Chaplain Assistants Are More Than Just Bodyguards
(October 25, 2009)
In this file photo, Staff Sgt. Miguel A. Martinez-Velazquez, a chaplain's assistant with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, shelters 3rd BCT Brigade Chaplain Maj. Paul Jaedicke from incoming fire during the role play training for chaplain and chaplain's assistants.
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan
For the past 100 years
Army chaplain assistants have been protecting and teaming up
with chaplains to provide religious support for Soldiers and
families across the full spectrum of military operations.
"I didn't know they existed in the Army. The recruiter
brought it to my attention," reminisced Sgt. Esteban Ayala
Ramirez, a chaplain assistant for the 4th Engineer
According to Ayala, his recruiter recommended the chaplain
assistant military occupation specialty after learning that
he enjoyed bible study and church events in his hometown of
San Antonio, Texas.
"He asked me if I wanted to be a chaplain assistant," said
Ayala. "He told me the basics; set up religious services,
give administrative support, and protect the chaplain."
Ayala has been a chaplain assistant for seven
years. He joined the Army September 2003 and
presently is on his first tour in Afghanistan
after two tours in Iraq.
"After basic training, I went on to advanced individual training in Fort Jackson
where I learned to be a chaplain assistant," said Ayala. "Nine months later I
was on my first deployment to Iraq, where I experienced what it was like to be a
Ayala's first experience as a chaplain assistant was in a combat zone, where he
realized that he really enjoyed his job.
"Outside the wire I call the shots, I'm the boss and the protector," said Ayala.
"It's your call when you start getting hit. You learn the battle drills and
standard operating procedures of the Soldiers you are with and protect your
chaplain. It's their lives in your hands and it's your responsibility to protect
Chaplain assistants aren't just bodyguards, but are also assistants to the
chaplain. While on his first deployment, Soldiers would approach and ask Ayala,
who was a private at the time, to give them an encouraging words.
"It was really tough. We would have incoming [rounds] and it was common to come
under attack," according to Ayala. "We would get in a circle and pray at convoy
briefings; pray for the mission, protection of the Soldiers, for God to give
them swift victory on the road and thy will be done."
According to Ayala a chaplain assistant's job is to honor the dead, care for the
wounded and nurture the living.
"My job is to always be there for Soldiers that need an encouraging word and
assist the chaplain to bring a strong and effective ministry to the unit," said
Ayala, "and in this joint task force, to help any servicemember with guidance
Part of Ayala's job is to pre-counsel Soldier's and help them with personal
problems by directing them to the appropriate subject matter experts such as the
chaplain, psychologist, combat stress team or even on the phone with a counselor
back in the U.S.
"We have taken some losses and it's brought the morale down somewhat but that is
always the case." said Ayala. "By talking to the Soldiers, praying and being
there for them we try to get them past it."
According to Ayala, to be a successful chaplain assistant you must be willing to
sacrifice your personal time and get to know as much as you can about your
Soldiers and the problems they face.
"You have to be a people person for this job," said Ayala. "I always tell my
Soldiers in the line company to feel free to come to the chaplain's office. You
don't have to make an appointment and the door is always open."
Article by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte
Photo by Army Pfc. Kimberly Cole
Army News Service
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