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Capt. Raymond Folsom, command chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, leads services on Sunday at Assembly Area Hammer in northern Kuwait.

Capt. Raymond Folsom, command chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, leads services on Sunday at Assembly Area Hammer in northern Kuwait. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

Capt. Raymond Folsom, command chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, leads services on Sunday at Assembly Area Hammer in northern Kuwait.

Capt. Raymond Folsom, command chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, leads services on Sunday at Assembly Area Hammer in northern Kuwait. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

Capt. Raymond Folsom, the command chaplain for 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, serves Communion to Staff Sgt. Raymond Murphy at Assembly Area Hammer, Kuwait.

Capt. Raymond Folsom, the command chaplain for 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, serves Communion to Staff Sgt. Raymond Murphy at Assembly Area Hammer, Kuwait. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

ASSEMBLY AREA HAMMER, Northern Kuwait — Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

As an air of impending action settles over this desert staging area, soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment took time Sunday to worship and contemplate the operations they might soon embark upon.

“I think it’s a vital part of this mission that soldiers believe they have something to hold on to and that helps them be a bit more at ease going to war,” said Staff Sgt. Raymond Murphy, a 38-year-old from Queens, N.Y.

“Of course, as we get closer to the start of something, you see more guys out here that you’d never see at church back home.”

And so it was that under a scorching desert sun on Sunday, dozens of 1st Battalion soldiers placed in the sand a makeshift pulpit constructed of MRE boxes and a camouflaged poncho.

Many expect it will be their last organized service for a long time. Incremental steps, hints from commanders and an overall sense that something has to happen soon make most soldiers think they will be on the road to Baghdad by this time next week.

“Out here there isn’t much time to have a service, so you get together when you can, a couple of guys in a tent or sitting outside talking about the Bible,” said Pfc. Wesley Long, a 21-year-old from Orlando, Fla.

“We want this to start soon because we want to get home. If the shortest way home is through Baghdad, then so be it.”

At a Saturday night briefing for senior staff, the battalion commander told company commanders to make sure the soldiers had time off Sunday to attend services. Between the battalion and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, services can be offered in any denomination or religion.

Most members of the battalion are going on their ninth month in the desert; they first deployed on routine training in May 2002, stayed through Thanksgiving, then returned just after New Year’s.

“You’ll see a lot more guys turning to faith in the coming days,” said Capt. Raymond Folsom, the battalion chaplain.

With a freshly shaven head and a tiny mustache that has been the subject of much teasing by the soldiers, Folsom led a spirited one-hour service next to a row of medical vehicles.

Folsom, renowned in the battalion for telling jokes (some say they are funny, others say they are terrible), said what was probably on every soldier’s mind: In their darkest hour, everyone turns to a higher power.

Of course, some of the biggest concerns are more earth-bound than ethereal. Soldiers paid attention to both in the service.

“Body of Christ, blood of Christ, soldier wash your feet,” was the intonation as soldiers lined up for communion at the end of the service.

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