The job of a military chaplain serving in a war zone goes well beyond conducting religious rituals and offering spiritual counseling. Soldiers are beset by stress, exhaustion, fear, loneliness — and all too often the pain of losing friends in combat. A unit's chaplain is frequently the person a young solider turns to for counseling and comfort.
Our guest, Father John Barkemeyer, left a parish on Chicago's South Side to become an Army chaplain in 2003, the year U.S. and coalition forces invaded Iraq. There's a shortage of Catholic priests in the Army, and for much of his current tour in Iraq, Barkemeyer has been the service's only Catholic chaplain in the province of Anbar.
His Iraq journal — with entries about traveling to Mass in a Humvee, the impossibility of exercising in 145-degree heat, and more — has been published in the Daily Southtown, a newspaper serving his former parish in Chicago's Morgan Park.
We spoke to Father Barkemeyer recently when he was home in Chicago for a brief R&R break. He left for Iraq today to complete his 15-month tour of duty.