Catholic Chaplain Grateful For Presence At Redstone
August 31, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--The call to the priesthood and chaplaincy with the Army has never been about Maj. Jose Herrera, but rather, the connection he can provide others to Christ.
"I'm able to be with people in good times and in painful times," Herrera said. "I'm glad I can be there."
Herrera arrived on the Arsenal June 30, to accept his duties as chaplain for the Expeditionary Contracting Command, as well as the Catholic chaplain at Bicentennial Chapel for the Garrison. Herrera will be promoted to lieutenant colonel in a ceremony Thursday at 2 p.m. at Bicentennial Chapel.
Originally from Santa Fe, N.M., Herrera was ordained a priest in the diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands in 1989, after spending nearly five years there teaching. It was the experience of daily mass with the Carmelite nuns growing up in the Southwest that moved him in the direction of the priesthood. But it wasn't until his favorite singer, Johnny Cash, released his album "The Gospel Road" that he knew that was exactly where God was calling him.
"It moved me spiritually," Herrera said of Cash's gospel music. "That was kind of like the confirmation. Out of the blue my favorite singer records a gospel album? It got me to say, 'I need to do this.' It set off a lifelong journey."
The Army took that journey around the world. At the request of his bishop, Herrera joined the National Guard, which was in need of a Catholic chaplain, nearly two decades ago. And after six years of experiencing Army life, and thanks to much encouragement from active duty Catholic chaplains, Herrera made the decision to go active duty himself. Over the course of his Army career, he has served at Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Sinai, Egypt, Fort Lewis, Wash., Afghanistan, Vincenza, Italy, and today, Redstone Arsenal. He has moved beyond the typical realm of the priesthood -- serving the faithful in a church -- to serving right alongside them, wherever duty calls.
"We work side by side and rub shoulders," Herrera said of his ministry. "The chaplain is there for them whatever the situation might be."
Whether that's preparing to jump out of a plane alongside his Airborne unit or waiting to move to another location in the mountains of Afghanistan, Herrera's ministry is 24/7. He's answered concerned parents' phone calls in the middle of the night who haven't heard from their young Soldiers in weeks, seen the look of relief on a Soldier's face at the presence of a Catholic chaplain in the middle of a war zone, and heard the words "Thank you for being here," from a grieving widow at a funeral. It is the greatest reward Herrera finds in his line of work -- being able to be there when he is needed most.
"Those words for me, they reinforce your ministry," Herrera said. "Really, our ministry of presence is the best thing we do, just being there for people."
Herrera will split his time between ECC and Bicentennial Chapel, providing his presence and a listening ear in a confidential setting to those who need it and celebrating noon mass Monday through Thursday, as well as the regularly scheduled masses at Bicentennial on Saturday and Sunday. His move to Redstone excites him in respect to how far his ministry will be able to reach across post, as well as the world.
"We have Soldiers all over the world," Herrera said of ECC. "What we do here, everything these folks do, is impacting people all over the world. What I do here is touching the Army all over the world, touching all the people who are helped by our guys."