By Sgt. Richard AndradeAugust 14, 2012
CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. - Through the years, U.S. Army chaplains have provided soldiers with spiritual support in the battlefield and back home. In that tradition, chaplains and chaplain's assistants assigned to U.S. Army North, based out of Fort Sam Houston, Texas, will assist Task Force-51 in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident inside the continental United States. TF-51 is a collaborative effort between military and civilian agencies to assist state and federal responders in saving lives, mitigating damage and helping those in need.
Maj. William Nicholas, an Orlando, Fla., native, assigned to U.S. Army North, has been a chaplain for more than fifteen years and said he has seen the task force grow and evolve through the years. He said everybody's role in the task force is important but the role of the chaplain and chaplain's assistant is unique because in a predicament people might need the presence or the love of God.
"Having that representation of the chaplain and chaplain's assistant during a national incident is critical because it is going to be an emotional event," said Nicholas. "Not just for the people affected, but also for those like us who will come to the aid of those who are in need. I have no doubt we will be focused in the event we are called."
Nicholas said he considers his task an integral part of the task force, "It's an honor, it's a great educational opportunity, and it's a great opportunity to grow personally as well."
Wherever the chaplain goes, he travels with his chaplain's assistant, Master Sgt. Felix Ramos. Ramos said he has been in the Army since 1995 and has seen multiple arenas as a chaplain's assistant. He is now with U.S. Army North and TF-51 and said he enjoys providing religious support to soldiers.
Ramos said that the dynamics of the task force are unique. "As soon as there is an incident in one of the states and the governor declares a state of emergency, we will be called to assist people in the event of a disaster."
In the event of a mass casualty incident, Ramos said the religious support teams would assist everyone involved in the recovery effort. The native of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, said, "[The religious support teams] are used in a time of crisis to provide religious counseling and attend to the spiritual needs the soldiers have."
"We will assist mortuary affairs, personnel who will confront casualties every day. We will provide religious support to everybody -- DoD civilians, active duty soldiers and our brothers in the National Guard and reserve components."
Ramos said he is honored to be the chaplain's assistant due to the fact that he can be there for a soldier whenever he needs someone to talk to.
"Sometimes people just need to decompress with the chaplain or the chaplain's assistant," said Ramos. "As time goes by, we can be more in touch with the people that we work with. Providing that one-on-one assistance helping them be at ease with their spirituality."
That assistance was tested when TF-51 brought Army, Air Force, Marine and Navy, and Department of Defense civilians from across the U.S. together to take part in Vibrant Response 13, a major incident exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North, Aug. 5-14.
"Looking at this exercise overall, it is amazing what they have done," Nicholas said. "I think we are positioned and poised to really make it even better and more realistic. We are here to make the mission happen for the sake of the people that we may be called on one day to assist and serve."