Army Chaplains' Blog

Archive for April 2010

Back from Easter leave, refreshed and ready to go! I am fortunate enough to really enjoy being an Army Chaplain so coming back to work is not a duty but a joy. One of the main reasons for this is that it is such a delight and a privilege to work with soldiers. We have some excellent young people, and whether on operations or on camp they never cease to amaze me. Of course there’s always a few that challenge the system, but that also helps to make my job interesting and varied.

A memory that will always stay with me is of the courage and bravery of young infantry soldiers getting ready to go out on a foot patrol in Basra, Iraq. They’d seen friends hurt over the previous weeks, and I know (because they told me) that it was hard for them to prepare themselves to go out of the gates yet again. But they did, and they did their job with a compassion and courage that was truly humbling.

The Army has a hand in the formation of a good number of our country’s young people, and it does it very well. I get to be a small part of that process as Chaplain’s are involved in teaching the ‘Values and Standards’ of the Army. We do this regularly in all sorts of ways. The Values of the Army are very simple; Selfless Commitment (putting other first), Respect for others, Loyalty, Integrity, Discipline (self-discipline), and Courage (moral and physical). These are aspirations, and over time the rough diamonds that join the system as children grow to be adults who go some way to exhibiting these qualities. It’s fulfilling to be a part of this as I think that most clergy are frustrated teachers anyway!

The real payback is that eventually these folk filter back into society when they leave the Army and hopefully they take these qualities with them, providing some salt into the stew of life. You may have noticed that the media always make a point of mentioning if a person committing a crime is a soldier or an ex-soldier in a way that makes you think they expected better of them. We do, because they have to do an extraordinary job.

This afternoon it was Aldershot and the final of the Army Football Cup, where my battalion (2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment) really did do an amazing job and won the final 3 to 1! First time in the final and they did it. So many congratulations to the 2 Para Football Team!

When I felt called to be a Priest in the Church of England I always wondered whether I may get a bit bored. I needn’t have worried, since joining the Army, there is so much variety, I am never bored!
Just to give you a flavour, in the past two weeks I have been to Wales, Castle Martin on Exercise, getting alongside our soldiers as they fire on the ranges, with sweets in hand. I gave a presentation there on Values and Standards. I have held a Memorial Service, led Morning Prayer in Salisbury Cathedral, celebrated St George’s Day with services, gunfire (rum in tea!!) and football, have met with people to arrange weddings and baptisms. I have been alongside home sick soldiers and those with marital difficulties, had a radio slot, sat with a General at a Regimental Dinner, had supper at the Colonels house, led Sunday Services, attended a Families meeting with wives from the Battalion. I was involved in a Funeral for our Adjutant (The Col’s right hand Officer) at Sandhurst. I have met with the Sikh representative for the Army, ran a Bible study and interspersed amongst all of this was some Physical Fitness with the guys, as well as generally ‘chewing the fat’. In the past my week even included praying over a soldiers tattoo as he wanted it blessed. Imagine my surprise when he said; ‘Can you pray for me?’, then he took his top off!!
I am sure all of us in all of our jobs are very busy, but what I love about being a Minister in the Army is the mix of being out and about with our soldiers where ever they are with Churchy stuff intermingled. Of course there are downsides – the weather was very cold in Wales, I had to do lots of ironing for all the social events and I didn’t see a great deal of my husband but I have leave (time off) soon, so we can catch up then. In the Army we do work long hours, but to compensate the rate of holiday is pretty generous. Revd Tracey Bateson

Someone recently posted the comment of perhaps being too old to join the Chaplaincy Dept. To answer this, if you are an ordained Minister under the age of 49 years then you are not too old. You have to go through selection and then training at Amport (a lovely place in Hampshire) and then Sandhurst for 10 weeks before your 50th Birthday. So calling all Ministers under the age of 49yrs!!!
Age wasn’t a concern for me when I was thinking of joining, as I was 33yrs. Although even this did seem a bit crazy to me – joining the Army at 33! The reservations I had before joining were, 1) I was worried I wasn’t fit enough 2) That I wouldn’t be able to preach the Gospel 3) Was I supportive of all conflicts we were involved in?
While being fairly fit is important, not least so we can wander around to see our soldiers, we are not expected to be as fit as an 18yr old new recruit. There are Physical Fitness Assessments but these take into account age, so E.g being a 35 year old female I have 14 mins 30 secs to run a mile and a half, which to be honest most people could fast walk!
My concerns of not being able to preach the Gospel have been unfounded. For a start of course any Christian wherever they are, preaches through words perhaps, but always through their actions. Living with and getting alongside our soldiers on exercise and the like means they see you for who you are. If anything there are even more opportunities than on Civvie Street. Daily I am with unchurched people and although I rarely bring up the subject, just my presence, with crosses on my collars means the conversation comes round to God and Church. There are also a number of Regimental Services to be involved with (this week alone I am involved in 4 services with soldiers), Funeral. Alongside Alpha runs, with involvement in schools and youth groups thrown in.
My final reservation of supporting conflicts is probably summed up in a Third Way Article I was involved in Winter edition 2009 when I said; ‘I may not support all conflicts we are involved in, but I will always support the soldiers…I think that ultimately if you are a citizen willing to pay taxes then whether you like it or not you are supporting your government, who deploys the troops, and each troop has the right to a padre.’ Revd Tracey Bateson

