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Face of Defense: Chaplain Brings Unique Perspective

By Melissa Bower
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan., Aug. 17, 2009 – Ten years ago, when he was a battalion commander at Fort Sill, Okla., then–Army Col. Jim Davis received a call that the Army had a new chaplain for his soldiers -- and he was Muslim.

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Chaplain (Maj.) Dawud Agbere and his family pose outside of their home in Normandy Village on Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Aug. 11, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Prudence Siebert
  

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

The 400 soldiers with 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, although mostly Christian, trusted Chaplain Dawud Agbere right away, said Davis, now an assistant professor for the Center for Army Tactics.

"I got a chaplain that soldiers loved to go and talk to," Davis said. "He's just an outgoing individual, and his smile was just infectious."

Davis said Agbere helped him understand the importance of having an Army chaplain for his soldiers. While at Fort Sill, he and Agbere developed a religious program for the battalion from scratch.

"At the time, I was very unfamiliar with the Muslim religion, like most Americans, but I wanted someone to serve the spiritual wellness needs of my soldiers," Davis said.

Agbere, one of six active-duty Muslim chaplains in the Army, has an impressive resume. He has two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree in Islamic studies, and is a doctoral candidate for a ministry degree from Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. He also speaks English, Arabic and four African languages.

Agbere was born and raised in a Muslim family in Ghana, West Africa. His father was a truck driver for the military there, and Agbere said, through his father’s work, he grew to respect soldiers.

Agbere and his wife, Meimunatu, also from Ghana, have five children. He came to the United States to teach high school in 1995. "I showed up in New York City and took up a high school teaching job," he said. "Then I found myself in the middle of a cultural shock."

While growing up in Africa, Agbere said, he learned discipline and respect, but didn't find that among many of his students. One day, he came across an ad in a newspaper for government jobs. The jobs were with the U.S. Navy.

He enlisted to serve on a Navy ship, but grew interested in the Army when he discovered he could be commissioned as an officer there. He was granted a discharge from the Navy so he could join the Army.

Agbere was commissioned aboard a Navy ship May 23, 1997, an event covered by the local press.

Agbere's assignments include Fort Sill, Okla.; Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.; and a deployment to Iraq with the 31st Combat Support Hospital.

As a chaplain in a Baghdad hospital from 2004 to 2005, Agbere ministered not only to Muslim soldiers, but to Iraqis as well.

"It's a very interesting dynamic in America," he said. "We are doing really well to overcome hearts and minds. Iraqis and Afghans both have misperceptions [about U.S. soldiers]."

Agbere said he believes actions will help create more accurate opinions about Americans.

"If I'm an Iraqi citizen and all I see is shooting, we can't convince them," he said. "But the moment they come in contact with us, they see a different thing."

While working in the Baghdad hospital, Agbere recalls a U.S. Army nurse who helped save the life of an Iraqi civilian. "What he did not know was that this patient was a former Iraqi officer, and this officer was so impressed with this nurse," Agbere said.

Agbere said the Iraqi officer told him, "I want you to thank this nurse for me. I was really grateful for what he did, because if he had been in my position, I would have killed him."

Davis said he read about Agbere’s work in Iraq in a news story shortly before he was slated to deploy to Iraq.

"Chaplain Agbere brought a perspective to his unit like no other," Davis said. "As we send units into Iraq and Afghanistan, we do cultural awareness training, but he understands it far better than anybody."

Maj. Agbere is beginning his intermediate level education at the Command and General Staff College here this month, and Davis predicted success for him.

"He's got multiple deployments under his belt, and because he is a chaplain, it helps the other 15 members of his group have a good understanding of what they can use a chaplain for,” Davis said.

When Agbere served at Fort Sill, Davis said, he was impressed with how the chaplain helped people solve problems.

"We all have bad days, but every time I had a bad day, he would come in with that smile and you just felt better," he said.

(Melissa Bower serves in the Fort Leavenworth, Kan., public affairs office.)

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