Army Chaplains' Blog

Archive for May 2010

I’ve done nearly six years now as an Army Chaplain, and in that time I’ve acquired piles and piles of stuff. It’s been issued to me at various times and includes all sorts of uniforms from the really smart ones to dirty sets of desert pattern camouflage from Iraq and Afghanistan. Then there’s bags and rucksacks and sleeping bags and gloves and … pretty much everything bar the kitchen sink. I’ve even got more pairs of boots and shoes than my wife!

Packing to go on exercise is always a problem as I’m never quite sure what I need so I end up taking everything. Thankfully I’m provided with my own car so I can cram it with the lot. I’m always embarrased to see how little the soldiers take with them – but I guess that’s their experience and training.

We’re off to Afghanistan again later this year and I’m already thinking about what I pack. I want to make sure I take just enough, but no more as I have to be able to carry it all. In a few weeks we’re promised a new kit issue which means even more stuff to take. Last time I was in Afghanistan was in the summer so I took very little as it’s so hot. This time we’re there for the winter too so I need plenty of warm kit as the nights are below freezing.

I’m off to the Brecon Beacons in a few days so that will give me an opportunity to practice my packing skills. I’ll start out with just my Bergen (rucksack), but I’m sure I’ll end up with a car full of stuff. AFW

As a new curate I remember struggling to think of something meaningful to say at my first Remembrance day service. I’d grown up going along to these as a cub scout and then as a cadet standing to attention in the Town square where I grew up. One year I even remember passing out and falling so hard on my face I broke a tooth! But my abiding memory was always a Church full of misty-eyed old gentlemen with medals on their chest, not really listening to what the preacher was saying. I can’t say I really ‘enjoyed’ Remembrance day before joining the RAChD.

It’s different for me now. I’ve two operational tours behind me and another one just around the corner. I’ve known soldiers who have died on active service and I’ve taken a fair few memorial services. I find that I too end up misty-eyed with thoughts drifting to another place at another time.

Last Sunday we dedicated a standard for the local branch of my current Regiments Association. There were lots of elderly gentlemen with medals on their chest, some of which were World War Two vintage! Their stories are amazing to listen to, and now that I wear the same uniform as them they seem to talk and share much more with me than when I was a mere ‘civvy’. It’s a great privilege to spend time with them and to hear their experiences. It is also very humbling. To a man their lives speak of sacrifice and service for the greater good.

That tradition still continues in the Army. This weekend coming I will be leading a service to remember the fallen from the Battle of Goose Green (28th May 1982). In the congregation will also be the families of our fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s important to remember, because it is surely by reflecting on the past that we can shape the future. I have no doubt that when the Last Post is played I will be misty-eyed once more. AFW

I have just been rock climbing and abseiling in North Wales with my Battalion…unexpectedly I have learnt a lot about trust, not just in God but in a safety rope and the instructors I was with. Basically I was pretty rubbish – ok having ‘Man Flu’ (Yes women can get it too) didn’t help. I got to the cliff face and I have no idea how rock climbers can see a thumb hole and crack no bigger than my big toe and say use that, step off that – at best I looked like a contorted gymnast, at worse I looked like a splatted lizard as I tried to reach for these so called holes.

If going up wasn’t bad enough we then went through the joys of coming down. I had been warned not to slip on an overhanging piece of rock. While I did not slip, I also didn’t go down, I kinda went around the rock face. The safety rope did hold but it released a bit and it was like something out of Tarzan and Jane as I swang around the rock face, shouting; ‘oh my God……………’. Well it’s nice to cry out to the Lord in such times, I ended up praising His name while swinging precariously through the air. Then splat onto the rock face!!! Legs shaking, breathing irregular. Praise God for my instructor who calmly talked me down as I had to get my legs moving again to walk down a cliff while sticking outwards – it defies gravity and is not normal behaviour!! I got to the bottom eventually and was relieved if not shaky – no brandy but a renewed respect for the patience of the instructors and the strength of the safety rope.