Contrary to what you might read in the press from time to time, the Army is very good at looking after its people. One way it does that is in making sure that you are taking the leave (holiday) that you are entitled to. My unit is currently on ‘block leave’, which means the whole unit take a fortnight off together over Easter. We also have a month’s block leave in the summer and a week at Christmas.

Unbelievably one of the factors that led me to be an Army Chaplain was time with my family. In the parish, my office was in my house, I seemed to be out most nights, busy all weekend and I was rarely available to play with my children or spend time with my wife. The work was always there, the phone rang all the time and life was grey.

Now, my office is nowhere near my house, I rarely work in the evening, the weekends are a lot less crowded and I believe that I spend lots more time being a father and a husband than I ever did. I think that balance is important. Life for me now is far more black and white.

Occasionally, of course, I am called upon to deploy on operations. However, even with that factored in, the time I have to be with my family seems to be far more and far more richer than anything we enjoyed in the parish; the greyness was always there wherever we were and whatever we were doing.

At last it has arrived – Spring! Since returning from Germany it seems to have snowed, rained or been in minus temperatures. I don’t know whether I have been suffering from SAD but I’ve certainly been grumpy. I think part of it is, because I spent last Winter in Iraq and Kuwait and whilst of course there were dangers, it was at least warm and sunny.
Being able to go on tour and to be with our soldiers wherever they are, is a great privilege. (This said I have yet to go to Afghan which I can only imagine is very tough for all who are there. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone.) On Telic 13, it was amazing to seeing the drawing down process. Seeing Challenger Tanks and so much equipment leaving Basra was very poignant. I was with 1LSR whose role was to move everything from Basra to the ports in Kuwait. After so many years in Iraq, it was good to see Iraqi Forces being trained able to take on the role of securing their country.
Prior to going to Iraq there was much pre-deployment training in various parts of Germany and Canada as our soldiers acquired or practised their skills. As the Padre you get to come alongside the soldiers during such times, giving out sweets, listening to them and even conducting the occasional field service!! In Canada a big mouth was required as we were speaking to over a thousand soldiers in the middle of the plain! Today I am off on exercise again but to less sunny parts, as I am off to South West Wales, getting alongside one of the support company’s of the Fusilier Battalion I am with. They will be practising live firing with their Warriors.

Easter is one of my favourite times of year. I love to see the new life bursting out of the cold hard soil of winter.

Easter speaks of suffering, pain and darkness, followed by an amazing victory. I’m used to spending my Easter weekend leading worship in Church, but this year I’ve just spent the weekend as a member of my Battalion’s support crew for the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race. The suffering, pain and darkness was played out in front of me as our four crews battled through Saturday night to cover the 125 miles.

At the finish line early on Easter Sunday our boats all achieved the amazing victory of not only finishing such a gruelling race, but of winning  their classes by miles. Three of our crews even made the top ten!

Later that day, as somebody else led worship, I dozed peacfully in the back pews as I reflected on how, if we look around, Easter time reminds us in so many tangible ways of the astounding victory that Christ achieved for us.

What’s a typical day as an Army Chaplain? The short answer is that no day is ever the same. I love the variety of my job. Today began with prayers in the Garrison church, and ended in a pub in Chelsea. In between I’ve spent some of the morning planning my involvement in the support team for our Battalion’s entry into the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, followed by the trip to London that ended in the pub.

Chelsea is home to the National Army Museum, and it is to there that the Officers and Senior NCOs (that’s Sargeants to Warrant Officers – senior soldiers with 12-20 or so years service) of my Battalion gathered for an afternoon’s tour and lecture on the British Armies involvement in Afghanistan over the last 150 years. The museum was great and the lecture was equally superb, and certainly fuelled some interesting debate over a drink in the pub before we got back on the bus.

It’s humbling to be invited to join in such activities. It’s not done out of a sense of duty or politeness, they really want their ‘padre’ to be part of the unit in every way. They even ask my opinion and listen to it too! No two days are the same, except for the fact that I go home each day fufilled.