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Face of Defense: Chaplains Reinforce More Than Faith

By Army Capt. Stephen C. Short
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq, May 19, 2009 – Reinforcements are something every unit loves to have -- more soldiers help to win the fight and save lives at the same time.

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Army Chaplain (Maj.) Chuck B. Rizer, front right, gets into the action with the brigade staff as he competes in the brigade staff Olympics at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq, Feb. 27, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Capt. Stephen C. Short
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The duty of being a soldier can be difficult at times, and no matter how many extra soldiers arrive to the battlefield, the burden sometimes just does not seem to lift.

For warriors who know how heavy that burden can feel, one of the reinforcements all branches of service have come to count on in time of need is the chaplain.

Army Chaplain (Maj.) Chuck B. Rizer, 172nd Infantry Brigade chaplain, believes all faiths -- and even agnostics or atheists -- can receive help from a chaplain.

The Army expects chaplains to observe the distinctive doctrines of their faith while also honoring the right of others to observe their own faith in accordance with U.S. laws and regulations, he explained.

“I’ve had Catholics come to me and say, ‘I want to be a better Catholic,’” said Rizer, a resident of Chicago. “I’ve had Christians, non-Christians and even atheists come to me and say they want to have a better relationship with their spouse.” The military is a diverse environment, with rabbis, ministers, imams and priests who serve with conviction and commitment, he added.

Rizer said he spends much of his time counseling soldiers on marital issues, and that he finds certain principles apply to all people and faiths.

“I often tell people that if you want your spouse or significant other to stay with you, then you need to be going somewhere,” he said. “You can see the enthusiasm in their eyes when they have a plan and others are attracted to that.”

Some soldiers need help dealing with anger. Rizer has seen that getting sleep and attending to basic needs are some of the simple solutions he is able to help people find in dealing with anger.

“If a child doesn’t get their sleep, food or other basic needs, then of course they get angry,” he explained. “We are more mature than that, but we need to have some of our basic needs met, or we become cranky or angry.”

Rizer said he believes diet, exercise and just talking it out or venting to him is a good way to get over anger issues.

“If you take one straw off a camel’s back, it may be just enough to keep him moving,” he said. “It is the little things that you change [that] can be all the difference in starting a chain of good things happening.”

Army Chaplain (Capt.) Richard O. Nevard Jr., 9th Engineer Battalion chaplain, said he sees the chaplain as being out with the soldiers where they are and doing what they are doing.

“I go out where they are and I see the results of what we have worked on, and I even see the results happen here while the session is going on in the office,” said Nevard, a New Smyrna Beach, Fla., native.

The brigade dedicated the Chaplain’s Coffee House on April 23 to all soldiers, which gives them a place to relax. The coffee house has a connecting hallway that runs right by the chaplain’s office, which makes it easy for soldiers to stop by any time and ask to talk. Nevard’s office attaches to the coffee house and has a uniquely decorated area for sitting down and talking.

“There’s not an hour that goes by that a soldier is not coming by and knocking on the door to ask if you have a minute,” stated Nevard. “I am like, ‘Come on in, and let’s talk.’”

Chaplains also are responsible for caring for the soldiers' families, and often may find themselves serving the spiritual needs of sailors, airmen or Marines as well as soldiers.

“I have talked with spouses back home,” Nevard said. “They e-mail me or I call them, because I already have that connection with them since I’ve done the marriage retreats back in the rear.”

Chaplains can be new to deployment as well. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Frank Halka, 172nd Support Battalion chaplain, spent six years in garrisons serving as a Catholic priest and saw a different perspective of deployments by counseling those family members not deployed.

“You see what families go through in the rear, and you are better able to help the soldier here in Iraq, because you can relate to both environments,” he said.

Chaplains are available any time to help, whether deployed or back home in garrison.

“I see myself being useful to the soldiers when I’m there to listen to them and hear what they are going through,” Halka said. “That is part of the healing process.”

(Army Capt. Stephen C. Short serves with the 172nd Infantry Brigade.)

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Related Sites:
Multinational Corps Iraq

Click photo for screen-resolution imageBattalion chaplains occupy offices to the left and right of the Chaplain’s Coffee House at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq. The coffee house is a place for soldiers to relax and enjoy a drink, but also to give them a chance to talk. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Bethany L. Little  
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