CAMP BUSHMASTER, Iraq—In this dry desert world near Najaf, where the Army V Corps combat support system sprawls across miles of scabrous dust, there's an oasis of sorts: a 500-gallon pool of pristine, cool water.
It belongs to Army chaplain Josh Llano of Houston, who sees the water shortage—which has kept thousands of filthy soldiers from bathing for weeks—as an opportunity.
"It's simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized," he said.
And agree they do. Every day, soldiers take the plunge for the Lord and come up clean for the first time in weeks.
"They do appear physically and spiritually cleansed," Llano said.
First, though, the soldiers have to go to one of Llano's hour-and-a-half sermons in his dirt-floor tent. Then the baptism takes an hour of quoting from the Bible.
"Regardless of their motives," Llano said, "I get the chance to take them closer to the Lord."
A blue-eyed 32-year-old with an abundance of energy, Llano goes out every day to drum up grimy soldiers for his pool. He talks to truck drivers, tank drivers, computer specialists—anyone and everyone. He goes out to the combat zone to the fighting soldiers and the combat support soldiers who keep them in supplies.
"You have to be aggressive to help people find themselves in God," he said.
He calls himself a "Southern Baptist evangelist," and justifies the war and killing with a verse from the Gospel of Matthew, which he often recites: "Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."
"This means we are called upon by our government to fight and that is giving unto Caesar, as the Bible tells us," he said.
Last week, word went out that portable showers might be installed here soon, but Llano was undaunted.
"There is no fruit out here, and I have a stash of raisins, juice boxes and fruit rolls to pull out," he said optimistically.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.