As I was taking a breather, recovering, I looked to the hills. They were glorious, high above the valleys with a swirling mist just below the peaks, ‘Where did my help come from?’ I was left seeing that yes, as the Psalmist in 121 said, my help comes from the Lord. And this is true, it is God, but also in things such as the tying of knots in ropes and holding safety ropes, it is soldiers within the army who I trust. Before I leapt from the cliff, joking around with the soldiers, I had said, ‘I don’t trust in myself but I trust in you and I trust in the rope.’ It’s the same with life, I don’t always trust myself to make the right decisions and to say the right words but I trust in God’s unfailing love and forgiveness to get me through. And in the past few years I have come to trust the soldiers around me. Praise God for Himself and for the soldiers I have the privilege of working with. Revd Tracey Bateson

I have just spent the weekend with two New Entrant Chaplains. They are currently training at Amport House and are soon off to Sandhurst. It brought back lots of memories, not least of my time on the Parade Square…(Best not seen!). So what was the training like, I hear you interested people say?

After a few weeks training in Amport House, Nr Andover, myself and 5 other Padres went to Sandhurst with other PQO’s (Professionally Qualified Officers), such as Vets, Doctors, Nurses and Lawyers etc. We spent several weeks (now I believe it’s 10) learning field craft, first aid, drill, section attacks, how to iron, orienteering and all we should need for life in the Army. Personally I found it tough going, not least because I went to Sandhurst knowing very little about the Army, and so many people on the course had either been in the T.A. or Regular Army or had been Cadets as students. Meanwhile myself and a few others were completely clueless. We had a steep learning curve but thanks to the patience of our instructors and fellow colleagues we survived!

Looking back I also think I went with the idea of being G.I Jane and it was more like Calamity Jane!

For our marching off parade we had to march, I guess the clue was in the title, and for the first couple of weeks practising ‘drill’ was ok. But, for whatever reason, the more we practised, the more I would get it wrong. I could walk quite normally with my arms and legs moving as God had intended, but with someone near me shouting at us to do so, for some reason by arms and legs got all confused. A tick tocking motion would begin and I would get all confused and would literally freeze!

On our final practise, before the big day, I was terrified. The band started up and for some reason I got all emotional, thinking of everyone who had ever marched onto the square and how some had paid the price of service with their lives. My eyes started to weep. This was bad enough, but then I tried to wipe my eyes (whilst marching) just as the RSM marched past. There was then some shouting and a red face was very close to mine. I still don’t quite know what he said, but I could tell he wasn’t happy and we were all told to march off and start again! After a chat with the RSM we started off again and everything went ok – Praise God.

Thankfully I was moved into the middle so people couldn’t see my marching as well! While the RSM sympathised with my sentiment of crying for people who have sacrificed their lives, he said with a smile, at least, ‘Chicken lips – not on my drill square!’ I didn’t like to ask how I had got that nickname!!

Looking back I can nearly laugh about it! Revd Tracey Bateson

This morning’s Times (12th May) carried an article on the perilous state of the Church of England’s finances. I remember full well the struggles of the PCCs I served in rural parish ministry to scrape together their Parish Share. It was a constant round of coffee mornings, jumble sales and sponsored events. Today I have the luxury of serving in a well-resourced and heated Garrison Church. We have no PCC and most things are well provided for. But I worry about the wider Church, and my prayer is that we are all released from the worries and pressures of making ends meet so that the Church can be released to focus wholeheartedly on what God has called it to do.

It was when I was training to be ordained, that my wife and I first began to understand the sacrifices that we were making to serve God. We stayed in our own house in Oxford whilst I was in training at Wycliffe Hall, and to do this I had to cash in my pension fund as our Diocese could only meet certain costs. My salary went from being something we could live on to something that meant my wife had to work too! Our tiny children survived with hand-me-downs and second hand toys bought from Ebay. However, this was all tempered with the knowledge that we were doing what God wanted us to do and what’s more we enjoyed it!

But there came a point about three years after ordination, when I sat down after a really busy week and worked out that in real terms I had earned less than a pound an hour. I found that rather depressing. I’m not saying in any sense that we were money focussed, far from it. It is just that at times it seemed such an almighty struggle to survive as a family. I did not feel great about the fact that my wife had to work full-time in a very demanding job, and on occasion it was also difficult to feel valued, and therefore affirmed, by the Church.

