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Military

By Army Sgt. Matthew Nedved

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Chaplains Provide Spiritual Support For Troops In Afghanistan
(October 26, 2010)

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CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan (Oct. 23, 2010) - For troops serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, being physically, emotionally, socially, family and spiritually fit in a war zone are vital to a servicemember's overall well-being. Helping to maintain these dimensions of strength, are chaplains from the South Dakota Army National Guard.
As the senior-chaplain team for the Kabul Base Cluster Installation Command, the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade's unit-ministry team is responsible for providing oversight of religious and counseling services for troops stationed throughout the capital.

“Our job is to make sure that all the religious needs of the tenants within the KBC are being met,” said Lt. Col. David Gunderson, KBC command chaplain, 196th. “We oversee all of the camps in the KBC, and work with other camp's ministry teams to make sure they have all of the materials they need to complete their mission.”

With 11 bases and nearly 9,000 U.S. and coalition forces in the KBC, one goal the chaplain team strives to achieve is making sure services are available for service
Lt. Col. David Gunderson, KBC command chaplain, 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard, hands out communion during the Lutheran service Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010 at Camp Phoenix Kabul, Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. David Gunderson, KBC command chaplain, 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard, hands out communion during the Lutheran service Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010 at Camp Phoenix Kabul, Afghanistan.
members. By holding services for several religions, the chaplains find a way to support each soldier's specific beliefs.
“We have chaplains of different religious backgrounds stationed throughout the KBC,” said Gunderson, of Yankton, S.D. “In order to support the views of all the troops, a lot of the chaplains are moving from camp to camp on weekends to perform these services.”

If a camp within the KBC does not have a chaplain, Gunderson, or a member of his team, makes it a priority to travel to that camp to perform a religious service and spend time with the servicemembers.

“Camp Blackhorse currently does not have a chaplain, so we personally have been traveling there once a week to perform religious services,” said Gunderson.

Traveling from camp to camp, the chaplain's mission is focused on supplying servicemembers with a different type weapon.

“We don't bring any beans or bullets to the fight,” said Capt. Kenny Honken, deputy KBC command chaplain, Freeman, S.D. “Our mission is to strengthen the Soldier spiritually so they feel ready and prepared to go out and complete their mission.”

Aside from keeping soldiers spiritually fit, the chaplains emotionally strengthen the troops by being available for general support, to counsel, or even just talk with a servicemember going through a tough time during their deployment.

“A lot of times soldiers come in and are just having a difficult time. It could be marriage, family problems or even separation issues.” said Gunderson. “We have had soldiers loose family members so they come to us to deal with their grief. Our office is a place to come and talk about any issues that may be going on in someone's life.”

Being the KBC command chaplain, Gunderson also has the responsibility of guiding and mentoring the younger chaplains throughout the KBC.

“There are a lot of young chaplains out there who might not have been in the ministry very long, so they face issues like anybody does being new,” said Gunderson, chaplain of 22 years. “They look to me for guidance and direction on how they can deal with it, such as missing key supplies – bibles or even chairs for the chapel.”

Within the ministry team, one of the key assets is the chaplain's assistant. The chaplain's assistant is tasked with a lot of behind-the-scenes work that keeps everything running smooth for the chaplains themselves. The assistants are in charge of everything from prepping the chapel for services to ordering supplies needed by the religious teams.

“Our main responsibility is to make sure the chaplains are taken care of,” said Staff Sgt. Quintin Steely, chaplain's assistant, of Pierre, S.D. “We are their support system so they are able to complete their daily tasks and run their ministry without the worrying about the little things.”

With the help of the chaplain's assistants, the chaplains are more available to interact with servicemembers socially. Because the work done by the chaplains is not limited to the office or chapel; they frequently find themselves performing their duties during lunch or even on their way to the post office.

“We might sit down in the chow hall and next thing you know we've been sitting there for an hour just talking with a soldier,” said Gunderson. “It's not always in the office that we are doing our work, a lot of times the work will just randomly find us while we are out around camp.”

The chaplain's strong relationship with the troops is reflected in more ways than one. They keep in close contact with families, churches and other supportive groups of the 196th who send boxes filled with hygiene supplies and food for servicemembers.

“They send everything from toothpaste and deodorant to beef jerky and cookies,” said Gunderson. “We place most of this in our soldier care room in the chapel for the soldiers to come and grab.”

The chaplains serving overseas help keep servicemember's morale high, whether it be with gifts from back home, providing spiritual services or sitting down and just having a conversation with one of the troops. All of these things provide the strength each soldier needs to maximize their potential during a deployment.

“We are here to help the service members, especially in the area of spiritual needs,” said Gunderson. “Giving the troops spiritual guidance is only one of the ways we help them, but any way that we are able to support the troops we do.”

Article and photo by Army Sgt. Matthew Nedved
196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade
Copyright 2010

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