Catholic Chaplain Tends To Deployed Flock
(April 9, 2011)
|KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan (April 6, 2011) - In a little
chapel made of plywood and nails, a small congregation
gathers for Mass after a long day's work.
U.S. Army Lt. Col.
Joseph Hannon, chaplain, an individual augmentee
with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry
Division, Task Force Duke, and a native of
Leavenworth, Kan., offers communion to a member
of his congregation at Forward Operating Base
Goode, Afghanistan, March 28, 2011. Hannon
travels five days a week visiting installations
that don't have a Catholic chaplain to attend to
their spiritual needs. His flock is spread over
24 installations in Khowst, Paktya, and parts of
The chapel isn't fancy. It's barely able to hold
eight unfinished wooden pews, but for the first
time in several weeks a Catholic priest has made
the journey to Forward Operating Base Goode,
Afghanistan, to hold services, March 28.
For U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joseph Hannon, an
individual augmentee chaplain with the 3rd
Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task
Force Duke, and a native of Leavenworth, Kan.,
it wasn't the first time he'd said Mass to a
group who hadn't attended services in a very
long time. As a Catholic chaplain, he traveled
from FOB to combat outpost ministering to a
flock spread among 24 installations and 5,000
square miles of eastern Afghanistan.
Hannon has traveled around Khowst Province,
Paktya province and parts of Ghazni province
five days a week during his year-long
deployment, visiting military
personnel and civilians who don't have access to
a Catholic priest.
In an Army where the two most predominant religious
denominations are Catholics and Southern Baptists, only 100
priests fill the 400 available Catholic chaplain slots.
That's 300 less than minister to Southern Baptists.|
It's not easy traveling as much as he does, especially being
an older Soldier at age 68.
To make it easier on
himself, Hannon, a tall, thin man whose enthusiasm gives the
impression that he's younger than he is, has developed a
routine. He packs the same things the same way, each morning
before a trip.
It makes traveling easier, and he has
fewer chances to forget something, he said.
pack very well in the dark,” he joked.
chaplain in the military was a long road. He knew as early
as second grade he wanted to become a Catholic priest. He
grew up in the ‘50s, and it was a very different culture
back then, he said.
The desire to join the priesthood
back then was supported 100 percent by his friends and
family. His eighth-grade class even threw a surprise party
for him when they learned he was going to a preparatory high
school to get ready for seminary, Hannon said.
took Hannon 12 years after graduating high school to become
an ordained priest.
First, he had to go to a
five-year seminary college before attending ministry for
three years. Lastly, he had to attend a four-year university
before he could be ordained.
While in high school
became very interested in the military, but kept it in the
back of his mind while pursuing the priesthood. It wasn't
until three years after ordination that he was allowed to
enter the Army Reserves in 1977, Hannon said.
religious order wouldn't let him go active at first and he
spent 15 years as a reservist. It wasn't until 1992, when
the order had a new supervisor partial to military
vocations, that he was allowed to become a full-time
One of the aspects of deployment he enjoys
is ministering to many men and women from all military
In particular, he especially enjoys
celebrating Mass. On his previous 14-month deployment to
Iraq, he held Mass up to six times a weekend.
never get tired of it,” he said. “I enjoy the religious and
spiritual aspect of it.”
To help him in his work,
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Monica Williams, a
chaplain's assistant from Virginia Beach, Va., and an
individual augmentee to 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div., TF Duke, is
in charge of his travel arrangements and takes care of the
administrative side of being a chaplain.
The role of
chaplain's assistant is to act as a bodyguard for the
chaplain, who, while in a combat zone, does not carry a
weapon, allowing him to focus solely on the work of a
“Taking care of your chaplain involves
knowing your chaplain,” Williams said. “It helps out big
time in forming that relationship.”
keeping him on the road is a tough thing to do, especially
in the winter months of January and February, but Williams
does an excellent job. At times she gets up at 4 a.m. to
check flight status and occasionally she stays up late
making sure they get onto the right flight, Williams said.
One of the toughest aspects for both of them is
constantly being on the move. It's easy to build a religious
relationship with the people at these bases, but there isn't
any time to build anything but a surface friendship, Hannon
said. They can only make it to each base about once every
five weeks. Even when they do make it to a FOB, some people
will be on a mission or have moved, making it another five
weeks before Hannon and Williams can see them.
that doesn't make Hannon and Williams any less determined to
reach people in the outlying FOBs and COPs, Hannon said.
They send emails to the congregation and publish an
electronic bulletin focusing on soldiers' lives. Hannon also
appoints a lay leader who leads services and organizes
readings in Hannon's absence. This person is usually a
volunteer at one of the installations.
“He brings so
much to the table,” Williams said, speaking of Hannon. “I'm
not even Catholic, but I love listening to his services.”
On the weekends Hannon makes it back to FOB Salerno, he
can be seen running for as long as two hours on Saturdays.
He credits his energy as a nice gift from God, citing it as
one of the reasons he wanted deploy.
Being an older
soldier, he wants to do as much as he can for the troops
while he still has the energy, Hannon said.
it's traveling, running, or providing religious succor to
his congregation, Hannon's enthusiasm for his job shows
through and provides an inspiration for others, Williams
“I take preaching very seriously, and I put a
lot of work into it,” Hannon said.
Article and photo by Army Spc. Tobey White|
Joint Task Force 101
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