I am a religious affairs specialist at the Joint Mission Training Center in Ukraine.
I was nervous after receiving this assignment. I worked in the garrison religious support office and was deploying, testing my skills and competencies. The environments and expectations would be different and I had to learn how to provide religious support to Soldiers in the operational environment quickly.
Changing mindsets was a challenge. When I arrived to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, I felt behind compared to other specialists. I was determined to succeed and have learned a lot about my role on this deployment. Providing religious support in a tactical environment has stretched me and formed me as a Soldier and a leader within my unit.
Religion is the center of gravity to the Ukrainians. Every Sunday, large groups of locals walk into Catholic Mass or make signs of the cross as they pass by churches. The Ukrainian Army does not use equipment until the chaplain has blessed it. In public schools, there are religion classes taught by the local priest. The Ukrainians’ religious devotion has created a unique environment for the unit ministry team.
We have conducted religious leader engagements from the local level to the presidential level of Ukraine. The unit ministry team also has visited more than 50 churches. The Ukrainians are very hospitable and welcoming, our visits mean a lot to them. They always have a reception after the church service, where we are invited to try excellent traditional Ukrainian food.
The best part of this deployment are the community outreach events. The unit ministry team has helped high school students learn English, bonded with children at rehabilitation centers, and so many other opportunities to show love and support. Additionally, my unit ministry team has initiated getting Soldiers engaged with these outreach opportunities to give them a better understanding of Ukrainian culture and expand our ability to help and care for the Ukrainian community around us.
My responsibility as a religious affairs specialist here in Ukraine has been extremely rewarding. I’ve grown through ministry of presence at ranges and religious services, during training exercises and organizing community outreach events.
During this deployment, I have met so many great Ukrainian people and have gotten the full experience of being a battalion religious affairs specialist. This mission has definitely developed me professionally and personally. Pro Deo et Patria!