/*********************************************** * Chrome CSS Drop Down Menu- (c) Dynamic Drive DHTML code library (www.dynamicdrive.com) * This notice MUST stay intact for legal use * Visit Dynamic Drive at http://www.dynamicdrive.com/ for full source code ***********************************************/
Minnesota National Guard
To hell and back

Priest describes life as an Army combat chaplain

Father Jerome Fehn, a priest of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis and a chaplain for the Army National Guard, has served in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq and Croatia Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

A line of young men and women clad in Army fatigues poured out of the plane into the sweltering, black night Still groggy after crossing several time zones, the soldiers boarded windowless buses waiting to transport them to their camp

“In the bus I sensed a very eerie silence,” said Father Jerome Fehn, a priest of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis who was one of the passengers that night in 2006 “I felt it was more than the fact that all of us were dog-tired, almost like, oh, gosh, we’re really here now The fact that anything could happen was already starting to hit us”

After six months of training at Mississippi’s Camp Shelby, the “Red Bulls” of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division finally had touched down in Kuwait, where they would remain for a short time before proceeding to their permanent base in southern Iraq

As the caravan of buses rolled through the desert that first night, Father Fehn remembers praying for the soldiers’ safety “That was my constant prayer,” he said

Providing spiritual support

Father Fehn joined the Army National Guard in 1998 Now a major, he served six months in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 17 months in Iraq, and, in June, two weeks in Croatia for a training exercise

As an Army chaplain, Father Fehn’s mission is to provide spiritual and emotional support to the soldiers Although he is a Catholic priest, in the Army he serves soldiers of all faiths, ensuring that their religious and spiritual needs are met

“A chaplain’s motto is: ‘Nurture the living, care for the wounded, honor the dead,’” he said “That’s our mantra”

In 2006, Father Fehn’s battalion received notice that it would soon be deployed to Iraq At 54, Father Fehn was three decades older than many of his fellow soldiers Nevertheless, he completed the Army’s grueling training regimen — climbing over and under obstacles, running, learning how to march and salute properly

In Iraq, Father Fehn wore everything the other soldiers wore: 40-pound body armor, a helmet, glasses, gloves — everything except a weapon An armed soldier protected him during dangerous missions
At times the mercury would soar to 120 degrees “But it’s a dry heat,” the priest added in all seriousness
Days were long At 5 am he would rise for prayer Sometimes his work wouldn’t be finished until after midnight

In addition to celebrating Mass and the sacraments, Father Fehn attended meetings, conducted suicide awareness workshops, and counseled the soldiers wherever they were stationed — in the motor pool, the supply room, the garbage dump

“You can’t sit in the office in a rocking chair waiting for them to come,” Father Fehn said “As a chaplain at the battalion level, you’ve got to go to them and present yourself”

That often meant putting himself in harm’s way

“It’s always a scary thing to be out there because you never know what can happen,” Father Fehn said “Even when I was in the base, we would get occasional rocket fire and mortar attacks You’d hear ‘Ba-boom!’ and you’d immediately put on your equipment”

During Father Fehn’s time in Iraq, three members of his battalion died One soldier was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle, another died in a vehicle accident, and the third suffered a medical condition Father Fehn presided at memorial ceremonies for all three

After a loss, he would make himself present to any soldier who wanted to talk “They ask questions like all of us do,” he said “‘Where is God in all of this? How does this fit with my faith? Why this person? Why now?’”

Father Fehn also wrestles with tough questions “You’ve got war, but we are a church of peace You’ve got evil, but we are a church of forgiveness How does one rectify and help the soldiers who do battle and who may have to kill and who have killed with [spiritual laws like]: ‘Do not kill Turn the other cheek If your enemy makes you walk one mile, walk two If he wants your coat, hand him your shirt as well’”

“You can understand defense,” he added, “but how do you make that jump to doing battle with another country, another people? That’s probably the hardest thing”

Thirty-year training

Military chaplain Father Jerome Fehn celebrates Christmas Mass in 2006 in ancient Ur, the birthplace of Abraham Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Wood/ United States Army

When he is not on active duty, Father Fehn serves as a hospital chaplain at Fairview-Southdale Hospital in Edina and Methodist Hospital in St Louis Park

Nearly 30 years of hospital chaplaincy work prepared him well for the Army, he said He has learned to accept people wherever they are in their faith journeys without judgment

“All those years of hospital ministry converted like hand in glove because when I see soldiers I don’t know if they have faith or don’t have faith,” Father Fehn said “But they are a child of God, and I try to do my best to respect that, to honor that, to give witness to my faith if the opportunity should present itself, but always making sure that the person knows that they are important”

As a hospital chaplain, Father Fehn has dealt with death and dying countless times While that work helped to prepare him for the battlefield, still he hasn’t grown accustomed to it

“The day that I get used to it, the day that I can’t cry with a family or shed tears with a soldier because of a tragedy is the day that I have to quit doing hospital work, quit being an Army chaplain,” Father Fehn said “If it doesn’t make you pause and think and feel sad inside, then something is wrong, something has happened to you Somehow you encased yourself

“You have to have some type of [emotional] cushion,” he added, “but it should never be a hard, steel cushion You’ve still got to feel for what you’re doing”

