By Spc. Sharla Lewis, 3rd AAB PAO, 1st Cav. Div.May 20, 2011
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq - United States Division - South held a chaplain's conference May 10 at Contingency Operating Base Adder to foster resiliency and fellowship among the chaplains and chaplain's assistants that attended.
The day-long conference included a visit to the Ziggurat of Ur, a local biblical monument, and was followed by discussion-based training, led by Chaplain (Capt.) Benjie Bender, the deputy chaplain for the division.
To start, the chaplains convened at dawn for the tour of the ziggurat, where they prayed and meditated. Theologians believe the ancient city of Ur to be the birthplace of the religious prophet Abraham.
Many said it was gratifying to spend time with such a valuable piece of history.
"It was definitely a humbling experience," said Sgt. Richard Courtney, the chaplain's assistant for 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. "We're in the land of Abraham, the land of Ur and if you can't be proud or happy or excited to be there, something's wrong."
Later, they gathered at the COB Adder chapel for training and discussions. A video on the topic "God is Closer than you Think" played on a projection screen.
Soldiers talked amongst themselves about personal experiences and their views on sub-topics like "Where is God in my World'" and "Partnering with God Today."
"God is there just when you think he isn't. It's during those uncertain times that he is," said Sgt. 1st Class Andre Pettaway, the senior chaplain's assistant for the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, to the group with which he was chatting.
The day ended with a prayer session and individual worship time. Many that attended said the training was perfect for the ministry teams to spend time with others of the same field.
"Being able to meet with other chaplains and having someone with the same interests that you do is nice," said Sgt. Devin Lovgren, the chaplain's assistant for 67th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade from the Nebraska Army National Guard. "It's like having brothers and sisters."
Chaplains throughout Iraq's southern provinces conduct training of this kind for units on a regular basis, but this is the first occurrence of a conference designed for the resiliency of those behind the pulpit since the start of Operation New Dawn in 2010.
Bender said the training is important to maintain the strength of the chaplain's corps.
"It's like on a plane. Rather than following your gut instinct of assisting others, you must give yourself oxygen before those around you," he said. "It's the same for chaplains. They do a lot of breathing out and this kind of training allows them to do a little breathing in and reconnecting with the source of their spirituality."