Veteran’s Day – then and now…

Army, Chaplaincy

I have some angst about Veterans Day. It’s the same midwestern angst I have about being too excited about anything. I don’t like the feeling that I am not differentiated from my religion, my faith, my job, and my country, politics etc… I have an aspirational image of myself that I am a little above trappings, pomp and circumstance of the life I lead.

Veteran’s Day is no exception.

I’m fine celabrating the service of others but being a veteran is sometimes a little sureal to me. I’m so used to this life and have more or less forgotten what life was like before putting on the uniform that considering myself in this slice of our population is something of an odd thought. I get up, I go to work, I get paid, I serve people and, oh right, my country.

Maybe it’s this job. Yesterday, I preached in both prison facilities in which I work. In one, I am their chaplain, their pastor – the inmates are all veterans themselves but have been put out of service because of their convictions in courts martial. Ministering to them in humility and being proud of my own service carries no small tension in my mind.

So today, I celebrate a deployment from what seems long ago. Operation Iraqi Freedom III. Camp Striker, Iraq. 2/121 Infantry Battalion (Mechanized). A year that changed me at my core. A young, idealistic, hurting young chaplain met with a nervous, driven Infantry battalion and grew together into a hardened combat team, taking the fight to the enemy.

I think of that year now with no small amount of emotion. Those that died. Those that lived. The wounded, those who continue to be wounded. We were, all of us, changed by that war.

Suicide Stand Down

Army, Chaplaincy, Peace

“Essentially, we know what leads people to suicide — it’s stress,” Varney said. “What we don’t know is who has the ability to relieve that stress.”

This quote from an article about how Ft. Campbell, KY is actually gaining in the Army’s fight against suicide highlights the essential quandary facing our force today – how do you help a population who is living out the most stress and danger in society? It’s stress leading to the action and stress is a part of the job.

It’s tough being a chaplain in this Army sometimes. Its hard to spend great amounts of your day working with at risk individuals and then still feel like your losing the battle.

It takes prayer. Lots of it. I ask for it for our Army.

Today was suicide stand down day. Across the Army Chaplains, Commanders and other care givers stopped what operations they could (mission still needs to be done) and talked about suicide. I’m certain there are many reasons for what we are going through as an Army today not the least of which is the cost of being at war for so long. I believe that we are moving in the right direction though and have great hope that as we continue to face the dark side of problems, we’ll save even more lives.

Peace be with you.

Chaplains and Gay Marriage

Army, Chaplaincy

I read an article this week about a bill being put forward that  would protect chaplains from having to perform marriage ceremonies they deem violate their conscience. A goal I’d be down with – if it needed to be done.

But it does not. Chaplains have always been able to perform or NOT perform marraiges on or off instalations. It has everything to do with their particular faith group, ordination, and endorser.

Army Regulation 165-1 lays it out clearly:  (5) Chaplains, at their discretion, may perform marriage ceremonies for authorized personnel upon request and in accordance with the laws of the State or country where the marriage is to take place. Chaplain participation in marriage preparations and ceremonies is in keeping with individual conscience and distinctive faith requirements. Chaplains may perform marriage ceremonies for DOD military personnel overseas in compliance with all applicable civil law requirements of the host nations, Army regulations, and any other military command directives.

That seems kind of clear to me.

The point I am making here is that this law is unnecessary. I won’t comment on DOMA, that seems to be a political issue and I’m not going to wade in those waters. I will however highlight that chaplains were not nor are not required to perform marriages (or services) outside of their tradition. Given some of the conversations I’ve had recently, I thought I’d point that out.

The role of the chaplain in layman’s terms is to “perform or provide.” By this we mean that we “perform” our particular faith’s rituals, ceremonys, and services while “providing” for the free exercise of religion for everyone else. This looks different for each chaplain but for me, I have generally kept a folder in my office of local major religious groups that I could point Soldiers and family members in their direction and even *gasp* make a coordinating phone call for them in the need arose. Downrange, I bent over backwards to ensure that my Soldiers had access to their particular faith group as they had need. Thats religious freedom. It’s why I get paid. I think sometimes this gets lost in all the posturing around these issues. There are many Soldiers in the Army who do not hold to Christian traditions. They have as much right to worship as any of us do. I’m all for laws that broaden our understanding of religious liberty, I just wonder about the intent of laws that seek to do what is most certainly already done.

As a rule, I believe the Pauline injunction that couples should not be “unequally yoked” – in other words, Christians should marry Christians. This means that I have, in fact, turned down opportunities to marry those who did not fit that criteria. I’ve never been corrected or guided differently in that. It is a part of my faith. However, this does not mean that I was unhelpful. I am fine helping anyone get their needs met in a way that makes sense to them. Incidentally, I also do not marry folks I don’t believe have a fighting chance to make it. (i.e. Soldier shows up in my office with soon to be spouse and wants me to marry them after a week of knowing each other…) Christian marriage is the only kind of marriage I perform and I take the responsibility seriously. That’s my ordination – my performance. My job as federal chaplain requires that I provide for everyone else. I have no issues with it. I do it happily.

As a side, there has been no negative impact of the repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I guess after all that hullabaloo, it just wasn’t a big deal after all. But I’ll save that for another post.

Celebrating a Chaplain’s sacrifice today.

Army, Chaplaincy

By: NY1 News

A memorial Mass was held at Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island on Sunday to mark the 45th anniversary of Father Vincent Capodanno’s death in the Vietnam War.

Borough President James Molinaro was among those who honored the military chaplain for his heroic service.

Starting in 1966, Capodanno served in Vietnam, where he administered last rites to the dying and prayed over the dead.

The Elm Park native was killed by enemy gunfire the following year at the age of 38.

“It was in the battlefield where Father Capodanno excelled and inspired. He would find out from his friends and military intelligence what units were most likely to encounter the heaviest contact and he would volunteer for these missions,” said Vincent Maligno, a retired member of the U.S. Air Force.

Capodanno was awarded a Purple Heart, a Medal of Honor and a Bronze Star for his service.

In 2006, the Catholic Church officially proclaimed the chaplain a “Servant of God,” putting him on the path to sainthood.

See original article here.