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The Catholic Defender: Sinner At The Gate

October 1986, I left Ft. Stewart GA and reported to the Replacement Center in Germany where there was a 30 day opportunity to learn about the German culture at the time. I received orders to Schweinfurt Germany where I was attached to another Medical Support Battalion on Conn Concern. This Unit was much like the one I was assigned to at Ft. Stewart so I felt at ease to what my job would entail. I found myself back in the "track pack" with a whole new crew in a whole different environment.

I arrived as a young Specialist placed in the Ambulance Platoon under a CPL "Vincent" (name purposely changed) who was an Italian fireball. I was placed in his squad for most of the first year I was there.

Once my family arrived I spent most of my off time with my young boys (Nathan, Joshua, and Jason). Being a proud father, they were my pride and joy. Nathan was old enough to play tee-ball and Joshua, Jason were still too young at the time for organized sports. I loved watching them kick the ball around who developed a love for soccer. When I was not on duty I was traveling the area and spending time with my family.

Another thing I loved was the Company level Softball leagues and we had a really good team. I would play organized sports for all my units when we were not deployed or at war. In Germany, there were many beautiful churches all over the place, some of them went back centuries in small towns. That was a major part of their culture. This was a great experience from a Catholic way of life. It was everywhere. Driving the autobahn you could see statues, crucifixes in fields, intersections, bridges, just about everywhere.

CPL Vincent was very resistant to religion, he loved to mock it when I was a round with his loud demeanor. I took that in stride as I've been around such actions most my life. He would never miss the opportunity to bash the Church whenever he had the chance.

Out in the field, i was a great asset putting up tents and camouflage and then tearing it all down when moving to other locations or when we were heading back to base. This was the day in and day out work we had in our Company/Battalion missions.

One morning before formation, I greeted people who were waiting for the 06:00 Reveille so while waiting we made sure everyone was present and not late. Like always I greeted CPL Vincent when he replied, "SPC Hartley, don't ever talk to me again." This surprised me, but I shrugged it off talking with other Soldiers in the Platoon. I guess I figured CPL Vincent was having a bad day.

After formation I was called to report to the First SGT's office who wanted to see me. He directed me to go to our Platoon office where my Platoon SGT and CPL Vincent were waiting for me. I entered the office where I learned the reason why CPL Vincent had an attitude problem. Before formation, CPL Vincent learned that his HIV Test came out positive. This was devastating news to him and my positive demeanor just hit him like a rock.

CPL Vincent's whole life was about to change. With a positive HIV test, that would mean his career in the Army was over and that he would be leaving Germany soon. The upcoming weeks, he would have to travel to Wurzburg for further testing and counseling and other appointments. Because of the seriousness of this, CPL Vincent was going to need an escort and he requested for me to be that escort. My Commander was wanting to make sure I could take him to his appointments.

I readily agreed because of his great need and he trusted me not to reveal any of this news to anyone. During this time traveling back and forth on the autobahn to CPL Vincent's appointments, we would have long conversations. He had not met a practicing Catholic and did not understand what this was all about. I was able to gain more of his trust and he valued my friendship.

Because of his HIV positive test, he wanted me to know that he believed this was the result of an experience in Frankfurt with a prostitute, that he was not a homosexual. It is important to share that at no time did I judge CPL Vincent, I listened to him as he was wounded inside. To make matters worse, he was married and had a young child. In those days in 1986-87 AIDS was like a death sentence and he feared his wife would divorce him.

I understood his concern and I tried to be compassionate towards him. Through these events I was able to begin to share the Catholic Faith. Why it was important, I've heard it said that it's great to be a witnessor but could be a drag to be a witnessee and this situation had that feel to it. I think because of what was happening in his life he was open to what I had to say. He trusted me in that he saw that I was solid, not some kind of cult figure.

Finally, after a number of trips I began to encourage CPL Vincent to join me in going inside one of these churches, they were very beautiful and can be a great experience. It took some time but finally, I got him to agree to walk into one. He had been feeling that God could not forgive him of his past, that God would strike him with lightning should he walk into a church.

I spoke to CPL Vincent about spiritual warfare, God's enemies would not want him to grow close to the Lord. The first church I took him to, I will never forget what happens. We walk up to the church and I invited him to open the door. His hand was literally trembling as he reached for the door. He got his hand with a couple of inches and could not go any further. He gave up that first day and the following two more days he had the same problem.

Finally, with only about a week left, he gathered courage with determination he was going to beat this fear and go into the church. He walked inside and discovered that God did not hate him but rather God loves him. That he was not unloved, but that he was a child of God. I was there when he made the decision to go to Confession restoring him back into the household of God. He was restored in faith.

With CPL Vincent's renewed faith, this would give him courage and strength to face what awaits him in the future. I thanked the Lord for this opportunity to serve Him in this situation. This was a grace and it was a real blessing to have played a part in this. CPL Vincent was the sinner at the gate who by God's grace and invitation, made it in.


My Lord, you are all-powerful, you are God, you are Father.

We beg you through the intercession and help of the archangels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel for the deliverance of our brothers and sisters who are enslaved by the evil one. All saints of heaven, come to our aid. Amen

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