News>Airmen stay in spiritual shape in combat zone
Chaplain (Capt.) Jose Tate speaks to an Airman at the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad Air Base, Iraq, on July 14. Chaplains support the hospital's patients, staff and many off-duty Airmen who volunteer there. The chaplain is assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kerry Solan-Johnson)
Chaplain (Capt.) Jose Tate comforts an Iraqi child at the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad Air Base, Iraq, on July 14. Chaplain Tate is specifically trained to provide the hospital's patients and staff spiritual support, services, counseling and sometimes just a friendly ear for those who want to talk. The chaplain is assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kerry Solan-Johnson)
by Lt. Col. Bob Thompson
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
7/18/2006 - BALAD AIR FORCE BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- When Airmen deploy to combat, they expect a mission-focused environment.
Without the daily demands of home life and the distractions of fast-paced America, many use their limited spare time to develop themselves in new ways.
"Some people get in shape at the gym," said Chaplain (Capt.) Jose Tate, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Chaplain Services. "Some say they want to get in shape spiritually."
For people seeking this kind of growth, chaplains provide the services, counseling and sometimes just a friendly ear for those who want to talk.
"First and foremost, we provide our Airmen the opportunity to freely exercise their religions," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Conrado Navarro. "We give them a place and a way to worship according to their faith. We respect and honor Airmen; we don't force views on anybody."
"Our goal is to be inclusive, not exclusive," Chaplain Tate said. "We lead religious tolerance. I'm aware of what others believe, and we're trained to serve other religions in a way that is acceptable to them."
Finding free time can be a challenge at the base, located about 42 miles north of Baghdad. The 332nd AEW is the only Air Force wing in Iraq. It runs the busiest aerial port and single runway in the Department of Defense. The base is the military medical hub with the busiest hospital in theater and the only contingency aeromedical staging facility for getting wounded out of Iraq.
"We get the worst wounded here," said Chaplain (Maj.) James Decker. "They come here because our medical folks are the best. This mission touches not only the staff and patients, but also many off-duty Airmen who volunteer throughout the hospital."
Because of the wing's medical mission, four of the six chaplains assigned here have special training for supporting hospital workers and ministering to wounded people.
"We are doing everything at a higher level than what we do back home," said Chaplain (Maj.) Janis Dashner, who specializes in hospital support. "It's exhausting, but you know that you're really using your talents to the best of your ability. Like the doctors, nurses and medics, it's what you've been called to do when the need is great."
While working a minimum 12-hour shift, which often goes much longer, Chaplain Dashner said she spends an average of at least nine hours just conversing with the staff and patients. She said subjects range from light-hearted joking to "really heavy topics."
However, her primary focus is attending to those with critical injuries.
Hurt by an improvised explosive device, a dying 4-year-old Iraqi boy and his father were comforted by Chaplain Dashner as she read the Muslim prayers for those who are dying.
"Some people ask me if it bothers me to pray in someone else's tradition," Chaplain Dashner said. "I tell them it's not about me. It's for the one who is dying."
According to hospital records, if a wounded person can make it to the Air Force Theater Hospital, they have a 96 percent chance of surviving their injuries. Chaplain Dashner said this impressive record makes it that much harder when a patient doesn't recover. During one night's shift, she ministered to a U.S. Soldier dying from internal injuries. The chaplain said she and a couple of the nurses cried outside after the Soldier passed away.
"One of the nurses said to me, ‘If you're not emotionally moved by the situation, then you're not in touch with what is going on,'" Chaplain Dashner said.
"This is my fifth deployment. Here, your ministry is magnified. What you do is so much more intense. It seems like everyone's faith is more open here, they seek their own faith," she said.
"There are times in combat when life gets reduced to simple moments, like holding a patient's hand," Chaplain Navarro said. "Being able to do that ministry in this environment -- that's what we're here for. We serve all."