Muslim chaplain brings unique perspective to Army
August 13, 2009
- Chaplain (Maj.) Agbere is beginning his Intermediate Level Education at the Command and General Staff College this month.
- Agbere was born and raised in a Muslim family in Ghana, West Africa.
- He enlisted to serve on a U.S. Navy ship, and soon discovered the Army would commission him as an officer when the Navy would not.
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Aug. 13, 2009) -- Ten years ago, when he was a battalion commander at Fort Sill, Okla., then - Col. Jim Davis received a call that the Army had a new chaplain for his Soldiers - and he was a Muslim.
Davis, now an assistant professor for the Center for Army Tactics, said the 400 Soldiers within the 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, although mostly Christian, trusted Chaplain Dawud Agbere right away.
"I got a chaplain that Soldiers loved to go and talk to," Davis said. "He's just an outgoing individual and his smile was just infectious."
Chaplain (Maj.) Agbere is beginning his Intermediate Level Education at the Command and General Staff College this month. Agbere was born and raised in a Muslim family in Ghana, West Africa, and he is one of six active-duty Muslim chaplains for the Army.
Agbere has two bachelor's degrees, a master's in Islamic studies and is a doctoral candidate for a ministry degree from the Oblate School of Theology. Agbere speaks English, Arabic and four African languages: Chamba, Hausa, Ga and Twi, the language of the Ashanti tribe in Africa.
Agbere and his wife, Meimunatu, both grew up in Ghana's Chamba region. They have five children. One of Agbere's sons is autistic and another is in remission from neuroblastoma cancer. Agbere said these challenges have made his family stronger.
Agbere's father was a truck driver for the military back home in Africa, and he learned to respect Soldiers. He came to the United States to teach high school in 1995.
"I showed up in New York City and took up a high school teaching job," he said. "Then I found myself in the middle of a cultural shock."
Agbere said while growing up in Africa, he learned discipline and respect. He didn't find that among students in New York. One day, Agbere came across an ad in a newspaper for government jobs. He had a relative call the phone number while he was at work, and found out the jobs available were for the U.S. Navy.
He enlisted to serve on a Navy ship, and soon discovered the Army would commission him as an officer when the Navy would not. His supervisor along with an Army recruiter helped him get a conditional discharge so that he could join the Army.
On May 23, 1997, Agbere was commissioned in the Army aboard a Navy ship, an event covered by the local press.
Some of Agbere's initial assignments included Fort Sill, Okla., Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and a deployment to Iraq with the 31st Combat Support Hospital.
As a chaplain in a Baghdad hospital in 2004-05, Agbere ministered not only to Muslim Soldiers, but the Iraqi population as well.
"It's a very interesting dynamic in America," he said. "We are doing really well to overcome hearts and minds. Iraqis and Afghans both have misperceptions (about U.S. Soldiers); it's human nature to think these thoughts."
Agbere is an advocate of information operations and believes more accurate opinions about the U.S. can be built through action.
"If I'm an Iraqi citizen and all I see is shooting, we can't convince them," he said. "But the moment they come in contact with us, they see a different thing."
While working in the Baghdad hospital, Agbere remembers a U.S. Army nurse who helped save the life of an Iraqi citizen.
"What he did not know was that this patient was a former Iraqi officer, and this officer was so impressed with this nurse," Agbere said.
The Iraqi officer told Agbere: "I want you to thank this nurse for me. I was really grateful for what he did, because if he had been in my position, I would have killed him."
Davis said he was about to deploy with his unit in Iraq when he saw a news story about his former chaplain working in Baghdad.
"Chaplain Agbere brought a perspective to his unit like no other," Davis said. "As we send units into Iraq and Afghanistan, we do cultural awareness training, but he understands it far better than anybody."
Davis said Agbere helped him understand the importance of having an Army chaplain for his Soldiers. While at Fort Sill, he and Agbere developed a religious program for the battalion from scratch.
"At the time I was very unfamiliar with the Muslim religion, like most Americans, but I wanted someone to serve the spiritual wellness needs of my Soldiers," Davis said.
At Fort Sill, the Army was able to help get the rest of Agbere's family from Ghana to the United States. Davis was impressed that with his modest background, Agbere was able to lead such successful programs. He's interested to see what Agbere will bring to his CGSC staff group.
"Each branch brings their own experience," Davis said. "He's got multiple deployments under his belt, and because he is a chaplain, it helps the other 15 members of his group have a good understanding of what they can use a chaplain for."
One important aspect a chaplain can bring is a different perspective of the unit. Davis said while Agbere served the Fort Sill population he was able to bring forward anonymous concerns to the commander. Sometimes, when people were nervous about complaining directly to Davis, Agbere would help them to solve problems. Davis was impressed when Agbere even counseled him.
"We all have bad days, but every time I had a bad day, he would come in with that smile and you just felt better," he said.