A Chaplain’s Story

At about 2:00 a.m. on the day I was to return to work after my summer vacation, I was awakened by the ringing of the phone. When you’re a military chaplain, that’s not a good sign. It was the deputy commanding officer informing me that three soldiers in my unit had been killed in an explosion overseas in Afghanistan.

I spent the next hours locating the next of kin and informing them of the incident and the loss of their loved ones.

When things like this happen, the wheels start spinning really fast. Within 48 hours of the news being shared with the family, we were on our way to Trenton, Ontario.

For most people this is when the surreal becomes real. Most people experience shock and denial when they first hear the news, but when they see the flag-draped caskets unloaded off the plane, their loss really hits hard.

We often think of the families at this time, but others grieve deeply too. Each soldier is brought home by a friend in the unit. Even in the midst of tragedy, I was glad I could be there. Knowing the soldiers and being known by them gave them comfort, and they shared with me their personal concerns and concerns for their friends, both present and still overseas. It is sacred to be invited into the pain of others.

One of the families remained in Ontario and laid their soldier to rest at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa, while the remaining two families returned to their hometowns in Alberta and Saskatchewan. As the unit chaplain, I assisted in the funerals for the latter two.

As soon as the soldiers were laid to rest, I headed back to Edmonton, Alberta, to prepare and present briefings to other families whose soldiers are to come home soon, preparing them for their reunion. In the military we call it “Reunion Stress.” It’s the period of time when families who have been separated go through the transition of getting to know one another again.

The future has its uncertainties. I have been told that I will likely be changing units next year, but plans change frequently in this environment. One place I know that I am in, though, is in the hands of our Lord and Savior. Amid all the turmoil, he has been a strength and light for me and for many of those he has placed in my path.

About the Author

Rev. David Sutherland is a Christian Reformed chaplain serving in the Canadian Forces. He is based in Edmonton, Alberta, and ministers with a team of chaplains to the 5,000-plus members of Edmonton Garrison and their families.