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Combat Chaplains

Chaplain, Major General (ret.) Cecil R. Richardson served as the sixteenth Chief of Chaplains of the United States Air Force.  He retired nearly one year ago, on June 1, 2012.  He served as the Air Force’s top chaplain for four years.  An Assemblies of God minister, Chaplain Richardson stated his role was to be “a pastor to Christians, and a chaplain to all.”

Shortly after becoming the Chief of Chaplains, Richardson addressed the Air Force Association Air & Space Conference & Technology Exposition on “The Role of Combat Chaplains.”  He noted the term ‘combat chaplain’ is an oxymoron since chaplains are non-combatants, but said the term is used to describe the work of military chaplains who work hard in deployed environments — in the midst of combat — to help ensure service members retain their constitutional right to worship God in their own way.  He added, “Ministry is rich and deep, and far from trivial in a combat zone.”  The reality of war — with its life-and-death situations, not to mention the brutally austere conditions experienced while being separated from all that is familiar — makes deployment difficult for service members.  “These things cause people to think about what’s important in life,” Richardson stated.

He added that chaplains serve an important role in theaters of operation, especially since there are no Sundays or Sabbaths in war zones.  “Chapel attendance goes up or down in direct proportion to the number of mortar or rocket attacks the night before,” he remarked.  “In the area of responsibility, the chaplain can’t walk from point A to point B without being pulled aside for a question.  In fact, chaplains often spend seven to ten hours a day counseling Airmen, hearing them ask, ‘Would you pray for me?’”
According to the general, the chaplain’s most requested and repeated prayer is for the service members in the unit and for them to return home safely.  “The chaplain prays over convoys and missions as they depart, often with a ‘holy huddle.’”  Most chaplains carry a well-worn piece of paper in the pockets of their Airman Battle Uniforms (ABUs) – a prayer request list.  “It’s generally for an Airman or Soldier’s family; for the new wife or new family, for the 11-year old who broke her arm, for the grandmother who is dying.”  Chaplain Richardson stated service members turn to chaplains when they don’t feel like they can turn to anyone else because chaplains “walk where they walk, and…go where they go.”

Chaplain Richardson remarked that being a combat chaplain does not take away from the person of faith’s desire for peace.  He explained all chaplains are anti-war, “But in a fallen world, sometimes fire happens, and thank God for the wonderful firemen.  Sometimes crime happens, and we need the police. Sometimes you have a war and need people to stand up and defend our country against those who would do harm to innocent people.”

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