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    'Geronimo' Gentle Giant Protects Battalion's Spiritual Leader

    'Geronimo' Gentle Giant Protects Battalion's Spiritual Leader

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Butler | Spc. Jemell Garris, a Boston native, is the new chaplain's assistant for 1st...... read more read more

    By Sgt. Marcus Butler
    4th BCT (Abn.), 25th Inf. Div. Public Affairs

    ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq – Standing 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing in at around 235 pounds, at first glance Spc. Jemell Garris, would strike anyone as being a hardcore, metal chewing, fighting machine.

    In reality, however, he is totally the opposite.

    Most people picture an infantryman as a soldier running through gunfire, explosions and clouds of dust. As for Garris, an infantryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, his role in the fight has taken a somewhat different direction.

    Garris, a Boston native, started out with the battalion's scout platoon. After leaving the scouts, he became a training room noncommissioned officer. After nearly three years with the Geronimo Battalion, Garris was asked to take on his biggest role yet, protecting the battalion chaplain.

    Totally unaware of his upcoming assignment, Garris was a little confused when he was approached with the job.

    "I was just standing in the training room finishing up some paper work, and the chaplain came out of a meeting with the first sergeant and asked me what my physical fitness test score was and what my weapon qualification score was," said Garris. "At first, I was a little confused about why he would be asking me these questions, but I answered them. Then he asked me to pick him up and fireman carry him. So I did."

    After this initial test, Garris was offered the position as the battalion's new chaplain assistant.

    "I was looking for someone who was a warrior; who was strong; who could shoot expert. It was suggested that Garris would be a perfect match," said Chaplain (Capt.) Dan Hardin, the battalion's spiritual leader. "I know it sort of caught him off guard when I approached him, but he passed the test and I said, 'You are hired.'"

    Moving into the chaplain assistant position, Garris had a few changes to make in order to accomplish the mission ahead of him.

    "Garris is a great guy that takes initiative," said Hardin. "He quickly learned what it took to be a chaplain assistant, which is a military occupational specialty within itself and completed the online course for the MOS on his own."

    Understanding the importance of his role in the unit, Garris has found a new love that he does not want to lose.

    "I love being a chaplain assistant," said Garris. "If I was able to start over in the Army that would be the job I would have chosen.

    Garris is not the only one in love with his new position. His family also agrees with his new career path.

    "My wife likes me working with the chaplain rather than me going out on missions as an infantryman," he said.

    The main role of the chaplain assistant is to make sure that the chaplain is safe and that the paratroopers' interests and concerns are always placed first.

    "A chaplain's assistant is, first and foremost, a warrior and a personal security detachment," said Hardin. "He is the expert tactician and the guy that directs movement under fire, returns fire and gets us to a place of safety. What better person to fulfill that position than a person with experience as an infantryman."

    Achieving tactical expertise in a certain area requires a level of commitment, both physically and mentally, to reach and exceed 100 percent.

    "(On) one side he is a warrior, a level two-trained combatives expert. He boxes, does Tae Kwon Do and can shoot. On the other hand, Garris is very soft spoken, compassionate, and tender. He knows when to turn it off and on with both sides," Hardin said.

    Working with the chaplain to help paratroopers is no small task. In all actuality, it is a process that has to be carefully put into action without offending or causing more damage to the one it was meant to help.

    "Helping the Soldiers is not a simple process," said Garris "We generally start by moving the Soldier to a neutral location away from the stress and that coincides with that Soldier's particular religion. Then we ask what the problem is and listen to how we can help."

    Being responsible for another person's welfare is stressful enough without having to worry about someone trying to harm you in the process. For the chaplain's assistant, this is daily occurrence while at war.

    "I want to make sure that the chaplain is being taken care of, that is my primary concern," said Garris. "As long as I am being vigilant, some of the nervousness dissipates. I am always aware of the chaplain's presence and position, so it is not as stressful as it could be."

    A chaplain, being a non-combatant, is totally reliant on his assistant to ensure his safety when the unit missionary team ventures outside the base camp. No matter what the situation, it is up to that chaplain's assistant to bring his chaplain back unharmed.

    "I am very confident in Garris' capabilities outside of the walls of the FOB while we are on missions," said Hardin. "He has great awareness of the entire area we are operating in. I know he has my back."

    Working in the Geronimo Spiritual Operations Center, Garris has found a new home away from home.

    "Working with the chaplain and taking care of the Soldiers is what I do best," said Garris. "I would rather spend the rest of my time here as a chaplain's assistant. This job fulfills me."



    Date Taken: 02.12.2007
    Date Posted: 02.12.2007 11:13
    Story ID: 9110
    Location: ISKANDARIYAH, IQ 

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