BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – When a man receives a calling into ministry, he becomes a pastor, and when he has an infinite desire to serve God and his country, he becomes a military pastor.
Chaplain (Cmdr.) Charles "Sydnor" Thompson, a U.S. Navy Reservist, is one who has received the two callings, to both of which he has answered loud and clear.
“I am a United Methodist pastor as well as a Navy chaplain,” said Thompson. “I love my country and the ideals upon which it was founded so when I was presented with the opportunity for direct-commission, it was a decision made with very little hesitation. My Navy chaplaincy has enriched my parish work and I believe my work as a pastor enriches my chaplaincy.”
Thompson is currently embedded with Combined Joint Task Force Paladin whose mission includes facilitating counter-improvised explosive device missions and trainings throughout Afghanistan. While the Paladin mission may focus on those two aspects, Thompson's mission, as most military chaplain's are, is widespread and gets a little personal.
May 27, 2013 - Chaplain Charles Thompson studies English with Fatima during a volunteer session at Bagram's Cat in the Hat Language Arts Center. “Chaps” believes building the community relationships helps show the U.S. military's generosity and demonstrates that it really cares about what is going on in Afghanistan. (Photo by Erica Fouche, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin)
“My regular duties include serving as senior pastor of the 0830 Protestant service here on base, coordinating prayer breakfasts and weekly Bible studies, and visiting our work spaces to see how people are doing. I also volunteer at the Cat and the Hat Center, teaching local Afghan children English and helping them enhance on their all-around education,” said Thompson. “I enjoy that community relationship building aspect of volunteering with the locals. It helps show our generosity and demonstrates that we really care about what is going on here. I've actually been very fortunate in having the opportunity to build a relationship with the Muslims who attend the mosque here, especially the local Mullah who is from Virginia, and I hope to maintain that friendship after I redeploy.”
Although Thompson is stationed here at Bagram, he is most fulfilled when he is able to go out on battlefield circulation to smaller forward operating bases where full-time chaplains are as rare as a hot shower.
“You can tell when a chaplain has not been to a FOB in a while because the hunger for the religious companionship is at a different level,” said Thompson. “I just try to be someone who people know cares about what they're going through and what's on their heart. It's not always an intense issue that needs to be divulged, it can be just a simple conversation or a short prayer that can help a service member de-stress and ultimately perform his duties better.”
This is Thompson's second overseas deployment; his first being to Iraq in 2005-2006, and he knows wholeheartedly that without the prayers from back home, and a little bit of technology, he would not be able to serve others as successfully has he does.
“Being a reservist chaplain requires a sacrifice from your home congregation that I don't think a lot of people understand unless they go through it,” said Thompson. “I've missed funerals, baptisms and it is hard being away from my church for things like that, but I've always had the support of my bishops and congregations and that makes the leaving and the time away a bit easier. One thing that has allowed me to stay connected is Facebook. It wasn't around for my first deployment but it's helped me see what my congregation is up to and I post pictures of my time in Afghanistan so they stay connected with me too."
"My former congregation at First United Methodist Church in Morganton, N.C., has also taken up donations for wounded warriors to buy gifts such as iPods to send to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and bought gift cards to Green Beans Coffee so those deployed can enjoy a latte or a muffin on their birthday. They support me by supporting the mission and that means the world to me.”
In a few short weeks Thompson will return to his wife, Kelly, and daughters, Adaire and Angela, and a new appointment to Myers Memorial United Methodist Church in Gastonia, N.C., and adapt back to life as a civilian. Having just been selected to captain, he looks forward to continued service in the Navy Reserves for at least the next few years.
“My job as a chaplain is nothing like some of what the others do, I realize that,” said Thompson. “I strive to carry the light of God's presence in dark places and serve as a reminder that we who serve in the military are not mercenaries, that we are called to serve a higher purpose and a greater good. Hopefully I have done this here, and I hope to continue to do so when I redeploy home.”
By Erica Fouche
Combined Joint Task Force Paladin
Provided through DVIDS
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