Army Chaplains' Blog

Archive for May 2011

This week we welcome a new blogger to the Army Chaplains site, Padre Cole Maynard. Padre Cole will be sending us regular updates from Afghanistan over the coming months, but first he had to get there:

`What a mixture of raw emotion! Sunday night saw my wife and I deep in battle with the pain of separation. No matter how many times you do this – for me the fourth occasion since 2003 – leaving your life’s partner for six months is a huge emotional tear, and so I spent a fitful night, shoulder damp from my wife’s expression of grief.

Monday morning arrived and following the final goodbyes I was off to Brize Norton. A beautiful spring morning, my eyes eagerly feasting on the white, yellow and pinks of spring blossom, fully aware that such colour will be a rarity in the coming months. Having checked in and put my battle box with the Air Movements Cell, I made my way across the camp to have a final dinner with some good friends. The path cut through the trees and the young adolescent leaves whispered their exuberance in the gentle breeze. I smiled at their song, appreciating the beauty of this season, sucking to the very marrow the familiar scents and birdsong. Finally I reached the home of my friends, and enjoyed a meal followed by banter and prayer, all washed down with a refreshing and much needed G&T.

I woke at 04.50, shaved and exercised briefly before a quick breakfast, much improved since my last visit to the Brize Norton Hilton. I assembled with a mixture of service personnel waiting for the transport to the terminal. A mixed bag of uniforms and emotions from those just flying out to start their tours and those returning from a short break at home. The atmosphere is subdued and a little flat.

The terminal building proves to be the usual rush-to-wait scenario, but now mitigated by huge flat screen TV’s broadcasting Sky News and other programmes to ease the pressure. I relax once I have placed my huge bags on the rollers and then move to the departure lounge. Then the joy of a familiar face, an officer from my days with 3 PARA, now a Lieutenant Colonel we exchanged greetings and then talk about shared experiences in the deserts of Iraq during the 2003 war. We embark the plane together and continue the recollections.

After a first class in-flight meal, well done RAF, I try to read but find myself overcome with the weariness of the past 36 hours and succumb to a deep sleep serenaded by my iPod. I awake several hours later and find myself flying high above Cyprus where I spent a very busy but pleasant two years from 2003-2005. The aircraft circled the isle like an eagle in search of its prey and I could clearly see the familiar peninsular of Akrotiri with the various tracks that I would run along early in the morning to escape the heat of the day. The old light house which would be my half way point on my run along the cliffs and the venue of my 2005 Easter Sunrise Service, where I led a moving vigil that was only spoilt by a squadron of insatiable mosquitoes. I smile to myself, and reflect on the blessings that God has given to my family and me, remembering the vibrant church, baptisms in the sea, family days at the beach and holidays on the Isle. It was a familiar and welcome distraction from the long road ahead.

The long flight continues, the skies darken and again I surrender to the weariness of travel. Finally the aircraft descends to our destination and we arrive very early in the morning and exit the aircraft into the heat of Afghanistan. It is dark yet the residue of the day’s heat hangs heavy in the air. Familiar smells greet me and senses long forgotten are kindled as I descend the aircraft steps.

In the large tent I go through a series of checks before being greeted by my predecessor. He grasps my hand in earnest, pleased to meet his relief after six weary months. We talk and wait for my bags before he takes me to my new home and it aint half bad! Things have certainly improved since my last sourjorn in this land. My bags are dropped in the corner and following a quick shower to wash away the fatigue of the past 48 hours, my head hits the pillow. I have arrived and dream of home.’

Padre Cole Maynard

It has been a joy and a relief to welcome the last of my soldiers back from Afghanistan. Half of the regiment was attached to various battle groups in theatre and half remained at home. This meant that padre was not going to deploy. It was frustrating not to be out there with them, but there was plenty to do in camp. Fortunately none of my soldiers were killed on operations, but we have had a few with significant injuries.

As a Baptist minister I have always sought to pray for the people in my care. I have carried this over into my life as an army chaplain. Sometimes I have the opportunity to pray with soldiers, more often I pray for them. After one particular soldier was injured the colonel asked me to pray at the Friday morning parade for him. I took the opportunity to let all those assembled know that I prayed for them regularly and then offered prayers for the soldier, his family and friends.

Later that morning three soldiers at different times told me how important they thought it was that I prayed. None of them have any formal affiliation to Christianity, but they were all clear that this was something significant. In a culture which is sometimes quite hostile to faith in general, and Christianity in particular, here are men with no religious axe to grind, reminding me that prayer is important. I find this hugely encouraging.

Watch and pray, friends, watch and pray.

1RRF this week are out on the ground providing essential training for soon to be Officer Commanders. Their duties involve them in Light Role – i.e racing around as soldiers on the ground being commanded by those being trained as well as being in their Warriors and other vehicles. Soon to be Officer Commanders they command our soldiers as they see fit. It’s a time of patience and hard work for our soldiers, as our soldiers have now done this exercise many times so they perhaps know what is expected of them more than some of the Majors being trained. The hours are long, the terrain is Salisbury Plain, so anything goes, but for once the weather isn’t too bad.

My role in all of this is to catch up with our soldiers on their return from each period of training. I try to catch them as they come off their vehicles and give out sweets briefly before they have an hour or so to clean their weapons, make repairs, or eat some food. It’s important to be there for them but at the same time, not to interrupt their ‘admin’ time. Meanwhile there are other soldiers who have long periods of waiting around, so I get to spend longer with these ‘chewing the fat’, once again being ready for anything! Soldiers such as thos in the REME – those who repair vehicles or the Medics can have long periods of boredom but as I say I would rather they stayed bored, as it means no break downs or injuries!

