By Tom Kitson
Serving as a military chaplain in the Australian Defence Force takes a soldier-like commitment to the cause, while always remaining a pastor of the church and servant of the gospel.
Australian Regular Army chaplain Rev Ken Schmidt is based at the Royal Australian Air Force Base at Edinburgh in South Australia with the 7th Infantry Battalion. He is a veteran, with more than 30 years of service. He served for 24 years as a part-time Reserves chaplain before going full-time, in the process learning the ins and outs of the life of a modern Australian soldier.
With that experience comes an understanding of the vast differences between present-day soldiers and those who were shipped off to war in the past.
‘There’s a great difference between the personnel who went to war in the First World War and today’s troops in terms of preparedness’, Pastor Ken says.
‘The first Australian soldiers went to war with little more than enthusiasm and a sense of adventure. Today’s troops are well trained and very aware of the situations they are getting into.’
‘Previously, those who went to war were generally interested in joining and supporting the nation’s effort, rather than physically standing behind a gun and fighting, whereas today’s Australian soldier is one of the best cross-trained and one of the best equipped in the world.’
Royal Australian Air Force chaplain Pastor Mark Kleemann is based in the remote community of Tindal in the Northern Territory. He was previously deployed in Afghanistan, where he was required to wear body armour and carry a weapon for self-protection.
Pastor Mark ministers collaboratively with a Baptist chaplain to an audience of service personnel, 95 per cent of whom are non-Christian. A nonjudgemental approach is essential.
‘In a civilian parish you will be ministering to a lot of like-minded people theologically, but on base we need to be inclusive and communal because we work with people of Jewish, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds as well’, he says. ‘We make no apologies for being Christian chaplains, but we are sensitive to everyone’s journey in life.’
Among hard times and tough situations he has also experienced joyous occasions, where people have either come to faith or a seed has been planted. by Tom Kitson Vol 49 No3 P93 Military chaplains face many challenges as they support Australian troops