NBTS E-Story

Life as a combat chaplain, thoughts from Wilfredo Rodriguez

As we hear heartbreaking accounts of terrorism from around the world, our hearts reach out to Afghanistan where one of our own, Chaplain Wilfredo Rodriguez (Class of 1994) ministers to people in combat.

We asked Wilfredo what he needs, and besides prayers, he says the hospital staff wishes to supply patients with simple things:

  • Plain white t-shirts M/L/XL
  • Pajama pants M/L/XL
  • Booties and socks of various sizes

    Donations can be mailed to:
    Chaplain Wilfredo Rodriguez
    NATO Role 3, MMU
    APO AE 09355

    Wilfredo writes from a NATO-run, Role-3 hospital for US and Coalition Forces in Kandahar. . .

    I'm the only chaplain at this hospital which has a 35-bed ward, a 12-bed ICU, a 12-bed ER with a full staff, including doctors and psychiatrists. We serve soldiers of all countries-French, Belgians, Germans, Australians, Canadians, Slovakians, Romanians, and the Afghan people. It's like the United Nations here. You can call it a good will mission.

    It's a combat environment.

    As a licensed social worker, I counsel people and as chaplain, I lead religious services for NATO soldiers. The chaplain is part of the Trauma & Mental Health team. The Dept of Defense realizes chaplains play a critical role in the overall health of the troops. Part of what we do is work with psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and social work in evaluating the psyche and spirituality of our soldiers and sailors. It is my hope that one day NBTS introduce a D.Min. in Military Chaplaincy with an emphasis in Pastoral Care.

    As a chaplain, I talk to the staff and military personnel about the hard-to-ask questions. 'How can this awful thing happen?' and 'Where was God when...?' As both a chaplain and social worker sometimes the answers are not always clear or obvious. I'm always cautious about giving a pat answer, because often they do more harm than good.

    As a chaplain I journey with my patients in their pain and frustration. In the end, people appreciate a chaplain who's there along side them. This is ministry of presence.

    This is my third military deployment. I was in Kuwait in 2003, Iraq in 2006, and now in 2013, Afghanistan. I love bringing the presence of God into places of darkness, including war.

    As seminarian at NBTS, I took advantage of a joint MDIV-MSW program. The joint program opened up the doors for me. The fact that now I'm dealing with so much trauma and PTSD, the combo degree helps me identify a lot of the clinical factors, combat stress, substance abuse. When I received my MDIV, first I served as a pastor in Queens and then I completed the CPE program [clinical pastoral education] at Bellevue Hospital in 1996.

    As a chaplain at Bellevue I witnessed the terrorist events of September 11, 2001 from less than two miles away. When the first plane hit I saw the smoke billow from 1 WTC .

    This month, 12 years later, I ran the 9/11 service at Kandahar, in the hospital courtyard at 8:30. It was a tranquil day, about 100 degrees and really dry high up here in the mountains. There was a solemnity about it.

    Everyone was in formation. We read psalm 48. Our skipper spoke for peace, restoration, praying for those who lost loved ones. There was a moment of silence. Then the ringing of four bells, one for the people who perished with each plane. I offered this prayer:

    Eternal Father, strong to save, you are our help and shelter in times of trouble Lord, today our hearts are troubled and heavy as we remember the significance of this day. For we can never forget what happened this day. Our lives and innocence were suddenly crushed, shattered, and broken. We bring our broken pieces to you, dear Father. Comfort the families of those who perished that day, care for the survivors whose pain never dies. We especially remember the firefighters and police officers who lost their lives trying to save lives. Help us bind the wounded, comfort the afflicted, and deliver our nation from evil. In the end, we must believe that goodness will prevail, Justice will endure, and righteousness will shine. This we pray in God's Name. Amen

    Chaplain Wilfredo Rodriguez, USNR, CDR
    MDiv (NBTS 94) MSW, LSW, BCC

    Read Rutgers University's profile of Wilfredo here

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