Fr. Mark Mastin is a chaplain with the US Army stationed at Schoefield Barracks in Hawaii. He and his fellow soldiers are preparing for an extended deployment overseas later this year. Fr. Mark writes the following:
I have been well, though since the moment I got back from my visit to Milwaukee, the intensity of pre-deployment training has increased, as well as our emotional levels. We have been in the field several times and in the classroom as well putting in long days from 4:30 a.m. to sometimes 10 p.m. In addition, I have been vaccinated for anthrax, small pox, and typhoid, etc. We have had other medical examinations as well. I’ve been poked and prodded more than cattle!! We drew our special gear and uniforms recently.
It has rained nearly every day up here in the mountains since October. Last week we had severe lightning and thunderstorms that brought severe flooding. This has not stopped us from being in the field. Training in mud is not fun. It takes days to soak and get one’s uniform semi-clean from the deep red soil.
I have become more appreciative of our young soldiers who have to spend long hours outside, particularly when they have to lay flat on the wet muddy ground with their weapons poised in defensive positions while the rain is pouring down on top of them. It’s for that reason that I will walk around the parameters in the late nights and early mornings to talk with them to see how they are holding up; I try to sneak them some snacks too. I have concluded that if they can make that sacrifice, so can I by staying up with them.
Sleep is at a premium. Just when you think you can grab 30 minutes of shut eye, gun fire or explosions go off. Then, you have to think quickly about what action to take. It is a good thing we practice these events often and that we have standard operating procedures in place that guide us on what task each of us are to perform. It can be chaotic and perhaps confusing when engaged in these exercises, but we get use to it. Every action we take becomes second nature.
Even though the chaplaincy has its own battle operational procedures, I have had to be creative in writing adaptive procedures
I was awarded the Army Achievement Medal for recent exercises that included teaching on the subjects of suicide prevention and intervention and my development of a presentation on sexual harassment and assault.
I likewise was privileged become an ethics advisor to one of our senior two star generals on the island, particularly in the area of being a Conscientious Objector. He felt that we Catholics have quite a background and education in ethical and moral issues that would aid him in making decisions about our soldiers.
Aside from my primary duties and the battalion, I continue to teach RCIA. We have quite a large group this year coming into the Church. They are all so enthusiastic. One of our elect had one of those rare conversion moments at a Mass she attended out of curiosity for the first time in her life. This person, a well educated individual who had not been raised in the Christian faith, felt this flood of warmth and joy pour over her when the priest elevated the consecrated host; she said she had no idea what he was doing.
After this mystical experience, she was afraid to speak about it to her husband but became convinced that the Catholic Church was the church she needed to be part of. She asked me; “does this happen to other Catholics during the Mass?” I musingly said I wish all of us could experience these mystical feelings. I told her that what she encountered was a special gift from God that should be cherished. She and her entire family will receive all of the sacraments on Easter Vigil.
Going into harm’s way
Like all of us here, I have mixed emotions about our upcoming deployment. There is excitement and fear.
I look at this deployment with the Dehonian mindset of oblation. I have come to appreciate and redefine this attitude. Scripture says that there is no greater love for another person than to lay down one’s life for a friend or another person. I do not have a martyr’s complex. I do enjoy living.
Oblation to me means availability and sacrifice. As a religious, life should not always be comfortable or convenient. It means being present with people in their sufferings, compassionate if you will. It’s being a bridge of hope (GOD)to people, especially young people, who cannot make sense or find meaning in life. As instruments of God’s mission, simple words of encouragement go a long way without ever having to mention anything spiritual or religious. Saying that someone is doing a good job has the same effect.
I will be in harm’s way. But Oblation, availability and presence can make a big difference to our soldiers, particularly in how they cope and manage their resiliency and emotions. And so, I need to make the effort to meet them wherever they may be.
However, I too need others to comfort me. And so I ask all of my brothers and sisters to pray for me and our soldiers while I am gone.