Father Fehn said he realized long ago the importance of having someone in his life to talk with, to provide spiritual and emotional support when his work begins to weigh on him “You can’t keep getting all this dumped on you and expect to carry it yourself,” he said

Prayer and a close relationship with Jesus Christ are vital, he said “But even Christ himself ran up to the mountain a couple of times and got away from his apostles, got away from the crowds He knew the importance of regrouping in his own heart and mind with his relationship to God He also had Lazarus, Martha and Mary, a close relationship with the three of them”

Challenges and rewards

Despite its many challenges, chaplaincy work also has its rewards

In Iraq, Father Fehn welcomed several new Catholics into the church, validated the wedding of two soldiers, and celebrated Christmas Eve Mass at the traditional birthplace of Abraham, the father of our faith

At 58, Father Fehn is approaching the Army’s retirement age of 60; however, he hopes the Army will allow him to serve for several more years

“In the Apostles’ Creed, I like the phrase that the church uses — Jesus descended into hell,” he said, slapping the table for emphasis “And on the third day, he rose again

“If not me, then who would bring the word of God to people who are seemingly living in hell?”

Army to priests: We want you

Gen George Washington established the Chaplain Corps in 1775 — a year before the United States officially became a nation — making it the second oldest branch of the US Army

Today about 230 active duty Catholic priests serve 15 million Catholics in all branches of the armed services, according to Deacon Michael Yakir, chancellor for the Archdiocese for the Military Services in Washington, DC

The dwindling number of priests in recent years has led to a severe shortage of Catholic military chaplains, Deacon Yakir said He has heard stories of priest chaplains serving as many as 20 bases, meaning some Catholic soldiers have access to Mass only about once every six weeks Another 400 priests are needed to meet the demand, the deacon said

Four Minnesota Catholic priests currently serve as military chaplains: Father Jerome Fehn, Army National Guard; Father John Echert and Father Thomas Foster, Air National Guard; and Father Lawrence Blake, Air Force Reserve

Article source

Articles archive

In The News archive

Media Advisory archive

Latest News

Minnesota Guardsmen learn survival skills, train with Norwegian counterparts

Posted: 2018-07-03  01:36 PM
NOREX 45 Over the course of 10 days, 100 Soldiers and Airmen from the Minnesota National Guard who traveled to Norway June 17-26, 2018, for the 45th Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange learned valuable survival skills and shared their knowledge with members of the Norwegian Home Guard. This year's exchange was the second to take place during the summer months in the history of the longest-running military partnership between two nations.

"It was a great experience for both the Minnesota National Guard and the Norwegian Home Guard," said Capt. 'Kiwi' HorgA�ien, the senior Norwegian instructor. "A cultural exchange, a social exchange and military exchange all packed into one."

The 45th exchange got off to a late start, with flight delays causing the trip to be shortened from its normal length of two weeks. The delay meant that the Minnesota Guardsmen jumped right into training, heading out to the field after just a few hours of sleep.

133rd Airlift Wing Emphasizes Combat Readiness Training

Posted: 2018-06-29  10:48 AM
Alpena ALPENA, Michigan - Approximately 300 U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 133rd Airlift Wing participated in a readiness exercise at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Alpena, Mich.

The exercise, tagged as Iron Ore, was designed test the Airmen abilities to set up operations at an unfamiliar location and receive in depth training on Ability-To-Survive and Operate (ATSO) principles while supporting airlift and aeromedical flight operations.

To ensure mission success and readiness, Airmen had to complete training at home station prior to leaving for Alpena. Some of this training included weapons qualification, gas mask fit testing, Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) familiarization, self-aid and buddy care and career field training.

Red Bulls Kickoff Division Warfighter

Posted: 2018-06-13  01:38 PM
DIV WFX CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. - "A Warfighter is an exercise that allows the Division to evaluate their ability to maneuver assets in a battle," said Master Sgt. Greg Weaver, the Operations Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge for the Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion. "It is designed to focus on particular areas and specific objectives to be evaluated or tested."

The Division has geared its' planning and training efforts in preparation for Warfighter since July 2017. Coordinating transportation for Soldiers and equipment was often on the mind of Maj. David Johansson, the logistics officer for the 34th ID. With the coordination of Johansson and his team, troops and equipment all converged on Camp Atterbury, enlisting the help of 89 railcars, 280 tractor-trailers, and nearly 50 buses for the movement.

"I like to say my job is to 'quiet the noise'". Johansson continued, "The noise being a real life logistical problem that could impede the exercise."

Minnesota-based aviation unit takes part in Warfighter Exercise

Posted: 2018-06-08  11:59 AM
34ECAB WFX CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. - More than 150 Soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade are here participating in a multi-echelon training event, Warfighter Exercise 18-5, May 30 to June 15.

The exercise, which is part live and part virtual, is testing the St. Paul, Minnesota-based aviation unit's ability to conduct operations and mission command in a high-intensity, complex operating environment. Soldiers are being challenged to take decisive action as they focus on air-ground operations -- or synchronizing and integrating aviation operations into the scheme of maneuver planned and conducted by forces on the ground.

In this case, the units on the ground are being commanded by the Rosemount, Minnesota-based 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, which is also participating in the exercise.

Article archive