Lagman UMT reaches out to soldiers through books, noodles and the MWR
September 17, 2012
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan - Gen. William Sherman said that "war is hell." If that's true, then the counterbalance to such misery is the unit ministry team.
The UMT is a team of religious support operations professionals - usually at least one chaplain and one chaplain assistant - who plan, provide and perform religious support operations. These devoted individuals are not only religious advisers who provide spiritual support to their congregation; they are also counselors, morale organizers, friends and even cooks, when the need arises.
One such UMT, located at Forward Operating Base Lagman, Qalat City, Zabul province, is overseen by Chaplain (Capt.) Chang J. Kim unit chaplain for 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, Combined Task Force Arrowhead. Kim's congregation largely consists of Protestant Catholics - he estimates 80 percent of parishioners are Christian - though he is always able and willing to arrange for chaplains of other faiths to visit FOB Lagman if the desire is there.
"I have to provide (Protestant) worship services whenever they request it," said Kim. At FOB Lagman that means two Sunday services and two Wednesday Bible studies led by Kim, or a layman, in his absence. He also provides services to Soldiers at numerous combat outposts throughout the battlefield every other week when he conducts his "battlefield circulation."
The 1-37 Field Artillery Regiment UMT provides more than just religious services. During the holidays, like Easter or Christmas, they organize special services and gatherings for fellowship, where they serve up food and drinks for everyone to enjoy.
"The chaplains organize caroling and some events like ... the (5K) turkey run," said Kim. "With the MWR program, the chaplains can add more."
The Morale, Welfare and Recreation program is an Army-wide program that "offer soldiers and families opportunities to enrich their lives culturally and creatively," according to the website, armymwr.com. "(MWR) programs relieve stress, build strength and resilience, and help the Army Family stay physically, mentally and financially fit;" aspects that 1-37 FAR's UMT is interested in helping their Soldiers maintain.
"Basically boosting morale is (in) our same interest (the MWR and the chaplaincy) ... we can definitely communicate and create (events) for the soldiers and share resources too," said Kim. "The MWR, they can provide us a number of care packages too."
The other half of the Lagman UMT is Pvt. Christopher Baldwin. Baldwin was not available for comment but Kim explained that the role of the chaplain assistant is very important to the UMT's work, as the chaplain is considered a noncombatant so he does not carry a weapon or ammunition.
"The chaplain assistant is the only means of protection and returning fire when I get into trouble," explained Kim. "When I go to (a) remote area, I don't go alone; I am always accompanied by my assistant."
The chaplain assistant is always an enlisted Soldier who usually lives with and socializes with those Soldiers that the UMT supports. This allows Baldwin, and in turn Kim, to assess the state of the Soldiers as they sometimes talk to Baldwin about aspects of their deployment that Kim might not otherwise know about; issues that could affect the readiness or welfare of the affected Soldiers.
"He basically knows the soldiers. He lives with them in their tent, like five or six of them together," Kim said. "So sometimes he gives me insight into what the Soldiers need and how they feel about this stage of the deployment. He definitely adds more perspective and views to the chaplaincy."
Every UMT has a unique skill that is all its own - some aspect or quality the chaplain or his assistant brings to the team - and this team is no different. In Kim's case, the ability that he brings to the table is his cooking skills.
"I usually try to help the soldiers in very practical ways, so when I visit the soldiers I see their needs," said Kim. "I know there's a lot of remote areas where they do not have a good (dining facility) or no U.S. DFAC at all; they either get their food from the Romanian dining facility or the Australian dining facility. Whenever I visit there I try to bring some (Korean) noodles and I cook for them, so we have a feast there. I did this a couple of times and the soldiers loved it."
"It's traditional Korean noodles that my wife sends me," Kim further explained. "The soldiers love to have some different tastes, so we have a great supper together and that leads us into the great fellowship. I had quite a good time."
In addition to everything Kim's UMT does for the "Red Lions," he also ensures that the Soldiers living away from the larger FOBs have access to some of the same programs the UMT offers at the larger locations; programs such as "United through Reading."
"United through Reading" is a family-support program found on FOB Lagman that is facilitated by the UMT. According to their website, unitedthroughreading.org, "the military program helps ease the stress of separation for military families by having deployed parents read children's books aloud via DVD for their child to watch at home." It is a popular program with the soldiers, according to Kim, and one that he brings to the soldiers at remote FOBs. It is a popular program with the soldiers, according to Kim, and is constantly requested by soldiers at remote locations.
"We went out to COP Wally and COP Adrian and there were five or six soldiers who were looking to send their readings to their children," said Kim. "I want to provide the same opportunities to the soldiers in remote areas," and he is accomplishing as much by bringing the programs to the soldiers in the field.
Part of the UMT's success stems from the commander's backing and support.
"My command group (provides) excellent support for the chaplain and the chaplain's program," said Kim. "They have 100 percent support for the chaplain's ministry."
The "Red Lions" tour of duty is drawing to a close in a few months, and many of their soldiers are looking forward to reuniting with their families. Nevertheless, Kim and Baldwin are thinking ahead to the next group of soldiers who will replace them and how to help the new UMT best serve them.
"The previous chaplain, their UMT (left us) a great environment for the ministry so I appreciate them," said Kim. "We will do the same thing - try to do our best to set up the environment for the next team to come. We would like to set them up for success."