About Me

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I'm the author of four books: Warrior SOS, The Work of Death, Together Forever, and Leaders Wanted. I'm in the doc film Please Remove Your Shoes. I've blogged for The Washington Times, and I write for Guns.com. I've worked for the high-profile U.S.-led Roadmap to Mideast Peace in Israel and Palestine. I've also worked as a SWAT team leader, a Federal Air Marshal and a sole-source training instructor on a classified contract with a U.S. government customer. My master's degree is in Military Studies and terrorism. I'm a former noncommissioned and commissioned Army officer, with service in Iraq. I've been Scuba diving and skydiving; I have trained with members of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team, and I'm an FBI-trained crisis negotiator. My interests lie in helping others and in strengthening America through inspiring moral courage, government fiscal responsibility and accountability, and maintaining principles that have made--and will continue to make--the United States of America a blessed and prosperous country. I'm a father of six, a husband, and a police officer. I reside in Utah, and I'm a Mormon. See also https://jeffreydenning.wordpress.com.

May 31, 2011

Hardships - two time Iraqi War Vet, father of six with brain cancer, faith and prayer

UPDATE: John Cloninger passed away the morning of Feb 20, 2012. He leaves behind six young children and a supportive, loving and devoted wife - the mother of their children. Funeral arrangements with full military honors, at his request, will take place in Morgan, Utah on Saturday, Feb 25th.

John Cloninger served an enlisted solider in the U.S. Army as a helicopter machine gunner at the end of Desert Storm. After an honorable discharge, he left the military, got married, received a college education, and started a family. After graduating from medical school as a podiatrist, Dr. Cloninger received a commission as a Captain in the U.S. Army. His five year stint in the service included a tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he lived and worked in Abu Gharab prison after the scandal there. He survived a severe attack, at one point watching enemy ordnance land near him and into the fuel tank of a humvee without exploding.

He was honorably discharged from military service in 2006. He and his family relocated from Fort Hood, Texas to northern Utah, where he set up a medical practice. With six young children, including an adopted orphan from China, all was going well in the life of Dr. Cloninger and his family. Then, on September 28, 2010, he went to the hospital with a severe headache, the worst of his life. He was immediately transported to a larger trauma center where doctors discovered bleeding in his brain stemming from a brain tumor. Days later he underwent brain surgery, wherein a walnut sized tumor was removed. He was diagnosed with stage four GBM. His recovery was truly miraculous. Unfortunately, that only lasted so long.

In mid-July 2011, his cancer returned aggressively. Chemo, radiation or a second brain operation was not an option anymore. Dr. John Cloninger requested a military burial with a 21-gun salute. He cherishes each moment with his wife and children.

John Cloninger turned 42 years old in Feb 2012. The brain tumor has taken over, severely affecting his balance and speech. He now lies in bed, unable to eat.

He is the very best brother-in-law I could have ever hoped to marry my younger sister. I love him and respect him.

He is a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized in September of 1992, during his initial military enlistment. Portions of this article below were taken from a talk he gave in church in December 2010. Minor corrections and deletions were made for general audience.

And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

—Genesis 28:15

I was asked to talk about what I have learned from hardships.

I wish I was here to talk about enduring funships. I looked in Webster Dictionary there is no listing for funships. I find that interesting. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a funship. I imagine it would be like opening your front door and there is a big pot of money and fairy dust to fix any physical ailments. That might seem great, but there are good reasons why such an event does not occur. We don’t seem grow as fast spiritually when things are going well. If you look in the scriptures, many times when things are going well, people become corrupt but quickly change to a more righteous attitude when hardships are inflicted upon them.

Prior to this recent ailment, I pretty much thought I was bulletproof. I did not think any medical hardships could come my way, anytime soon. I have great health, had bullets fly right be, mortars not explode near me, ran my helicopter into trees and power lines and walked away unscathed. My family history is strong for longevity. There is no family history of cancer. Well, I was wrong.

