by Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Mark F. Plaushin, OSFS
Most every soldier, sailor, Marine or airman serving in the Middle East Theatre of Operations feels the pain of being far from home. Yet both our faith and our sense of neighborhood remind us that home can be closer than you think.
Three of us who share common faith are neighbors back in the Lehigh Valley and now serve here in the desert of Kuwait. Each of us, having met here for the first time, are reminded that something of our homes in the Leigh Valley is a little closer because we are here together, and because we all work to help others experience home through faith in God. We all serve in the 3rd Army's Area Support Group in Kuwait.
I am an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, living and teaching at DeSales University, deployed now as Support Group Catholic Chaplain with a parish as large as this desert state, a little smaller than New Jersey. I am the Catholic Pastor for the American military and civilians that compose the largest forward deployed element of 3rd U.S. Army, General George Patton's former command, headquartered in Atlanta. As a Chaplain I work in a unique dynamic of service to men and women of all faiths, Catholics in particular and the Commander and his staff. I provide supervision and mentoring to four Unit Ministry Teams; each composed of a priest and enlisted body guard. Together we cover six Army bases, two Navy bases, one Air Force Base and the U.S. Embassy. An Army Chaplain must be able to work with Chaplains of many faiths, denominations and services. It's what gives the Chaplain a very rich experience that many civilian clergy will not have. However, the needs of the Army sometimes complicate the mission. For example, this past Monday we lost one priest and his body guard to a mission in Afghanistan. I don't know how long he'll be gone, but now I have to rework the schedule and it will mean one base will not get Easter services originally planned. While these challenges exist, one way my faith has been reinforced is in the many encounters I have with unselfish soldiers and sailors like Frank Najera and Tiffany Roman.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Frank Najera, Jr. is with the U.S. Navy's Customs Unit, which insures the safe flow of equipment and supplies through a local Naval Base. Frank and his unit work 24 hours a day insuring that cargo coming into and out of Kuwait is safe and free from contraband, dangerous materials or unauthorized items. The Navy is the harbor's police force and protection. Their patrol craft escort sea going traffic in and out of the port and they thoroughly inspect baggage and containers. While much attention rightly focuses on the men and women who are on patrol in Iraq, the reader would be amazed at the tons of supplies and equipment that must be safely on and off-loaded to support their mission in Iraq.
Frank is a career Navy man and enjoys the opportunity to serve as a local customs agent. Within the Catholic community he is a reader at the base and provides a clear and reverent proclamation of the Word at Mass and in leading the weekly Bible study. This apple hasn't fallen far from the tree. Frank's dad is Deacon Francisco Najera, of St. Joseph's Parish in Reading. Home for Frank is Lower Macungie Township. There he and his wife, Michele, raise their sons, Brendan and Preston, and worship at St. Joseph the Worker Parish. But it will be as I exit the DeSales University campus via the Lehigh Valley's busy highways and look in my rear view mirror that I will likely see Frank when we get back home—behind the wheel of the police car behind me. Frank is a 6-year veteran of the Upper Saucon Township Police Department and DeSales University is part of his beat.
Specialist Tiffany Roman may have served your table at the Applebee's on Airport Road before being deployed. Now she serves near another airport. She is chaplain assistant at an Army logistics center near Ali Al Salem Air Base. Born and raised in Bethlehem, she worships at the Central Assemblies of God Church in Bethlehem. Her father, not unlike Frank's, is a man accustomed to serving others. Antonio Roman, Jr., also an Army veteran, works at the dialysis center at St. Luke's Hospital.
As a chaplain assistant, Tiffany is body guard and administrative assistant to an Army chaplain. She also helps the chaplain connect to issues that are common to young enlisted serving here: loneliness, stress and relationship problems. Specialist Roman's duties can run the range from the profound to the mundane. Like other soldiers, she keeps her weapons clean and practices marksmanship. In another venue she will be counseling a soldier who is having a difficult time with his girlfriend back home and assessing whether or not his issue needs to be referred to the chaplain or another helping professional. Well tuned situational awareness is a prerequisite for a good chaplain assistant. She must keep an eye on her chaplain and manage the ministry so that religious coverage is provided efficiently, promptly and effectively. She safeguards her chaplain, their vehicle and coordinates with other chaplains and their assistants to be in the right place at the right time, for the right, reason every time.
Tiffany, Frank and I serve our comrades in unique ways, but each of us have had our own faith enlivened here. Frank says that he has "grown stronger in his faith through this deployment." Similarly, Tiffany looks on her faith development: "This deployment has drawn me the closest to [God] that I have been in a long time and I am so blessed to have my faith grow more and more each day as God reveals to me in so many ways that he's had a hand on everything." Faith and neighborhood exert a powerful influence on our sense of home. If home is where the heart is, then the Lehigh Valley should know that a meaningful part of its heart is beating for others in the sands of the Middle East. Frank, Tiffany and I know this is true because we are neighbors and men and women of faith.
Rev. Mark F. Plaushin, OSFS, a faculty member in DeSales University's Department of Philosophy and Theology, is currently a chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) serving with the U.S. Army's Area Support Group in Arifjan, Kuwait.
Pictured on the above image from Left to Right:
- (Father) Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Mark Plaushin (OSFS), USAR
- Specialist Tiffany M. Roman, USAR
- His Lordship Bishop Camillo Ballin, MCCI, Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait
- Most Reverend Mounged El-Hachem, Titular Archbishop of Darnis and Apostolic Nuncio to Kuwait, Yemen, Bahrain and Qatar and Apostolic Delegate to Saudi Arabia
- Petty Officer 2nd Class Frank Najera, Jr., USN
(Note: Appeared in The Morning Call, Wednesday, April 19, 2006, as "Service in the desert fosters a deeper faith")
Press Release: Far from Home can be Close to Home by Mark F. Plaushin, OSFS | Posted on: 4/19/2006
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