The Guilt of Being Left Behind

As a soldier I didn’t ever want to be put on rear party.

The soldiers on rear party have a tough time of it; they get all the rubbish jobs and endless guard duties. Worst of all, they’re left behind at the camp while the rest of the regiment do what we think of as the ‘real work’ of fighting in dangerous war zones. It’s a stressful load to carry: the nervous wait for these friends and comrades to return; the guilt of not fighting, but staying in the safety of the camp; and the feeling of emptiness that comes from not being able to perform as we think a soldier should.

I was only ever on rear party once and that was because the Regiment I was joining was already on tour. I can honestly say that the day the troops returned from operations was the hardest of my life. Not having been on tour with them, it took a lot of work to feel even close to being accepted. I hoped I would never feel ‘left behind’ again. But some years later thousands of troops were deployed to the conflict in Afghanistan. And I wasn’t with them.

Even though I had decided to become an army Scripture Reader (someone who teaches from the Bible and supports soldiers during pre-deployment), I still felt like I was being left behind. The weeks after the deployment of 20 Brigade in Afghanistan were the most depressing of my life and I felt the ‘rear party guilt’ all over again.

I’ve never liked saying goodbye. Seeing the troops, including many friends, leave for duty in Afghanistan was the most difficult thing I’ve had to do as a Scripture Reader.

I hoped that somehow I could go with them. I prayed and asked God to get me there! Surely they would need a Scripture Reader out there to encourage the weary troops and offer spiritual support! Surely they would need me during the terrible circumstances they would have to go through . . .

I had such a strong feeling of guilt, as so many rear party soldiers and other ex-servicemen have at these times. I felt helpless and I had no idea what to do about it.

I prayed every day for nearly a year, desperate for a special case to be made for me to be deployed out there. I wanted to be where the action was. What was the point in me being stuck in the camp at Gütersloh?

What does God think of soldiers on rear party?

There is a story in the Bible about David (a soldier and king) who had been attacked by an enemy army. The enemy had kidnapped the wives and children of David and his men. And they had also stolen their livestock and goods.

So David took 400 men to fight the enemy, and left 200 men on ‘rear party’ to guard the camp and supplies. After David won the battle, some of the soldiers who had fought with him thought they were better than the soldiers who stayed behind, and so didn’t want to share any of the spoils with them.

However, David knew better. He said to those soldiers: “The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All shall share alike” (1 Samuel 30:24 NIV). In the Bible, David realised that God values the soldiers on rear party just as much as those on the front line. God honours both in the same way.

On one of my walks round the camp, while I was still wrestling with my guilty feelings, I said something like this to God: “What am I doing here? Show me what you want me to do.” Almost immediately a Sergeant ran out of one of the hangers and came straight over to me. He told me that he had a young soldier in real need and asked me, as a Scripture Reader, to come and talk with him. I did as he asked and ended up spending at least an hour reassuring a young soldier who was at his wits end.

It was after this encounter that I knew God wanted me on rear party to be a support to the soldiers left behind and to the families of those who had been deployed. Since then I have had many opportunities to do just that, by praying for them, using the e-bluey service and sending on packages.

That isn’t to say things have been easy on rear party. It has been very tense at times when friends of mine have been on a long tour duty. But I can also say that I am very glad that God is in control and kept me on rear party. There is a lot of important work to do here.

You can read the full story of David and how he treated rear party soldiers in 1 Samuel 30.

What about those on the front line?

God is the perfect welfare officer. We can pray for our friends and comrades in war zones, knowing that He is in control.

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Saviour,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders —Psalm 65:5-8

I have to continually remind myself that my troops are under the hand of a mighty God. God is “the hope of all the ends of the earth”. No matter where my troops are, they can never go somewhere that God isn’t! It is a great comfort for me to be able to pray about my troops to the God who made the mountains and can still the seas; the greatest welfare officer there will ever be, the King of kings, our almighty heavenly Father. —Lee (SASRA Scripture Reader)

What next?

We can ask God what His plan is for each of us, even when we’re left behind. We’ve not finished serving just because we’re not on tour.

  • Pray: tell Him about your frustrations or feelings of guilt. When we come humbly to God, we can “Cast all [our] anxiety on him because he cares for [us]” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV). You can also ask Him for opportunities to keep supporting the military at home.
  • Tell: one of the most important jobs at home on ‘Rear Party’ is to raise awareness. Does your church pray for the armed forces? Are there families of soldiers in your congregation who need support and care? Share your story with your church, and help them to understand the stresses, pressure and challenge of being in the military. Perhaps you could even lead a prayer group in your church specifically focused on the needs of serving men and women all over the world?
  • Support: Do you know families in your community who have lost someone in the military, or have someone still posted overseas? Can you make time to support them in some way?