One of the most common questions friends and family ask me is what does a typical day for a chaplain in Iraq look like? As you might have guessed, there are no typical days, although there are routines. Further, each chaplain's unit and mission are unique, and ministering to our respective soldiers usually requires a customized approach.
I have been in theater for about eight months. I recently returned from two weeks of R&R to the states to be with my family, and during the arduous return trip I reflected on a conversation I had with my father about the value of journaling. Our life's experiences--as formative and beautiful as they might be--have no significance beyond our efforts to remember them. So, in addition to sharing my experiences with family and friends this is an effort to hold on to those experiences--good and bad--that are important to me. A good deal of what I share with you may be a little vague--but for good reason, two good reasons, actually. First, nothing I post on this blog should be useful to the enemy and his aims. Second, I will not violate the trust of individual soldiers who confide in me as I help them work through personal and family issues that stand in the way of accomplishing the mission. So, operational security and soldier confidentiality issues will sometimes keep me from going into greater detail.
I am in Tikrit, Iraq: the hometown of Saddam Hussein. The first 6 months of our time was spent at one of Saddam's palaces that doubled for a small FOB (forward operating base) and was located atop a cliff overlooking the Tigris. However, about 6 weeks ago we closed down that FOB, turned it over to the Iraqi Army, and moved to a much larger FOB Speicher--still in the Tikrit area. There, we were a small tight-knit group of a few hundred, here we are a complex mix of active and reserve soldiers with every specialty imaginable.
My chaplain assistant, SGT David Lee, and I have an office in the north chapel--there are three on FOB Speicher. We live in apartment-style barracks, left over from the former Iraqi airforce, I've been told. Our chapel is a 5 minute walk from where we sleep. In a given day I:
- Visit the company and work places of our soldiers, keeping tabs on the soldiers activities and issues
- Prepare for routine, weekly religious programs such as bible studies, movie nights, and worship services
- Attend meetings with the unit leaders that allow me to report on soldier welfare and discover the latest regarding tasks, movement, and personnel issues
- Workout at the gym with SGT Lee
- Counsel with 2-5 soldiers a day on a variety of issues, such as: marriage and family, combat stress, anger management, professional counseling, spiritual mentorship, suicide intervention, and conflict resolution
During the first 7 months, my typical work day was 12-18 hours long, without a single day off. I experienced burn-out on at least two occasions during that time. Now--well . . . We still don't have days off (in combat the concept is bizarre)--I get into the office by 8 or 9, and usually finish 10-12 hours later.