CPT John Cloninger in Iraq

Hardships are something we will all endure. The rain falls on the wicked and the just. It is an essential part of our probation time on this earth. Hardships occur to all people. Trials and hardships are not just for the wicked or the righteous. There is a saying, Hardships are a tool used to humble us and make us more teachable…

The first lesson learned was I’m not bulletproof, nor is anyone else. At any given time anyone here could have an ongoing significant trial or about to start one. I’m not talking just about medical trials. Trials come in so many colors. They can be financial (loosing a job), emotional (divorce or marital problems, children going astray…), addictions, etc. We probably could spend the whole hour listing different trials that have occurred in this room alone.

I think the most important thing to understand about hardships and trials in our lives is our responsibility. I personally believe that hardships without prayer and faith are just another form of torture. We must humble ourselves through trials and listen to the inspiration which will follow. It is only through this inspiration that we will be able to negotiate through this difficult moment. There is a quickening of the spirit and thinning of the veil [that separates heaven and earth] which can occur through significant trials. This process will not occur without us doing our part. We must go to our Savior in prayer with a willingness to be meek, submissive, and a willingness to endure all that the Lord desires to inflict upon us. Many times we try to figure things out ourselves and try to dictate the path to resolve our hardship instead of listening to that still soft voice which will guide us…

I have been through moderate trials before. They were difficult and there was no clear plan. There were moments of uncertainty. Probably of most noteworthy was my first trip to Iraq as a doorgunner on a Blackhawk helicopter. All I had to depend upon was myself, my training, strength and fortitude. There was no source of comfort or counsel. Being 19 years old and thinking I was bullet proof was my only consolation. After survival of this trial, I believe it was one of the many things which lead me to seek out the true gospel.

Whatever trials we go through require us to seek to the Lord for guidance. We must be willing to accept whatever his will requires. Whatever results from this supplication will be for our own good. We must look to our Savior when going through trials…

… We are not calling the shots when going through trials.

… [The doctors] expected me to be partially blind as a minimum. So, when I was sitting in preoperative room prior to my brain surgery. I started thinking about that time when I asked the Lord if everything was going to be okay before I went to Iraq, and was willing to accept whatever his will required… I received a witness that everything was going to be okay. When I woke up [from surgery] there were no deficits… However, after surgery I was told I had a malignant brain tumor. Since I had received a witness through prayer and knew everything was going to be okay.

I know that everything will be okay… The Lord is good at his word.

Once I had returned home from the hospital, Bishop Hendershot stopped by to see how I was doing. Bishop Hendershot said something which I knew but I had not internalized until this event. He said, “there are no things too big for the Lord to fix.” That is a profound and completely true statement. Our God is a God who performs miracles in the past, present, and future. During this visit, I was talking to him in a moment of frustration (we were waiting to start chemo and radiation treatment and wanted to already start it) and he said “you do not have any control in this. You are just the passenger and the Lord is the chauffeur.” It was a powerful lesson in realizing I am not in the driver’s seat, I can’t control the events that are about to occur. My part is to have faith and prayer and the knowledge all was going to be well.

When going through this trial, I was humbled at how many people cared. I realized the power of prayers. I could feel the prayers of others. Those prayers strengthened and supported me through my most difficult moments. I had patients come up to me and say “ Dr. Cloninger, I am not a praying man but for you I have been praying.” One of the nuns at Ogden Regional [Hospital] came up to me and said, "Dr. Cloninger, my knees have calluses." She said all of the nuns at Ogden Regional have been constantly praying for your behalf. Many different people told me they had put my name in the temple. One person asked me how to pray.

We should not hide our trials and try to figure them out ourselves. We do not need to be alone through trials. We need to embrace our ward [congregation] and those who surround us. They will strengthen and help us.

I looked in the wilkipedia and found something interesting. One definition of a ward is a part of an inner portion of castle which was a courtyard enclosed by a wall. It is an area of protection. I believe that is one of the functions of a LDS ward. It is a protective system to help us. When we are going through tough times the ward will surround you to uplift and protect you. However our Ward cannot help if we do not let them. It takes a stripping of self pride in allowing them to help. It allows others to serve their God by serving you as seen in Mosiah 2:17, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are in the service of your God.” It is wrong to rob others of this opportunity and allow them to see the power of God by serving you when you are going through a trial.

