*BEST OF DTB #261* The Catholic Defender: The SSG Cardenas Story

Posted by John Benko - March 31st, 2013

It was spring/summer of 2006, I was relatively new to my unit as the Medical Platoon Sergeant. At this time I received a new Soldier, PVT Cardenas, a very young 17 year old new recruit.

I placed him in support of B Company, 2-5 CAV. with the B Company line medics.

PVT Cardenas would be given the responsibility of taking care of his Platoon of Cavalry Soldiers.

This is a very important role to keep your Soldiers medically qualified to deploy at any given time. This includes insuring that their shots are all up to date, recorded in the MEPROS, and medical records.

They have to train their Combat Life Savers ensuring that they are within standards, they must remain proficient in their medical skills.

They are the subject matter experts the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant depends upon. It is a great responsibility for anyone to assume.

We deployed to Iraq in October 2006 and PVT Cardenas was the youngest Soldier I took to Iraq.

This was a 15 month deployment as we would not return to the United States until after the middle of January, 2008.

During this time, PVT Cardenas would earn his promotion to SPC, E-4, as he did very well under a hostile environment.

 He served at a very small JSS (Joint Security Station) that our Battalion strengthened and fortified.

There was a lot of enemy contact and all my Medics performed brilliantly. They saved a lot of lives as did all my Medics.

When the opportunity arose, I encouraged my Soldiers to depend on God, to trust in Him to help them, along with their training. It is important to hold firmly your faith in such places.

PVT Cardenas was no exception, he was raised Protestant, and I knew his wife and family were culturally Catholic.

In 2009, our unit would redeploy back to Iraq for another 12 months and this time, SPC Cardenas was dedicated in studying the Catholic Faith.

We would get together when the opportunity was there, we were both at JSS Sader City, which was a very dangerous place to be.

 I had medics at JSS UR, FORD, Comanche, War Eagle, and other places in our operations of theater.

The Platoons would constantly be out on missions so it was difficult for much organization there. We did the best that we could. I would bring SPC Cardenas up for promotion to Sergeant and so he went before the Board and did excellent getting a high score.

Upon returning from this deployment, SPC P Cardenas would PCS out of the Unit and transfer out to another Station in San Antonio Texas.

I would go to the Fort Hood Medical Hospital and finish out my 26 year career there.

Throughout this time, I always encouraged him to excel in his military career as I did with all my Soldiers, but most importantly, I encouraged him to continue his journey to the Catholic Faith.

This past year, I was honored to Sponsor SSG Cardenas into the Catholic Faith this past Easter Vigil, March 30, 2013 (San Antonio Texas).

He was able to share with me his success being recognized as NCO of the Year at his Unit/Station.

What an honor this is and another one I am most proud of. Like a Father, I have had one Soldier recognized nationally as Soldier of the Year by the USO, celebrated in Washington D.C. and another one earning the “Daisey Award” which is rare for a lower enlisted to earn.

SSG Cardenas is certainly in that company of great Soldiers I have had the opportunity to lead and serve with.

Not only did SSG Cardenas receive the Sacramental Grand Slam, Baptism. Confirmation, and God be praised, Holy Communion, his wife was confirmed along with him! What a great blessing for the Cardenas family and what an honor for me to Sponsor SSG Cardenas.

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*Best of DTB #105* The Catholic Defender: The Lord led me to His Mother

Posted by John Benko - October 17th, 2011

On my way back to our Battalion area, I meditated on what I just told the young man and how thankful I was to the Lord for having His truth in my heart. With this I began to see the Faces of Mary.

It all started as a quiet day on the morning of 6 May, 2009. It was a sunny Sunday morning and I was given an opportunity to sleep in so I woke up about 06:30.

I got up and got myself together preparing to go to Mass at the Division Chapel.

I had to make sure that all our obligations were covered and that gave me ample time to go to Mass at 10:30.

It’s about a 15 minute walk to the Division Chapel but this particular morning, I was excited about the news I wanted to report to the congregation.

For me, the news of Francis J. Beckwith’s returning to the Catholic Faith was huge. He was among the highest Lutheran leaders and highly respected among the Protestant Evangelical academics.

His conversion to the Catholic Faith was like a shot heard around the world. Well, here in Iraq, I heard it and I was anxious to share the news about it.

So, I grabbed my weapon and my gear and I set off to the Chapel. By the time I arrived there, I was drenched, sweating profusely in this 100 plus heat, but it was worth it!

I guzzled down a quick quart of water and prepared for Mass. At the end of Mass, Father would give me the opportunity to announce the upcoming events for the week.
We had RCIA that was currently continuing for many people kept coming who wanted to become Catholic. We had just received about 70 Soldiers for the Easter Vigil earlier in April.

Now I had several more Soldiers who were coming forward to be received into the Catholic Faith. Many from my Battalion! We also had Bible Studies that I was conducting at our Chapel (Warrior Chapel) and at the Division Chapel.

It was at this time that I had the chance to tell everyone about Mr. Beckwith coming home to the Catholic Faith.

I had a number of them come up and asked me more about this when this young man came over to ask me a question. He had originally approached Father, but Father refer ed him to me.

I pulled him to the side and he asked me what an apostle was.

I responded that an apostle was simple one who is sent. That is the textbook definition.

However, I explained that Christ sent his Apostles out into the world after preparing them for three years for the Great Commission.

The Gentleman then identified himself as a “Nestorian” Christian who represented about 5% of the Iraqi Christians in Iraq.

He wanted to challenge me on why the Catholic Church refereed to Mary as “Theotokos” meaning “Mother God”?
I responded with a question of my own, “What is the difference from referring to Mary as “Mother of God” as opposed to “Mother of my Lord”?

I then quoted Luke 1:42-44, “Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”.

Notice that St. Elizabeth refereed to Mary as “blessed” twice during this exchange. Notice also that she refereed to Jesus as “Lord” in her womb as well as the word of the Lord.

Adoni was the word used to illustrate “Lord” referring to God. By this time, my Nestorian friend understood my meaning and with that, he had no further questions. He was interested in our bible studies from this point on.

In this way, Jesus led me to Mary, then Mary, as always leads us all back to Jesus.

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