As an Army Chaplain I benefit from a better salary, pension and level of benefits. For me it contributes to how I feel as a husband, as a father, and as a priest and pastor. I feel I am providing well for my family, and that releases me from the worries and concerns I had about making ends meet in the parish. I believe it also releases me to focus wholeheartedly on what God has called me to do. Antony FW

I think I still hear this most days. When I am greeted by solders who don’t know me, you can tell they aren’t quite sure what/who I am. They see the Pips on my rank slide and they throw up a salute thinking I am an officer, and then they often mistake me for a man, (but heh the uniform isn’t terribly flattering!), and call me ‘Sir!’. Then when I say ‘Thank -You or Good Morning’ they hear I am a woman, and when they get closer with crosses on my lapels, they see I am a Padre. I have to feel for them, as you can tell some of them are completely confused, while at the same time, trying to be respectful and polite. To be fair to the guys, there are now five female Padres in the Army but we are still pretty rare.

So what is it like to be a female Chaplain? One great thing is that I rarely have to queue for the ladies – how often can women say that? We also we get a couple of extra minutes on our Physical Fitness Test. I always try and run to the men’s time (as I think that’s fair) but it’s always nice knowing there are a couple of extra minutes should I need them (to stop off to do my hair or to go shopping or something!!).

A bugbear though for me is the term ‘female equivalent’. For men what to wear is always clear, Dinner Jackets, Black Ties or Blazers but so often for women it just says; ‘female equivalent’. Just what does it mean? On many an occasion I have cried out, hoping Trinny and Susannah would hear my plea! Do they mean a skirt, trouser suit, dress, ball gown??? Help??? Does anyone know?

If anything being a female for me has been an advantage as I have been able to answer many questions of the wives of our soldiers, such as; ‘What is it really like on exercise or tour?’. I have also been able to come alongside and support some women who have been hurt by men and prefer to speak to a female.

That doesn’t mean that the guys don’t try and wind me up! Recently on exercise, I came into a shed where they were sheltering and they were all stood up on benches. I asked what was going on and they said there was a mouse. I called them a bunch of woosies for being scared, but after a while I got up there with them – well I didn’t want to step on the mouse did I? It dawned on me after a while, they had been winding me up to see my reaction. I guess they were hoping for the scared female approach to mice! Now a pile of ironing waiting to be done, that would have had me screaming, but cute furry rodents, not really!

So to any Women feeling the call towards being a Chaplain…why not have a deeper think and get in touch!! Revd Tracey Bateson

What a bank holiday? Why is it, the sun always comes out on the Tuesday as many people head back to work? As a Minister in the Army, our soldiers seem to take great delight in blaming me for the weather. Of course, if it is ever nice and sunny, I’ll take the credit for God, but the rain…I’ve got to say I get a bit bored of my faith being challenged most weeks as a consequence of bad weather, but at least I guess they are talking about God, if only blaming him for the wet!
While in Batus, a training ground in Canada, I have to say I was fed up with the rain. The conditions were really dangerous and whenever we drove anywhere, my prayers were intermingled with swear words, as I honestly thought we were going to die. I had had enough of the rain and snow and hail and bogginess of the ground. I was fed up of being blamed for the bad weather; ‘Come on Padre, can’t you put in a good word for some sun.’ and in the words of Robbie Williams, I felt God was laughing at my plans as every time I prayed for the Sun, out poured the rain.
While out there, I came across a soldier who I knew was a Christian. I moaned to him saying I was getting the blame for all the bad weather. He replied saying, ‘Yeah but we’ve got to praise God for His goodness.’ I said; ‘I am struggling to be honest’. He then went on to say that on the way to the exercise his bergen (with all of his kit needed for a week on exercise) had fallen off of the transport and was lost in the middle of a training area over 100miles square! But he was still praising God because he had taken out his bible beforehand so at least that didn’t get lost!!!!!.

The next day I gathered up some things for him, wash kit and underwear etc and bless him, he praised God again saying, ‘Padre I was just praying to God asking for socks.’ He certainly is a Soldier who seems able ‘to praise God in all circumstances.’ So even though we may be a bit fed up returning to work while it’s sunny, I will be thanking God for His goodness to me. Revd Tracey Bateson