Chaplains trained to serve troops of all faiths
With fewer than a dozen Muslim chaplains in the U.S. military, there aren’t enough to go around.
No Muslim chaplains are assigned to units in mainland Japan, Okinawa or South Korea.
South Korea — where about 75 airmen and soldiers identify themselves as Muslim — has been without a Muslim chaplain since 2002, when two were based on the peninsula, according to Col. Sam Boone, U.S. Forces Korea command chaplain.
Many are “serving in or getting ready to go into Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said.
Also in short supply at military chapels worldwide are Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis. That’s why military chaplains are trained to minister to troops of all faiths, chaplains say.
As a Lutheran, it’s Chaplain Lt. Col. Steven Nicolai’s duty to baptize babies. But Nicolai, the 35th Fighter Wing chaplain at Misawa Air Base, Japan, also would be obligated to provide Torahs, for example, to Jewish military members if they requested them.
“My job is to … provide the support they (military personnel) need to grow in their faith tradition,” he said.
Chaplain Capt. Dawud Agbere, who said he’s one of six U.S. Army Muslim chaplains, ministers to mostly Christian soldiers in his unit at Fort Jackson, S.C.
As a Muslim chaplain, Agbere wears the crescent moon insignia on his uniform. But “most soldiers don’t even notice the crescent on the uniform,” he said.
“They just know you’re a chaplain and want you take care of them.”
Agbere does provide counseling and ministry specifically to Muslims. At a typical Friday service, when Muslims gather for community worship and recite their Jumah prayers, between 40 and 50 soldiers might be in attendance. The Army sends Arabic translators to training at Fort Jackson.
But the issues he most commonly helps Muslims with are nondenominational.
“Muslim soldiers are like any other soldier,” he said. “They have human concerns — issues of family, of financial problems, of how to accomplish the mission.
“I take care of soldiers regardless of their background. I believe in common humanity. Common humanity is what bonds us together.”