Dr. Cloninger and his adopted son, Eli

I firmly believe…all hardships…should be [recorded in our journals] and expressed to those around you. Do not keep trials and miracles to yourself. I am not saying we should brag about miracles, but we should testify of them. Doctrine & Covenants (D&C) 59:21 [reads] “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” We are not to seek for signs but we need to share our experience to allow us to appreciate the power of our Master. It helps to remind us the God of the past, present and future is the same God. It also helps to remind us, no matter what difficulties we are going through, there is a plan and a loving Heavenly father willing to help us.

As we express our trials it allows us to bond as ward. The ward is a family unit and as your trial is recognized; those around you will uplift you through prayer and service. The adversary wants you to believe you are alone. Once you believe you are alone, you become vulnerable. You are never alone through a trial. You have your ward and the Savior to lean on and look for support. Our Savior knows what you are going through, and knows how to uplift you. Remember in D&C 122:8, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all, Art thou greater than he?” Our Savior knows what we are going through. He knows how to uplift, comfort, strengthen and heal. It just requires your prayer and faith…

There were many days through this battle I was so miserable I just wanted to curl up die. But [a still, small] voice came to me saying, “Bro. Cloninger, just get up and I will do the rest.” I would get up as commanded and my strength would return. My body would work, my nausea would subside and my energy would return. I know this is what He will do for all of us. We just have to get up and He will take care of the rest. It just requires us to do our best and He will strengthen our shortcomings.

Sometimes when we are going through trials, He will allow us to trip for our own good… There will be moments in trials when things will not go as planned. There will be set-backs and the adversary will try to use these against you. I know the adversary was trying to break me through… set backs, but the strength of our Master is superior.

Hardships also allow us to learn how strong we really are. I have learned I am much stronger than I ever thought I was through this most recent trial. But I don’t kid myself by thinking that strength was just the arm of flesh. I know it was reinforced by spiritual power. This develops a confidence in not only yourself but of the spiritual power we each possess.

There is a poem I love:

A mighty wind blew day and night,
And stole the oak tree's leaves away.
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark,
until the oak was tired and stark.

But still the oak tree held its ground,
while other trees fell all around.
The weary wind gave up and spoke,
"How can you still be standing, Oak?"

The oak tree said,
"I know that you can break each branch of mine in two,
carry every leaf of mine away,
shake my limbs, and make me sway.
But I have roots stretched in the earth,
growing stronger since my birth.

You'll never touch them, for you see,
they are the deepest part of me.
Until today, I wasn't sure,
of just how much, I could endure.
But now I've found, with thanks to you,
I’m stronger that I ever knew.”

[Poem titled: Oak Tree, Johnny J Ryder Jr., as qtd by Elder M. Russell Ballard, Nov. 7, 2010 CES fireside at BYU titled: Follow the Doctrine and Gospel of Christ]

It is those roots that are so important. They are our faith and testimony. That is our source of power when enduring hardships. The adversary cannot touch our testimony and faith unless we allow him.

When we go through trials, many times Heavenly Father does not remove the trials from us, but instead he strengthens us as we endure through the trial…

I do have a testimony that as we pray and show faith through our trials, our burdens may not be removed on the timeline we want, but our strength to endure will be magnified. …If we follow into the trap of the adversary and become bitter or uncommitted, our roots will weaken and our faith will dwindle. When we are going through trials we should be running towards our Lord, not running away from him…

We will all undergo trials, to include our youth. We must all prepare for hardships. I had a drill sergeant who used to always drill into our heads: prior planning prevents poor performance. I would like to amend that concept when it comes to trials. Prior preparation prevents poor performance. We need to prepare for the inevitable hardships which will fall upon all of us…

Spiritual strength comes only with doing spiritual activities—like daily couple prayer, reading the scriptures, family time and going to the temple. Those activities galvanize a spiritual strength in a marriage and family which allows a collective testimony to overcome any trial. We can read in the Bible that two are stronger than one, for if one falls, the other will lift him up again. (compare to Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) There will come times in trials where we may have reservations or doubts, that is when we need our spouse and family to pick us up. This requires a collective testimony where we can teach each other and bear our testimony to each other to strengthen us through difficult trials. The adversary knows if he can’t destroy your faith through the trial, he is going to try to destroy your marriage and family. If you have that spiritual collective testimony, you will be successful in overcoming any trial. Trials should be a time where a marriage and family is strengthened not weakened. Just as we build a stronger relationship with God through trials, our marriage and family should also strengthen.

