By Ms. Jennifer M Caprioli (IMCOM)April 1, 2010
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- After almost 30 years of combined religious and military service, Chaplain (Capt.) Michael Wikstrom has found a way to bring both backgrounds together to help serve his country, fellow Soldiers and their Families. Wikstrom, an Eastern Orthodox chaplain in the Army Reserves, has been on Active duty for three years.
After 15 months in Afghanistan, he returned to the states in December and, in January, began providing religious service at Fort Huachuca. He is in his fourth year of chaplaincy.
Wikstrom is serving as the rear detachment chaplain for the 86th Expeditionary Signal Battalion and the 40th Signal Brigade, meaning he's counseling the Soldiers' families as the 86th leaves for Afghanistan and the 40th leaves for Iraq. In addition to his duties as a rear detachment chaplain, Wikstrom also provides coverage for the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Battalion, and runs a congregation of about 20 parishioners on post.
The chaplain has been an Eastern Orthodox priest since 2001. His prior military service includes serving in the Army from 1982-1986, and the Air National Guard 1987-1991. Following September 11, an urge to serve was reignited in Wikstrom, so he decided it was to bring his religious and military backgrounds together. "It seemed like a natural fit," he explains.
The Orthodox religion wasn't always Wikstrom's chosen faith, though. He describes himself as a "Lutheran boy from Minnesota." While he spent much of his life in the Lutheran church, he had a "crisis of faith due to some life experiences," and wanted to get back to "the beginnings" and "the early church." Thus, he found the Orthodox religion.
"It has a lot of appeal to me," he says, noting, "a lot of military members don't understand what [Orthodox Christianity religion] is."
He explains that Orthodox services are very structured, with a lot of formality to them, which he says can be a challenge.
For instance, there's certain clothing an Orthodox priest needs to have with them to perform the service. Wikstrom also says the size of his congregation depends on where he is stationed.
"Militarily, it depends where I go," he explains.
"Orthodox chaplains tend to serve the international community more than the American community and that's just because of the makeup of Christian traditions in the U.S."
This is the first time the Orthodox chaplain has served a military congregation state-side. While here, Wikstrom hopes to be able to take care of people and serve their spiritual needs.
"There's no greater, more rewarding job than being a military chaplain because you're making a difference in people's lives," he explains, adding, "especially on the counseling side, you're often taking broken people, broken relationships, minds, hearts and setting them on the path of repair."
Wikstrom says a chaplain's job can be frustrating because sometimes commanders don't realize what an asset chaplains are, especially in helping Soldiers be more productive.
"We provide things such as life-coaching, helping to keep their relationships together, and get Soldiers' moral ethics back on track," he says, noting, quite often chaplains don't even know if they were successful. He also considers it an "incredibly rewarding" calling that has changed his life, positively and negatively.
Being in the military and deployed has put strains on his family but he believes this helps him relate to the Soldiers and their Families who are going through the same thing.
"The adjustment can be brutal," he says. "Part of my job as the rear detachment chaplain is to help Families transition through those events, and prior to [a Soldier's] reunion, help [teach] Families on what to expect." His advice to Soldiers and Family members who are preparing to deploy, going through a deployment or anticipating a homecoming: take things slow.
"Recognize your family has changed and you have changed," he adds. Orthodox services are held on post the first and third Sunday of each month at 9:30 a.m. in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Wikstrom can be reached by e-mailing him, firstname.lastname@example.org.