Chaplains offer spiritual guidance anywhere troops go

23 Dec 2002 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Some might say the term "military chaplain" is an oxymoron, but even America's warriors need a little spiritual guidance every now and then.

"The overall mission of a chaplain is to facilitate religious services for service members," said Navy Cmdr. Carroll Wheatley, a chaplain with Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. "Basically, we do the same work of  civilian clergy, but we wear the military uniform."

Along with the uniform comes the military mentality.

"Also, we (military chaplains) understand the issues a service member has, because we live with them," said Wheatley, of Cloverport, Kentucky. "That's what we refer to as 'deck plate ministry' or 'foxhole ministry,' which just means that we meet the troops where they are."

Wheatley, a 16-year Navy veteran, described some situations a civilian clergy member might not be able to comprehend.

"If a troop comes to me and complains about having to guard an airstrip in the middle of the desert or living somewhere where running water is a luxury, that is stuff that I can talk with him about, because I'm there, too," he said.

Even though there are more than 900 service members here, Wheatley said most people are starting to realize who he is.

"I haven't talked face-to-face with a lot of the troops, but I think they are beginning to recognize that I am a chaplain, and they can talk to me if need be," he explained.

New Springfield, Ohio, compatriot Cpl. Sabrina K. Romigh, a wireman with the task force's communications section, related her experiences with the chaplain.

"When I needed someone just for some counseling a few days ago, Chaplain Wheatley was there to listen," she stated. "I needed someone with an unbiased opinion. He was very easy to talk to."

Romigh said she believes having a chaplain in the field with troops is important because if a service member doesn't feel like he can confide in someone from his unit, he can talk to the chaplain and receive a third-party opinion.

However, Wheatley said another top priority for a religious ministry team is to make its presence known in the local community.

To accomplish this, Wheatley said they might donate clothing, medical supplies or farm equipment to the community.

"Sometimes we get the troops involved by having them go out to schools or churches that need repairs and have them paint or build," he went on to say.

He said, "We try to get to know the people in our area of operation and let them know that Americans are good people."
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