When I was deployed to Afghanistan some years ago, I was stationed at Bagram Airfield, which is about 30 miles north of Kabul. It has a long history of military use, dating back to the earliest days of the Cold War (1950s). The Soviets had used it as their primary air base during their 1980s war in Afghanistan and now it was serving a key role in the U.S. efforts.
Well, Bagram is an expansive base and my unit was stationed in a remote corner. It so happened that our particular area was growing significantly during my tour there, due to the nature of our operations at that time. As such, many of the typical base areas of common use (e.g., gym, tent cities, etc.) were bursting at the seams and in need of larger facilities to support the growth.
This was also the case with the base chapel. When I arrived in country and started attending Protestant services, the chapel was in a small building with a capacity of perhaps 100 people. This was not going to support demand in the long term, so our chaplain decided to start looking for something more appropriate.
I had met the chaplain early on and struck up a friendship. He was in theater with his Rhode Island National Guard detachment on a one-year rotation. Back in the real world, he was pastor of a medium-sized Baptist church near Providence. While he missed both his biological family and his church family greatly, he was very energetic and determined to be a willing ambassador for Christ during his tour.
One day in the midst of all of this, I arrived at Sunday morning service and noticed that he was not there to deliver the sermon. Although I found it a little strange, I didn’t think too much more of it at the time, as one of his assistants adeptly stepped in to fill the gap. Shortly after service, though, I found out what had transpired.
It seems that the chaplain had gotten up that morning and set out to look at a building he had been told could serve as a potential replacement for the current chapel. The building was presently vacant but he knew he would have to act fast in order to secure it before someone else did. So he got up early on Sunday and headed over to see if it would work.
As he opened the door and entered the building, he came face to face with a young army soldier who held a loaded gun pointed at himself. Now I should probably mention at this point that almost everyone on Bagram was armed with loaded weapons. This is the nature of living in a war zone and being under constant threat of attack. One of the exceptions to this rule, however, is the chaplain. Under service regulations, chaplains may not bear arms and are classified under the Geneva Conventions as non-combatants.
That said, now back to the scenario that was playing out, as it was relayed to me. The unarmed chaplain enters alone into a room with an armed soldier apparently distraught enough to use his loaded weapon, at least on himself and perhaps anyone who may come along…(to be continued).