Last May, I blogged in two posts about Fr. Michael Duesterhaus, a priest of the Arlington diocese assigned as a chaplain to the US Marine Corps.
Father blogged about his experiences serving with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Iraq, including his impressions of the quality of our men and women in uniform. The second post included recollections of friends of Fr. Duesterhaus about his own exploits, including the time he scared off a nighttime burglar in his rectory.
Now the Arlington Herald has an interview with Father about his two years in Iraq. His second tour was no rear-area cakewalk, but took him to Ramadi and Fallujah, two of the hotspots of the war.
A “snapshot” of his parish looked like this: “A crowd of guys about three years out of high school. … The father and son who serve in the same unit. The doctor who hopes that his surgical skills won’t be needed, but knows they will. … A Marine with a dirty uniform, but a clean rifle,” wrote Father Duesterhaus in his blog.
The tailgate of a Humvee and wooden boxes in a field of mud were his altars. His vestments were camouflage, and while traveling, his chalice “not much bigger than a Dixie cup,” he wrote.
“Military chaplaincy is a sub-culture,” he said, adding that it was necessary for him to “keep up, physically, with these people.” They were living in unfamiliar territory in tight quarters. Father Duesterhaus recalled two weeks in Jordan they spent sleeping in tents without showers.
Every day is a work day for the soldiers overseas. “The only thing different on Sunday is they get to go to church and not report to work until later in the day,” he said.
A third of his ministry was secular counseling. He explained that anything said to a chaplain is confidential. In addition to young soldiers, colonels and generals often came to him for advice on moral issues. “I deal with all ranks and people,” he said.
I have the utmost respect for our chaplain-priests, whether they’re serving in the rear area or on the front lines because I can’t imagine a challenging environment for a Catholic priest or a more fulfilling one for that matter.
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