By Spc. Michael Adams, Headquarters, 3rd Infantry Division Public AffairsMay 25, 2010
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE SPEICHER, Iraq - Arkadiusz Ochalek grew up playing soccer in Sztum, Poland, as a way to forget about the pressures he faced from the Soviet Union, which ruled his nation.
"The Russians took everything from our countries and gave it to Russia," he said. The usurping of supplies led to families all over the Soviet Union having to wait in long lines for the most basic necessities, like food and clothing.
But he never saw his nation as 'red,' that color being the symbol of the Soviet Union. He saw it more as pink, meaning his home country had a looser association with the Soviet Union than other nations under Soviet control.
He knew many in Poland that had families in free nations, like America and the United Kingdom. They would write home and send packages to their relatives in Europe, sparking an interest of many about life in those nations.
While his curiosity about America was strong, his faith was also very strong in his youth.
"The church was a very important part of my life," he said. "It helped us to fight communism by showing our strength as a nation."
He handed out brochures against communism as a part of his Catholic school campaign against the Soviet Union and their policies.
His faith helped him defy communism and led him to study divinity. He studied at three different universities across Europe and Asia before he came to America in 2004.
"It was love at first sight," said Ochalek, who now serves as the Division Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division chaplain. "The culture, the landscape, the people - there isn't one reason I love America so much. I am very lucky to be in this country."
Ochalek didn't just come to America to enjoy freedom; he came to this country to defend freedom.
"I came to America with the idea of being a chaplain in the Army," he said. "I believe in Army troops, and I want to be a good chaplain to them."
Even though he is stationed at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, he provides services all over United States Division - North, routinely leaving Speicher to be a spiritual guide for Soldiers. He has left his home base more than 10 times to give services to other posts.
When he is on another base, he provides two services a day. When he is on COB Speicher, he does services daily at different locations around the post.
He and Sgt. Keith Wright, who serves as his chaplain's assistant, also work on prayer luncheons. This involves getting reservations, food, guest speakers and advertising the events. The process is long, but it serves the purpose of lifting Soldiers' morale and fulfilling their spiritual needs in a combat zone.
They also sponsor retreats for Soldiers to get away, discuss problems they face, and relax in a combat environment. They have sponsored retreats for Soldiers from many diverse backgrounds on Speicher.
Wright sees the events as a chance to bring Soldiers together in fellowship and spirit.
Ochalek also provides individual counseling to Soldiers on a daily basis. This can involve helping them to cope with long deployments, marriage, spiritual and other issues.
Even though Ochalek mentors a lot of Soldiers, he relies on Sgt. Wright to help him with the many events and tasks they are assigned to do.
"We're like a Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan of unit ministry teams," Wright said.
He added that he really enjoys working with Ochalek.
"The two of us are new to the chaplaincy, so at times it can be challenging, but because of who he is as a person, it is a smooth transition through the challenging times."
Ochalek also faces additional challenges, according to Wright. He is one of the few Catholics chaplains in the Army and has to meet the religious needs of all Catholic Soldiers in USD - N.
Even though Ochalek, is a very proud American and a very proud Soldier, he remembers his roots and how they helped shape his beliefs.
"Poles will never submit themselves to anyone," he said. "For many years, there were different forces trying to conquer Poles and we fought all of them. That fighting spirit was always alive in Poles and is very alive in me. That is why I joined the U.S. Army ... I believe in both countries' spirit of freedom and I want to help others to be free."