Since the opening days of the American Revolution, army chaplains have accompanied soldiers into battle to bring them encouragement and religious support in times of danger. More than 25,000 chaplains have served in the armies of the United States since 1775. Four hundred have given their lives in wartime while bringing God to soldiers and soldiers to God.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was no exception. Beginning with the first airstrike against Baghdad on March 19, 2003, the US-led coalition forces moved forward with their chaplains and support units to launch the ground war into Iraq. Some 702 Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and United Kingdom chaplains accompanied five US and UK divisions and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force into the desert on March 20. Opposing this incursion were 23 Iraqi divisions, 17 from the regular army and six Republican Guard divisions charged with the defense of Baghdad. The combined strength of these Iraqi divisions was estimated at 400,000 soldiers, 2,200 tanks, and 2,400 armored personnel carriers.
The point of the spear for the coalition forces consisted of the 3rd Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division, and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (reinforced) attacking on parallel axes of advance toward Baghdad. The 173rd Airborne Brigade seized the Iraqi airfield at Bashur in northern Iraq and was reinforced by the 4th Infantry Division in turn.
In this portrayal if battlefield ministry by a chaplain, perhaps in the southern approach to Baghdad, unit patches of both the 3rd Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division are visible. The female chaplain assistant provides armed protection while the other member of her unit ministry team, her chaplain, speaks to a wounded soldier. These soldiers of God, the chaplain and his assistant, mirror thee dedicated ministries of the 87 chaplains and 84 chaplain assistants who accompanied the 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne soldiers into battle in March of 2003.
If there is one scriptural verse that may typify the chaplain’s message, perhaps it is found in Joshua 1: 9: “Be strong and of a good courage. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” The message was simple. The chaplain and the assistant were always there, but even more so was God present to comfort, to provide strength and to help in time of trouble.