It is important we strengthen our children. They must be prepared to undergo trials. Junior High and High School are difficult times. They must have their own testimony, not a testimony which is built upon their parents. Their testimony is grown the same way as an adult—attendance to meetings, family and individual prayer and scripture reading, family time, and so on. They must develop as many spiritual experiences as possible during their maturing.

…It is those spiritual experiences in their early youth that galvanizes their testimony and helps them to make the right choices. It does not guarantee they will always make the right choice. It allows them to feel the spirit and a desire to return to it if they stray.

I am also reminded of another military saying. When hardships come, we do not rise to the occasion, we fall back on training. Our training includes a strong marriage, scripture knowledge, and an individual testimony resulting from obedience, faith which we have embraced and tried. What I mean by having a faith which has been embraced and tried, means we have done those required things which require faith. Those things include consistent obedience to basic gospel principles. Many of these things require faith for us to continue to do. Sometimes they may even feel unrewarding because nothing special occurs. That is where we practice daily faith, doing those activities because we are commanded to perform on a consistent basis. That is where the Lord tries us on a subtle level. These small forms of obedience are what strengthen our faith and prepare us for harder trials. The scripture in Isaiah 28:10, remind us we are taught “precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little.” We cannot become trained to act of great faith in a difficult trial if we have not been performing that daily training which is obedience to basic gospel principles. That is how we prepare for trials.

When we are going through trials people watch and learn from your example. Their testimony can grow just by your conduct through a trial. When they see you trudging through a hardship with chin up, steady pace and not complaining and acting in faith. They don’t just feel your testimony, they see your testimony. The only thing stronger than bearing your testimony, is living your testimony, particularly when it is challenged. That is when people see you walking the walk, that is when they know you believe what you are saying. That is as powerful as it can get for a testimony and it will soften the hardest heart.

In closing, I would like to leave you with two things to ponder. Our neighbor is a survivor of multiple myeloma cancer. The problem with any cancer, it can always come back. Cindy was talking with them about this burden. They said, “Everyday is a gift and we live everyday with no regrets.” And I once had a patient who was in his 90’s and of poor health. “He said, Doc, I am so old I don’t buy green bananas.” I think both of these thoughts are really insightful. None of us are bullet proof, we could be called home at anytime. We need to live everyday like it is a gift and live it with no regrets. Too many times I think we buy spiritually green bananas. What I mean is, we find it too easy to say we will perfect or ripen certain behaviors later on, thinking we have time to correct them later. We don’t know when we are going to be called home. We need to live everyday like it is our last. Do our children know that we love them? When was the last time they heard you bear your testimony? Are we doing the things we are supposed to be doing? How many times do we procrastinate perfecting ourselves?

We need to live everyday like it is our last with no regrets.

As we come upon this sacred day, the birth of Jesus Christ. I hope we remember it true meaning and I hope we also remember the gift of life which is given to all of us. We must be mindful of this probationary time we are given on this earth and that we prepare to meet God. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

To read this and other amazing interviews, check out Warrior SOS, the book on Amazon.com. 

For Warrior SOS book endorsements from Glenn Beck, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and others, check out the author's link: http://www.jeffrey-denning.com/books/warrior-sos/ 


  1. Very inspiring. Thank you for posting this, Jeffrey. Many points really struck home.

  2. Glad to hear he is doing well! Prayers go out to this incredible family!

  3. I appreciated learning for this valiant and obviously amazing spiritual giant. I am sad he has passed on but thankful these words were some of his last.