By Albert L. Kelley, Combined Joint Task Force - 82March 1, 2010
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- The chaplains of Task Force Mountain Warrior are providing spiritual fitness to Soldiers by visiting every combat outpost and forward operating base in their area of operation in eastern Afghanistan at least once a month.
"Not all Soldiers have the privilege to be located on the main forward operating bases where they can receive daily spiritual care from a chaplain," said Sgt. Leander E. Outlaw, a chaplain assistant, of Raleigh, N.C., assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. "Especially here in Afghanistan."
Five minutes after a church service was set to start, bibles had been placed throughout the small FOB Michigan dining facility and Outlaw had loaded the worship service DVD. Only one Soldier had arrived, but Air Force Capt. Robert J. Schobert, of Wichita Falls, Texas, and the chaplain with the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team, gave Outlaw the signal to begin service.
"I have led military chapel services with almost 300 in attendance, and I have led services with only one other person present," Schobert said. "But at that moment, that single soul is the most important person on my radar."
"The largest service at present that I can recall was at Command Observation Post Honaker-Miracle, with fifteen," Outlaw said. "The smallest in attendance that I can recall from a few months back was maybe four."
Fifteen minutes into the service, Spc. Cody W. Sulzbach, of Alexandria, Minn., assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, quietly slipped into a side door of the dining facility and picked up one the Bibles. As Sulzbach joined the group, which totaled five members, Schobert acknowledged him with a slight head nod, while continuing with his message to the group.
"They understand the way things work," Sulzbach said. "They just accept you in."
Chaplains such as Maj. Paul D. Madej, of Utica, N.Y., the brigade headquarters company chaplain, makes it a point to provide variety of services to Soldiers.
"At some locations I will do quarterly suicide prevention classes, anger management classes and resiliency training," Madej said.
They also provide much needed, face-to-face mentoring that some Soldiers need, such as Staff Sgt. David P. Nix, of Charlotte, N.C., assigned to Company A.
"I am converting to Catholicism," Nix said. "[Therefore], I have to take classes about the church. Since the chaplain is stationed at FOB Fenty, it allows me to see him face-to-face occasionally versus simply communicating by email."
Above all, Soldiers say that simply seeing and spending time with a chaplain has a major impact on morale.
"I enjoy talking to them just as much as the service," said Spc. Nicholas E. Anderson, of El Dorado Hills, Calif., a radio telephone operator.
"Seeing him walking around, knowing he came without a weapon just to talk to you is definitely a boost," Nix said.