By Maj. Mike Humphreys
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division
BAGHDAD – After nearly seven months of holding religious services in conference rooms, the Strikers at Forward Operating Base War Eagle in the Adhamiyah District of Baghdad christened their new chapel with a Christmas Eve candlelight service Dec. 24.
Construction of the chapel was an internal affair for the Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
Soldiers from all over the northern Adhamiyah base, nestled against the Tigris River, chipped in to build the new chapel that couldn't otherwise be completed before March, said Capt. Aaron Swartz, a native of Lexington, Ill., and chaplain for the 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div.
"It was absolutely phenomenal to open up the new chapel on Christmas Eve," he said. "I started off [the service] by blessing the chapel from this day forward."
The plywood and two-by-four chapel has no windows and only one pew for now, but folding chairs were brought in to accommodate the more than 30 worshipers for the first service, which was held at 9:30 p.m. A second service was held at 11 p.m. Some of the worshipers attended both.
After his prayer for the chapel, Swartz kicked off the service by explaining the significance of the candles of the Advent's Wreath while Maj. William "Chip" Nicholas, 3rd BCT's chaplain, who hails from Orlando, Fla., lit each candle in turn, hope, love, joy, peace and the Christ candle.
The gift of a new chapel wasn't the only Christmas treat for the Soldiers of War Eagle. The Brigade Religious Support Team and a few talented Soldiers practiced for weeks prior to the Christmas Eve opening to lead worshipers in a round of traditional carols.
Spc. Jerrod Fox is used to playing his six-string for his church in Taylorsville, N.C., and was a natural to back up lead singers: Spc. Dale Harris, a 3rd BCT information systems specialist from Bend, Ore., and 1st Lieut. Ivan Lugo, an unmanned aerial vehicle platoon leader, from Houston.
"It felt really nice," said Fox, a UAV operator for 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div. "It felt good to give something to lift holiday spirits."
Following Swartz' New Testament reading from Luke, the harsh white florescent lights of the chapel went out, leaving the solid plywood structure illuminated in the soft yellow glow of more than 30 candles handed out to worshipers at the beginning of the service.
Fox strummed his guitar and the service was concluded with a modest rendition of "Silent Night." The double doors swung open and candle-toting worshipers filed out shaking hands and handing out hugs wishing a Merry Christmas to everyone.
This work, Strikers christen new chapel with candlelight service, by LTC Michael Humphreys, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.