News: Louisiana National Guard chaplains serve oil spill responders
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Paul Meeker
ROBERT, La. – The Louisiana National Guard is serving the spiritual needs of oil spill responders by providing worship opportunities, counseling services and site visits by Army and Air Guard chaplains and chaplains’ assistants.
“From the beginning of the oil spill mission, LANG chaplains have been providing religious support to service members and civilians,” said the state chaplain of the LANG, Col. Robert S. Baker, Jr. “Our religious support teams are tirelessly serving those who are serving.”
Since operations began in early May, the LANG religious teams have been serving responders in such diverse areas as Buras, Port Fourchon, Shriever, Amelia, Robert, Cocodrie, Marrero, Shell Beach and New Orleans.
Just like the oil responders they are serving, the religious support teams work seven days a week traveling across southern Louisiana offering their services. To date, more than 75 site visits and nearly 60 religious services have been performed by the Guard chaplains.
“We go where the soldiers need us,” Baker said. “It doesn’t matter what battalion they are from, we talk to them and minister to any one that needs us.”
Baker explained that some services are formally scheduled through the battalions, and others are made at the request of individual soldiers.
“Services may be held anywhere - in a tent or building, whatever is available,” Baker said.
Air Guard Staff Sgt. Ralph K. Simcox, a chaplain’s assistant activated for the oil spill mission, explained that while the Guard chaplains presently called to duty are either Catholic or Protestant, they are trained to serve the spiritual needs of Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Islamic believers. They are also available to provide counseling services to those without specific religious beliefs, Simcox added.
At a recent Sunday service at the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command headquarters in Robert, La., Air Guard chaplain Lt. Col. Caesar A. Silva conducted Catholic Mass.
In his message, Silva, who also serves as the parish priest for Sacred Heart Church in Montegue, La., called attention to the diversity of the oil spill responders – civilians, National Guard, Coast Guard and other military members – and the value of their work.
“All kinds of people are deployed here with a mission that touches the hearts of Louisiana's citizens,” Silva said. "We are all working together to solve this problem.”
The other members of the religious support service currently on duty are Army chaplains 1st Lt. Gary Memelo and 1st Lt. Chris Gueydan, as well as assistant Pfc. Randall Dixon.