Ministry in the combat zone
November 15, 2006
<i>The following is a commentary by Chaplain (Capt.) James Key, a Task Force Unit Ministry Trainer at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin. Calif.</i>
FORT IRWIN, Calif. (Army News Service, Nov. 15, 2006) - As a Task Force Unit Ministry Trainer I am responsible for training chaplains and chaplains' assistants for combat ministry.
During each training rotation I have an opportunity to remind Unit Ministry Teams that unlike churches back home, chapel service in the combat zone is dirty, dusty and raw.
There are no frills and thrills or glitter and gleam. People do not come to service in designer suits, fancy hats and alligator shoes, or drive expensive cars to service. Instead, Soldiers in military uniforms arrive by foot or in military trucks.
I remind UMT's that the chapels downrange are not made of wood or brick. They do not have stained glass windows, red carpet, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, expensive pews, a fellowship hall or a pastor's study. Instead, most worship services take place in a tent surrounded by a cement wall to protect everyone from incoming fire.
And yet, ironically, it was in this context, during my deployment in Baghdad, that I saw many Soldiers make radical spiritual changes in their lives. War - just as other unscheduled life events like death, sickness, tragedy and hardship - can challenge individuals to say "yes" or "no" to the questions of faith and religion.
Whoever said "There are no atheists in the foxhole" was absolutely right. The reality of war forces many to do some serious soul searching.
During my deployment, young Soldiers from my unit faithfully came to chapel service with a Bible in one hand and an M-16 or 9mm in the other hand. They prayed with their eyes closed tightly, singing songs of praise and worship from the bottom of their hearths and depth of their souls. They will, I believe, never be the same.
Who are these young brave souls who serve our nation' They are the children of teachers, truck drivers, factory workers, secretaries, shipyard workers, firefighters, police officers, military veterans, bus drivers, nurses and many other professionals.
They hail from cities, suburbs and rural areas. They are the MTV, BET, CMT, Xbox, PlayStation and Game Boy generation, doing something that most Americans would never dare to do.
There was a time when I considered leaving the ministry. Then a friend asked me to join the military chaplaincy. It changed my life. Every day I have an opportunity to help guide Soldiers and their families through the "Circle of Life" from births, baptisms, confirmations, marriage, illness and death.
As I continue to serve my country, I pray that God empower all UMT's to effectively minister to Soldiers in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. I pray that each Soldier on the battlefield experiences spiritual growth in their chosen faith.
Because after all, war is hell, freedom is expensive, death is painful and faith still matters - especially to those in the combat zone.