News: For God and country, chaplains provide soldiers peace-of-mind, place to worship
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. — Soldiers leave many things behind when they leave home – family, friends, their everyday way of life. However, one crucial aspect of their existence will always be available to them regardless of location – a place to worship.
Here at Combat Support Training Exercise-91 is no exception.
Enter the Mayor’s Cell on Base Camp Tusi and one will find tucked away in a corner a humble collection of chairs behind one of the many orange curtains that separate the different sections. At the front stands a table filled with spiritual literature – the Holy Bible and other books of religious inspiration and behind this, hangs a cross.
“When soldiers walk in and see that cross, they feel at home and definitely know what this is – which is a place they can worship,” said 1st Lt. Julio Vargas, 91st Chaplain Detachment, based at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. “This is so they realize there is always a place for them to connect with God.”
However, a physical building is not a requirement for soldiers to give glory to the Lord, said Vargas, of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
“Anyplace you gather can be a place of worship, be it an open field,” he said. “A church is just a place to meet, but fellowship can be had anyplace, anytime.”
According to Vargas, the opportunity for soldiers to break away from training, even for a brief period of time, is mission-critical.
“When soldiers are handling weapons and preparing for war all day or week long, they need to get away a little bit and be able to worship with others,” he said.
Spc. Justinet Oquendo, 91st Chap. Det., chaplain assistant, echoed this sentiment.
“What we’ve set up here is a place to spiritually interact with others and break away from the world of today,” said Oquendo. “This is where they can hear the voice of God.”
As for Oquendo, there was never any doubt his vocation would be that of service to the Lord, he said.
“All my life, I’ve been interested in religion,” said Oquendo, a Catholic who served as an altar boy for 21 years while growing up and is now a Eucharistic minister, which means he has the ability to give Holy Communion during Mass. “My brother is studying to become a priest and my entire family is very religious.”
Vargas, 43, is brand new to military ministry, having only been a chaplain now for seven months. How he entered the service is a story unto itself, he said.
“I belonged to the Freemasons back home,” said Vargas, of the world-wide fraternal organization known for their charitable efforts based on common belief in a “Supreme Being” regardless of an individual’s religion. “Ironically, I’d spend time there with a group of Army lawyers and one day, one of them said to me, ‘You know what? You’d make a good Army chaplain,’ so here I am.”
Despite the fact he wears the cross of a Christian chaplain, it is his duty to accommodate soldiers of all faiths to the best of his ability in a given environment, he said.
“Even soldiers of different faiths and denominations can come to me, be they Jewish, Muslim, Mormon or any other,” said Vargas. “Even if all I can do is provide them with a Quran or Torah, I do my best to help with their spiritual needs.”
(CH) Capt. Charlie Bechtold, 112th Chaplain Detachment, commander, based in Little Rock Ark., reiterated the need for soldiers to have a physical place to worship.
“We try to recreate the House of God,” said Bechtold, who runs a Nazarine ministry in Aubrey, Texas. “When they enter, just the sight of a cross or scripture puts them more at ease with their faith.”
Bechtold recounted an anecdote he witnessed while here on Base Camp Tusi, when a solitary soldier entered the makeshift chapel before a recent service.
“He walked in an immediately dropped to his knees and began to pray,” he said. “Just by doing that made it a holy place for him.”
Bechtold was thankful to have Vargas and Oquendo, as well as other clergy on hand for CSTX-91, he said.
“We are blessed to have the contingent from Puerto Rico to conduct services in Spanish, as well as a Catholic priest and a rabbi,” said Bechtold. “This exercise has been unique in we’ve had access to chaplains from a variety of faiths.”
He also spoke of what he referred to as establishing a “ministry of presence” amongst the troops.
"Part of our job as chaplains is to go out and visit with the troops,” said Bechtold, who recalled how he was out running one day and happened across some on-duty military police. “Once soldiers recognize you’re a chaplain, they tend to open up a bit more. They don’t necessarily have to come to us individually or to chapel service for religious guidance or advice.”
Vargas concurred with his comrade.
“The approach you take with soldiers and their impression of you is very important,” he said. “When you’re out doing physical training with the troops, they realize even though you’re a chaplain, you can still be out there playing soccer and joking around like any other soldier does.”
This work, For God and country, chaplains provide soldiers peace-of-mind, place to worship, by SGT Scott Akanewich, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.
Date Posted:07.23.2012 12:49
Hometown:SAN JUAN, PR
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