U.S. Troops Attend Easter Services in Iraq

In Iraq, U.S. troops held sunrise services to mark Easter Sunday. It was a week for all religions — Jewish soldiers marked Passover, and the Muslim soldiers celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. But the majority of U.S. troops are Christian, and many came out to pray today at bases across Iraq.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News, I'm Debbie Elliott. In Iraq today, U.S. troops attended sunrise Easter services. It was a week for all religions. The few Jewish troops marked Passover and Muslim soldiers celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. NPR's Jamie Tarabay attended one of the Easter services in Baghdad and sent us this report.

(Soundbite of song Amazing Grace)

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Several hundred soldiers and workers at this military base gathered under a wet, gray sky as the service began. Worshipers swatted away mosquitoes and dragonflies as they prayed on a strip of dirt here at Camp Liberty. The area, with its manmade lake was once a sprawling collection of villas for Saddam Hussein and his privileged few.

Unidentified Man: Let us pray.

TARABAY: Now fighter jets streak over head and Americans lead Christian prayers. 29,000 coalition troops make Camp Liberty their home. The majority of them are members of the Fourth Infantry Division, or Fourth ID.

(Soundbite of singing)

TARABAY: Five chaplains from different Christian denominations led the service.

Mr. TOMMY PRESTON (Army Chaplain): Hallelujah. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. God bless you on this Easter Sunday.

TARABAY: Tommy Preston, originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, has been an Army chaplain for 21 years. He says there aren't enough clergy here, so many chaplains will perform several services.

Mr. PRESTON: We want to do that for them and to be a voice of hope in a situation that does seem hopeless. They're tuning in on what's really important and living and thinking not only about this life, but thinking of what else is there.

TARABAY: So much so, that conversions are on the rise.

Mr. PRESTON: It's amazing. Soldiers are really searching, spiritually, for strength, for help, and that helps keep them going day after day as they go out on these missions.

TARABAY: For many of the soldiers here, it's their second time in Iraq. Most were on the front line during the invasion. This time, though, many are restricted to their bases. Easter decorations are everywhere in one of the base's chow halls. Soldiers in the rhythm and blues band played at a lunch of baked glazed ham, sliced turkey, Cornish hens, shrimp Creole and country mashed potatoes. Private first class Rebecca Alex, a petite 24 year-old brunette, has been in Iraq since December. She's never left Camp Liberty and says she's never met an Iraqi.

Ms. Rebecca Alex (U.S. Army): It was pretty much kind of what I guessed to have a sibling that's also in the army. For him it was a lot different story than what I go through, because he was more outside of the wire.

TARABAY: Her dining companion, Robert Gordapan(ph) is one his third deployment to Iraq. He was part of Desert Storm in 1991. He expects his division to be sent back again but says this will be his last time.

Mr. ROBERT GORDAPAN (U.S. Army): I'm glad I'm here instead of out in the weeds, so to speak, but I think the mood is, we're pretty positive, but I'm also thinking, you know, is there an end to this? And I don't see no end in it. Then again, they're gonna figure it out.

TARABAY: Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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