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    Chaplain guides tight-knit battalion through tough times

    Chaplain guides tight-knit battalion through tough times

    Photo By Sgt. Michael Tuttle | Chaplain (Capt.) Charles Popov speaks during a service at Forward Operating Base...... read more read more

    By Sgt. Michael Tuttle
    5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    HAWIJAH, Iraq – Chaplain (Capt.) Charles Popov knew something was wrong when he heard his name called over the "big voice" loud speaker. Upon entering the battalion operations center, he saw on camera for himself the humvee that had just gotten hit by an improvised explosive device.

    "Here we go again," Popov thought to himself. Popov, chaplain for the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, was angry and in disbelief when a few-week lull with no major incidents for the battalion at Forward Operating Base McHenry suddenly ended.

    Five Soldiers died in the afternoon attack Dec. 6 when an IED exploded underneath their vehicle. They were conducting combat operations in Hawijah.

    At the operations center, Popov anxiously wondered who the Soldiers in the humvee were. McHenry is a small base in a more secluded area than some of the larger FOBs, and the Soldiers have built a close bond, said Popov.

    One of the Soldiers who died in the IED attack went to premarital counseling and was married by Popov to his wife before deploying from Hawaii. Popov spent the night before the attack in the grappling tent with another one of the Soldiers, recalling that the Soldier had been throwing guys all over the mat.

    Popov speaks to many of the battalion Soldiers through what chaplains call the "ministry of presence," getting around the FOB to seek out troops who may want to talk but not come to the chapel.

    He also gets to know them through individual counselings, helping Soldiers through marital, family and unit issues.

    "Chaplain Popov does more counseling here than any other chaplain in the brigade," said Chaplain (Maj.) Scott Sterling, 3rd Brigade, 25th ID chaplain. "He is sought after because Soldiers can talk to him and go to him for answers."

    His strength as a counselor has made Popov, who holds masters degrees in theology and counseling psychology, and the Wolfhound Chapel a reassuring presence for the battalion.

    Popov was at the emergency medical tent when the Soldiers from the IED attack were brought in. He was there to pray for the deceased and make himself available to the medics and their fellow Soldiers who had gathered outside.

    Shortly thereafter, he organized a combat grief counseling for the Soldiers who were on the scene. Popov talked about the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and encouraged them to express what happened to help process their thoughts and emotions.

    "I was skeptical to go to the initial counseling," said Pfc. Jason Blevins, the combat medic who was on the scene of the attack. "Chaplain Popov didn't make anybody feel uncomfortable. He wasn't pressing. He was down to earth and approachable. He talked us through the characteristics of PTSD and let everyone talk and explain what they saw."

    Blevins was invited by Popov to return to the chapel the following day after not speaking much at the grief counseling. The one-on-one meeting was helpful for him.

    "We had a mutual conversation. I told him how I felt and he talked about his experience," Blevins said.

    The stress of guiding Soldiers through their own stressful times can sometimes wear on the chaplain. The muscular Popov often uses the gym as an outlet, but helping Soldiers is its own comfort.

    "Anyone who lives a life of helping people benefits from the people they help," Popov said after taking a swig of his protein shake in the chapel after a workout.

    The Cincinnati native became a pastor in 1982. He was a pastor at the Greater Cincinnati Church of God for 10 years before becoming an Army chaplain in 2000. His family still lives in Cincinnati and this is his second deployment to Iraq.

    While Popov's sponsorship is through the Church of God, the Army includes Soldiers from all religious backgrounds and those with no religious affiliation. Popov welcomes all whether they want to talk religion or not.

    "I don't go there (talk about religion) unless they do," said Popov. "There doesn't need to be a religious basis for counseling."

    Popov also helps prepare the ramp ceremony, where the deceased Soldiers are carried to helicopters in front of a battalion formation to be airlifted from the FOB, and the final memorial ceremony, which brings closure to the unit.

    "The other night was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life," said Popov. "I was numb for the first day."

    Popov said that after such an incident, what Soldiers need most is to be around each other.

    "Not so much for the words they say to each other but just to be in the presence of others," said Popov. "You could see a huge difference – in their faces and in their eyes – from last night to today."

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 12.18.2006
    Date Posted: 12.18.2006 10:34
    Story ID: 8602
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