Afghanistan deployment 'could crush or strengthen' chaplain assistant's faith
By Butch Wehry, Academy Spirit staff writer
/ Published July 09, 2009
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Staff Sgt. Christopher Thompson's assignment to hospital at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, as chapel operations NCO in charge could crush or strengthen his faith.
"I talk to family members of wounded warriors back at home," said the deployed chaplain assistant from the Academy's Cadet Chapel. "I talked to the mother of a Marine whose son had just lost both his legs and was currently asleep. She asked me to pray for him out loud while I had my hand on his head and she was on the phone. She said I was a great blessing, I just said what I think Christ put in my heart to say."
The pace and ambience at Bagram is distinctly different than at the cadet chapel.
Back at the Academy he is normally stuck behind his desk in the chapel.
"We only have three chaplain assistants," said the NCO from Nashville, Tenn. "As the NCOIC, I don't get a lot of time to do visitation. Paperwork and additional duties that take up the greater about of my time.
"I try to get my Airmen out to do visitation, but even then there is still a lot to do at the office. Something always suffers and suspense's have to be met," he said. "Here, there is not so much paperwork and I can devote my time to the hospital staff and the patients. It calls for some long hours but it is all worth it.
"I work here with U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Egyptian, Polish, French, British and Swedish militaries," said the 10-year Air Force veteran. "It's all for the helping of people. It is remarkable. The only challenge is language. We all have the same goals, so that makes it easy to work with them. We all want to save lives."
Deployments are not new to this NCO, who was at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan from November 2003 to March 2004, at Joint Base Balad, Iraq from January to May 2006, and at Camp Victory in Baghdad from October 2007 to January 2008.
"My time at Balad working in the hospital there prepared me for all the things I see here," he said. "The Air Force Chaplain Corps prepares its people well."
He does not go outside the wire. His job is to assist in ministry to the hospital staff and patients
Sergeant Thompson attended Expeditionary Medical Skills training with many of the hospital staff currently at Bagram. Chaplains and chaplain assistants have just started being integrated into training that allows them to learn how to better interact with hospital staffs.
There is little time to sample Afghani culture.
"Most of my time is in the hospital," he said. "The most culture I get to experience is when Afghanis die. Then I am included in helping prepare their bodies for burial according to their customs."
His personal goals are to make the next person's job a little easier.
"I want to make it better for my replacement," Sergeant Thompson said. "My sponsor was a great blessing to me. I want to make sure that I do the same for my replacement."
He's due back at the Academy in September, where his wife, Colanyosha, their cat, Scar, and their dog, Peanut, await him.
He is fond about quoting Kahlil Gibran: "Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scares."
He is reflective about this deployment.
"It has taught me more about my faith and the strength of our armed forces than I knew even on previous deployments," he said. "I see the dedication of the hospital staff every day, the will of warriors to go out again and again even after being wounded. I learned that faith and time can heal more wounds than needles and medicine. Prayer works wonders. I think people should realize just how much people are giving of themselves out here. I talk to young Airmen, Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers who all have been wounded because of the things going on out here. For many of them, their lives will never be the same again. Their sacrifice need never be in vain."