The things that we choose to care about as a military bureaucracy never ceases to be a source of amusement and awe to me, but I never suspected the chaplains to be the source of this entertainment.
In the logistics community we have a method of tracking commodities at all of our supported locations which is nothing more than calculating how many days of supply are on hand and dividing it by how many days of supply are required. This gives us a percentage which we then assign a color based on it's value. This sounds pretty confusing, but aside from ensuring that we have the right amount of supplies on hand it serves several other purposes. One, it plays to the inherent geeky nature of the logisitcian and our natural tendency to multiply and divide every permutation and combination of numbers presented to us and track them in mind-boggling spreadsheets. Two, it allows us to make really snappy looking color-coded charts in Powerpoint when we brief our higher headquarters, and finally, it allows us loggies to use cool sounding military terms during those briefings, like "Sir, you can see that Gardez, is Green across the board, but Tarin Kowt and Kandahar are Amber and Red in Class III respectively and K2 is black in class V."
Now the Chaplains are a different breed of soldier, and aside from their counseling and services, they pretty much keep to themselves and march to the beat of a different drum, but this sort of tracking system with all it's benefits was apparently too tantalizing for them not to use. So now during our staff meetings, we have the opportunity to see the chaplain's snappy color-coded chart and listen to him use cool military souding jargon like "Sir, you can see that Salerno is green across the board for all services, but Mazar-E-Sharif is amber for Protestant services, while Jalalabad and Asadabad are red and black respectively for Catholic coverage."
Just as the logistician can't deny his natural tendency for numbers and statistics, the military bureaucrat is a slave to his urge to give guidance and direction based on those snappy color-coded charts so now the plan to keep all the locations green on the chaplain's chart has to be managed to the nth degree. In some perverse kind of way, this not only makes sense, it works, and all those green dots on the snappy looking charts translate into happy soldiers whose every physical and spiritual need has been satisfied.
Leave it to us, LTF 191, to bring this well-oiled machine to a grinding halt.
We worked long hard hours to ensure that our chaplain and his dedicated assistant deployed here with everything they could possibly need to serve the spiritual needs of the soldier. They were very excited about the mission and the opportunity to bring God's word to the needy in an austere environment. The military community here was ecstatic to have him coming because there is a decided shortage of Catholic priests not only in Afghanistan, but Army wide. They were excited that is until they found out that our chaplain isn't Roman Catholic, but Orthodox Catholic.
"He isn't Catholic." cries the one Roman Catholic chaplain in the CJOA who disappears for weeks at a time to a single remote little node while the remainder of his supervisor's snappy color-coded chart turns from green to amber to black. "His services don't count for Catholic coverage."
"But Sir," cries our chaplain, "Canon Law explicitly states that a Roman Catholic can receive the sacrament of the eucharist from an Orthodox Catholic priest, if a Roman Catholic priest is not available. They don't get any more unavailable than here."
"He still provides an important service that is in high demand." States the good natured Chaplain peace-keeper in the area. "Put him in the rotation for coverage throughout the area. Call it Liturgical Services."
"But Sir," cries the maker of snappy looking charts, "We don't have a category for 'Liturgical Services' and even if we did, he would be the only one who could provide coverage and all the dots would be black unless he lived on the road."
"Well, the Archdiocese of the military says he isn't Catholic, and we know he's christian, so put him down as a protestant."
"But Sir," cries the protestant chaplain "He isn't a Protestant. Trust me, I'm a protestant, I can give you the history of protestants, and I provide all the protestant coverage we need here. He might not be Roman Catholic, but he is Catholic, you know, like Catholic Lite, or something."
"Chaplain," cries Firepower 5 "Why aren't you out on the road spreading God's word and cheer while providing for the spiritual needs of our soldiers?"
"Sir," says the Chaplain forlornley, "There are no colored dots for me on the snappy looking charts."
Now, the old adage is that there are no atheists in foxholes, and I have seen a lot of truth to that here. I see a lot more people bowing their heads before meals in the mess hall here than I did in Germany, and there are a lot fewer excuses to be found for not being at the chapel on Sunday morning. The bible studies through the week get a very regular attendance, and the gospel choir is going strong. At the end of they day it's really between you and the big guy in the head office as to what your relationship is with him and all a soldier really needs is a counselor and confessor and somone to take the lead in getting the "Liturgical" ball rolling.
"Chaplain," says Firepower 5 reassuringly, "You go ahead and get on a helicopter and start making the rounds to where all our soldiers are. I'll have Lance Corporal Jason Dominguez make you a snappy looking chart all you own, and we'll make sure you keep all the dots green."
Having grown up the son of a minister, I have had the opportunity to attend the services of a plethora of different faiths. I have practiced Catholicism for nearly a decade, and I have attended our chaplain's masses. When he blesses me; I feel blessed. When he absolves me; I feel absolved. I think the rest is between me and the big guy and I feel pretty confident St. Peter won't be consulting any snappy looking charts on judgement day.