The questions thus far this week just for you to get an overall impression have included; Did dinosaurs exist? Are you a creationist or evolutionist? Are you allowed to be pregnant? (Some of them thought I was Roman Catholic!!) How many days did God take to create the world? How many weeks are you due? What do you thik of the Goverment? How can I get a mortgage? Do you want to fire a weapon? Did we come from Monkeys? When’s the next Alpha course? When are you dropping?

And then there were many conversations about wives and spouses who are also pregnant, have just given birth, as well as me showing an interest in how their day has gone. I also had a few soldiers having words with me as I was carrying a bergen – as I said, it wasn’t heavy but then a few more had words because I was out at all in my condition. I reassured them I was fine, and all I was doing was handing out sweets and chatting, but is nice for so many of them to be showing care.

On Thursday at their endex (end of exercise) in remembrance of Albuhera Day (16th May) we will be having a DrumHead service out on the ground. Such a Field Service will include Songs, readings from the Bible and about Albuhera Day itself as well as a sermon and I am sure the giving out of many sweets! It’s a great honour to rememer former battles the Regiment has been involved with as well as being able to spend time in prayer and praise with our soldiers. As they’ll be exhausted and looking forward to a hot bath after they have cleaned their weapons and vehicles, the service will be short but hopefully meaningful nevertheless.

And I hope next week you will be hearing from another Padre…

Our soldiers spend an incredible amount of time in training. After all we want them to be able to fire their weapon systems well and we want them to know their drills. So this week I got to go to Lulworth Cove for a Ranges Package. I have to say as far as views go, I can’t think of a better place to have such training. The coastline is gorgeous and they fire at targets or head out to sea. But I am quite sure I am one of only a few who has time to gaze at the view. Everyone else is concerned with their ammunition, targets, vehicles, safety and apparently the possibility of the Padre’s waters breaking.

I kid you not, but a Corporal came up to me last week to inform me that during a safety brief, a Captain had informed them of my status (well at least they no longer just think I’m fat!). The Captain told them what to do in the event of my waters breaking, has banned me from going on the Vehicles and has pretty much limited my duties to chatting and giving out sweets. Well I think I can manage that! Bless them!

Meanwhile variety continues with two weekends of Marriage Preparation coming up, numerous Baptisms, visits galore, inter–mess Cricket matches, planning conferences and the Great St Michael’s Quiz next Saturday, which to lead will be as dangerous as being on the Ranges!!

And you will be pleased to hear this blog very soon will be gaining some fresh outlooks of Army Chaplaincy. I have been promised inserts from a number of Padres. One has recently survived 10 weeks of Sandhurst Training. Others have returned from Kenya and the Falklands. And we are hoping to hear from some Padres who are currently deployed in Afghanistan, as well as hopefully hearing from a Padre who has spent considerable time caring for soldiers who have recently returned from Afghanistan…To be honest on Salisbury Plain at the moment, there aren’t many Padres around as so many are with their soldiers around the world. Thus those of us left behind are covering different units as well as our own soldiers. I eagerly wait myself to read of the experiences of our Padres away in training and those deployed as my times away are becoming more restricted! Please do make comments to these newbies to the Blog and get them involved in blogging…

I am sure it is because I am more aware but honestly I seem to be seeing bumps in ladies at a hundred paces at the moment…this week swimming, half of those in the pool were pregnant. I felt for the guys in there who were clearly giving us odd looks, wondering whether we had eaten too many Easter Eggs or perhaps whether it was catching. Even within our own Mess, we are considering installing a Creche. Our Colonel and Adjutant both have babies under 4 months with another Lieutenant and two Captains as well as myself all expecting children this year! To the point that some of our other young Captains and Lieutenants are wary at letting their wives and girlfriends in the Mess in case it’s catching!

We have several Clerks, a Chef and Medic all off on Maternity and I am wondering whether perhaps the water in Tidworth is good for making babies! I have still been so blessed and amazed at our soldiers interest and care over it all, asking how I am etc!

There also seem to be baptisms galore at the moment and I have to admit that with a baby, often jumping around inside of me (bump seems to love the Organ and any music!!), they have become even more special. As I often speak from Psalm 139 I am constantly reminded of the wonder of the creation of a baby, of how special it is that God knows of a baby’s presence in a mothers womb long before they may know and how God is there with each child as those bones are being formed. As I visit each couple to prepare for baptism I encourage them to acknowledge God’s desire to continue to be part of each child’s life. How a Baptism is more than just an excuse for a party and how it is the beginning of of a journey and not the end. How God longs to be part of the child’s life forever more but how children can only know of this, if the Parents and God-Parents fulfil their part of the promise.

I think before Bump is due I have 12 Baptisms ahead, so at least lots of practise for Bumps big day! Bumps doing well, in the right place growing well. Thank you for your comments of interest – and No I’m still not sick so I’m still very blessed, just a little tired with really bad leg cramps and not sleeping, but I am still cracking on with some phys, albeit just swimming or cycling. I am trying not to listen to all of the horror stories soldiers and their wives seem to enjoy sharing but I remain overwhelmed by their interest and support, although I’m not overjoyed with the continual rubbing of my stomach which seems to have started of late by people I hardly know.

I think my Welfare Officer sums it up nicely, ‘Tracey ****** you’re fat!’ Trust an L.E. To tell it how it is! My husband leapt to my defence and said, ‘she’s not fat, she’s just a lardy Padre’. Nothing like a little support! My husbands phantom pregnancy meanwhile seems to be growing nicely as well – at least I hope to lose my weight in the Autumn!