miles of icy, choppy ocean to get back to the nearest whaling station on South Georgia where they could possibly charter a rescue for those left on the desolate Elephant Island.

After a 14-day treacherous sea journey, they landed on Elephant Island the opposite side of the whaling station and hiked non-stop for 36 hours into crevasses, often being roped together as they climbed over steep ranges, running the risk of freezing at high altitudes, and sliding 1,500 feet on their backs hands locked together. On the crest of a glacier and with no civilization in sight, they finally heard the 6:30 AM steam whistle of the whaling station at Stromness Bay.

After reaching the whaling station they had their first bath in 19 months. However, it took three attempts and three months to finally be able to rescue the remaining 21 men left on Elephant Island. But Shackleton's determination, commitment and perseverance paid off: After 22 months of living in the sub-zero Antarctic, every man left back on Elephant Island was alive when recused on August 30, 1916.

In Shackleton's account of this death-defying two-year test of endurance South, he wrote: "When I look back at those days, I have no doubt that Providence guided us--not only across those snow-fields, but across the snow white ice that separated Elephant Island from our landing on South Georgia. I know that during that long and rocking march of 36 hours over unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three."

Your SCANG Chaplain Corps serves as a visible reminder of the unseen God. We are here to walk with you in the New Year whenever you need us. I trust and pray that each Swamp Fox will face 2015 with the same courage, faith, and resiliency that Shackleton found as he and his crew endured their hardship and triumphed over their own losses.

As you consider your resolutions and life goals for the New Year, I encourage you to reflect on the power of faith and the unseen presence of God, who works behind the scenes, and is a constant companion when we feel alone on life's journey. To expound on the opening scripture from the Apostle Paul, remember that when you are pressed on every side, do not allow yourself to be crushed; when perplexed, do not get stuck in despair; when persecuted, do not abandon your faith or beliefs; when struck down, get back up and start again.

Happy New Year!