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Military chaplains complete the same physical training that all soldiers do, and stand side by side with them in most every situation. But chaplains don’t carry weapons. Their uniforms are marked with small religious symbols, designating the chaplaincy as a “special force” all its own.

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Scranton, Pa.’s Leon Kircher felt a “call” to join the army when he was 17. Sixteen years later, he felt a “call” to become a military chaplain.

Maj. Leon Kircher / United Methodist chaplain: “You can have anywhere from 500 to 1,200 soldiers. It’s a church filled with every denomination or church organization there is in the world.”

And now his congregation, based at Ft. Campbell in Kentucky, is preparing for war. Leaving his home base for the battlefield is nothing new for this 47-year-old veteran. He was with the troops in the 1991 Gulf War.

Maj. Leon Kircher: “I was part of the scud-busting unit, so we were located near airfields in large cities. And it wasn’t so much me holding soldiers as being around some of the civilians who were dying or wounded.”

Chaplains go everywhere soldiers do.

Maj. Leon Kircher: “They’re in the thick of things with the guys. And when they’re loading those helicopters to transport our guys into some bad area, chaplains are going to be on those first few helicopters.”

Ft. Campbell’s chaplains represent the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. Soldiers outnumber these spiritual advisors 500 to 1 ... but Kircher and his colleagues are not daunted by their overwhelming task. They say it just deepens their “calling.”

Maj. Leon Kircher: “We have got to keep these chaplains in there, because of that guy and that man or woman or his family. Otherwise, we’ve just ignored them in the most trying time of their lives.”

Special Forces – Tag:

Chaplain Kircher baptized a number of soldiers during the Gulf War. He expects to do the same on this tour of duty. He advises families left behind to stay near the base, because there are support systems there, and there’s, of course, the strength of sharing common difficulties.