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"The Importance of Gratitude: A Veteran Army Chaplain's Perspective"

What purpose did coffee serve you in your mission as a chaplain? For better or worse, caffeine powers the American soldier! The long hours and the attention needed to succesfully serve our country make most soldiers pretty reliant on caffeine. In a deployed environment the hours are often longer and the demands greater. When I was deployed, I tried to find ways to make a great cup of coffee to share with soldiers. Using a vaccum press, a heating metal wand, a hand operated grinder, and relying on Verso L'alto coffee, mornings were often a time of ritualistic sharing of a great cup of coffee. My job as the lone American Catholic priest for a few countries meant that I traveled alot and lived out of a duffel bag. Being able to rely on and offer great coffee wherever I was, gave us a sense of comfort and peace which are at times hard to find in a deployed environment.

How did our servicemen in uniform handle missing the holidays with family? I think everyone handles holidays differently. Some soldiers put their energy into their work. Good units will attempt to bring soldiers together for these important days where everyone misses home. One of my favorite moments while deployed in Iraq and Syria was Christmas eve. We had a multi faith prayer service with Christmas carols followed by Midnight Mass. The chapel tent was dimply lit and filled with American soldiers as well as coalition soldiers from other countries all singing and praying together. Many of the non catholics stayed for Midnight Mass to continue the experience of praying on that silent and holy night.

How were you able to serve our soldiers with different faith backgrounds?

As a chaplain, we are called to serve all soldiers regardless of their faith. While my main role while deployed was to provide Catholic services, most soldiers see chaplains as a confidential resource who they can speak with when things are not going well. During or after a serious attack, or when things are falling apart back home, soldiers care less about what faith a chaplain might have than that he is a person of faith.

What are some of the things you miss most from your time in the military? After a yearlong combat deployment, I have transitioned back to the Army Reserves where my Army commitment is down to a number of weeks a year. While I am no longer full time, I continue to minister to soldiers in a part time capacity. Additionally, I am part of the team in my area that notifies that families of soldiers whose lives are lost. Currently leading a large parish in New Jersey, I sometimes miss the simplicity of deployment. While deployed, one focuses on the job at hand and everything else becomes less relevant. I also miss the comraderie of my assistant who was my right hand guy during deployment.

What are some of things our deployed service members are most thankful for? I cannot overstate the importance of support from home for our deployed soldiers. This is all the more true in a combat environment when there is the continuous pressure of potential attacks. Any show of support from home is tremendous for bolstering morale and reinforcing a sense of purpose in a soldier's day to day tasks. I was particularly grateful for great coffee and any packages that brought a bit of home to an austere environment.

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