Sgt. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO
Multi-National Division – Center
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — Chaplains are always around to provide services to Soldiers and help them be able to worship according to their faith.
There is possibly, however, no chapel in Iraq that offers services to Soldiers of more faith groups than that at Camp Striker, which officially falls under the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
With the addition in May of the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade out of Fort Benning, Ga., the options for Soldiers increased.
Fridays alone, for example, there are Catholic services at noon, Muslim prayer at 1:30 p.m., Protestant Bible study at 6:30 p.m., and Bible study for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Jewish services at 7 p.m.
Sundays offer contemporary Protestant, general Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal, LDS and full-gospel services and Bible studies.
Chaplain (Capt.) Felix Kumai of the 1st Battalion, 3rd CAB, is a Catholic priest from Spring Valley, N.Y. Not only does he celebrate Mass at Camp Striker, he travels to other forward operating bases for the Soldiers out in sector.
“It’s exciting to have all these services,” Kumai said. “We’re one of the blessed units to have everybody able to attend services. It’s a special blessing to have all of this in the same camp.”
Kumai said he usually sees 60 to 70 Soldiers attending services on Sundays – a respectable number, and one of the chapel’s highest average attendances.
Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Shulman is a native of Boston and serves as the 4th Battalion, 3rd CAB’s chaplain. He also leads Jewish services on Camp Striker.
“It’s really a testament to the freedom America provides,” said Shulman. “That in an Arab country, we’ve got Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, Catholic, LDS, Protestant, and Jewish services – where else in the world can you see that, especially on one day?”
Deployments are tough on Soldiers, and faith is what keeps many of them going.
“One way of dealing with stress is faith through the bad times,” said 2nd BCT chaplain Maj. Lonnie Locke. “Being able to worship in a familiar setting can make that a lot easier.”
While some Soldiers deploy with a religious conviction, others find it in the field.
“Soldiers have just happened to come to services, and either renewed or come to accept a faith,” Locke said. “The majority (of chapel attendees) are probably believers in their faith before they arrive, but that’s not the case all around.”
Chaplains have a moral obligation not so much to practice their own religion, but to assist Soldiers in being able to practice theirs, said Locke.
“Variety is why chaplains are here,” he said. “We are here to uphold Soldiers’ constitutional right to worship as they please. We’re here to support any religion that is accepted by the Army – and there are very few we can’t support.
“I’m not sure that the Order of the Jedi is on the list. But the chaplaincy is all about providing ways for Soldiers to work out their faith.”
Chaplains and their assistants also have a unique opportunity to learn about other faiths.
“Back in garrison, it tends t be just three main services – Catholic, gospel, and Protestant,” said 2nd BCT chaplain assistant Staff Sgt. T. Randall Hansen, a native of Alpine, Utah. “Here, we have the opportunity to participate in the setup of other services. It’s made me more aware of other religions.”
“It’s pretty fascinating just looking at the other religious-supply lockers,” said Shulman. “I’ve learned a ton – and I am surprised at how many similiarites there are. All these disparate religions have a lot of similar aspects and rituals, like time requirements for prayer, or food restrictions, or the holiness of certain days of the week.”
And despite the sectarian strife outside the wire, there is a sense of difference inside.
“In a land where people are being killed over very subtle differences in religion,” Shulman said, “On Camp Striker, we have major theological differences in religions, but we all use the same building.”
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Sgt. Chris McCann