Oklahoma National Guard aids search and rescue after Okla., tornado
Master Sgt. Edgar Rodriguez of the 146th ASOS, Oklahoma Air National Guard, conducts search and rescue operations in Moore, Okla., in response to the May 20, 2013, EF-5 tornado that ripped through the center of town.

MOORE, Okla. - While soldiers and airmen of the Oklahoma National Guard work to support local agencies in the wake of the devastating tornado that struck Moore, Okla., May 20, a group of military chaplains are on scene to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of the service members themselves.

"As chaplains we work as a ministry of presence" said Chaplain (Capt.) Jeremy Dunn, battalion chaplain for the 700th Support Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "Right now we are filled with a sense of purpose: to help those both physically drained and spiritually shaken."

The team of chaplains, five in all, is providing spiritual assistance to the National Guardsmen and women who are helping with the relief effort in Moore. The team is working in shifts, traveling between checkpoints and meeting with National Guard members throughout the disaster zone to speak with them about what they are seeing as they search through debris and deal with people returning to find their homes in ruin.

One of the chaplains working on the ground is Chaplain (Capt.) David Jordan, chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry, 45th IBCT. Jordan's hometown of Shawnee, Okla., had been struck by another tornado the previous day and he left there to help the service members in Moore.

"We had a tornado come through Shawnee on Sunday then on Monday the [Moore] tornado came through here very close to the May 3, 1999 tornado path," Jordan said. "People already very familiar with destruction had to deal with this again and we were activated to assist," said Jordan.

"My personal job is to check on our guys manning checkpoints, check on their morale and seeing how they are dealing with the local people... just making sure they have what they need."

Jordan and the other chaplains move from location to location meeting with a mix of Army and Air National Guard personnel at more than 20 checkpoints across the affected area. When meeting with the airmen and soldiers, chaplains are faced with the challenge of breaking the ice and getting them to open up to speak about their feelings.

"Every soldier and every airman is different and the best thing a chaplain can do is listen. If you set the stage for them to talk, you will hear the concerns on their heart," Jordan said. "Whether they be spiritual needs or not, opening your ears to what the soldiers are saying about their mission and how proud they are about the work they are doing lets us know where they are [emotionally and spiritually]. From there, we can make our ministry specific to the one person at that time."

During his rounds, Jordan met with Spc. James Kimball, an Army National Guard soldier, who grew up in Moore and whose family still lives in the area. Kimball, manning one of the checkpoints that surround the devastated neighborhoods, spoke with him about how the area changed in the minutes the tornado tore through.

"All I could think about was my mom's house and my school. I talked to my mom about a minute after it passed her house," Kemball said, adding his mother's house was only two blocks from the devastated area. "It's great to see the chaplain come out to care for us and make sure we are okay, physically and spiritually. I love our chaplains."

While chaplains are spending time talking with service members and listening to their concerns about the disaster, they differ from counselors in their mission.

"My job is more broad. I'm not just a counselor, not just someone who does counseling in an office. I bring the faith component to the discussion. There is and old saying that we bring God to soldiers and soldiers to God," Jordan said. "When soldiers and Airmen talk to me they know they can have a faith perspective. It doesn't have to be my faith and we don't have to share the same faith, but they know it comes from a faith perspective."

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Page last updated Thu May 23rd, 2013 at 00:00