By Charmain Z. BrackettOctober 16, 2009
Col. Craig Wiley knows the importance faith plays in the life of a Soldier especially one deployed downrange.
"As a young Soldier in Vietnam, I did not have much of a relationship with God. I remember looking up and saying 'God, I hope I'm on your side,'" said Wiley, Fort Gordon installation chaplain, who works with other chaplains to ensure Soldiers have the opportunity to worship regardless of if they are in a foxhole, forward operating base or at an installation.
Fort Gordon has about 30 Army chaplains and two Navy chaplains. All of the chaplains represent Christian faiths. Army-wide, there are few Muslim and Jewish chaplains. To facilitate service members of other faiths, there are "distinctive faith group leaders." These are volunteers who are approved by their religious organization and the installation. Fort Gordon has Muslim and Jewish distinctive faith group leaders.
Oftentimes, however, Soldiers attend services off-post, he said.
When deployed, it can sometimes be difficult for Soldiers to have services at regularly scheduled times.
"Every day is Sunday," said Capt. Maschhoff, the 442nd Signal Battalion's chaplain, who has been deployed and knows firsthand how to facilitate her Soldiers' spiritual needs.
On a recent deployment, Maschhoff had a few Wiccan Soldiers.
"Sometimes, it is finding the proper location. I'm not a Wiccan priestess, but I had a Wiccan priestess in my unit," she said.
She also observed a New Mexico National Guard unit with several Native American Indians who required a drum circle as part of their worship service.
Providing for the spiritual needs of Soldiers, however, often has little to do with arranging worship services and giving sermons.
"My day-to-day is taking care of my group of Soldiers and attending to their spiritual health, mental health, building relationships with Family members," she said.
Wiley said Army chaplains are in a unique position.
"You wouldn't see localy clergy at the company talking to assembly line workers," he said.
However, the rapport chaplains build with their Soldiers is important especially when Soldiers are dealing with issues like post traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide.
"You get in where they live and work everyday," said Wiley.
"You form strong bonds," said Maschhoff. "Soldiers say 'you know, Chaplain, you were there."