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Tuesday, February 17

Chaplain goes wherever he's needed

By Honolulu Advertiser

CAMP VIRGINIA, KUWAIT - Army chaplain Everett Franklin is one of the most traveled soldiers in camp.

If soldiers don't go to him, he goes to them. The 41-year-old captain, a Pentecostal who ministers to the 600 soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment from Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, pops into tents and meets and greets soldiers wherever he finds them.

He calls it "ministry of presence."

Chaplains ``mingle and go where the soldiers are, because they may talk to you," Franklin said. "Especially as the anxiety gets higher, I try to circulate more. I ask about their families and how are they doing. Have they contacted home?"

A combat veteran who was with the 3rd Infantry Division as it fought its way to Baghdad, Iraq, last year, Franklin tells the soldiers to rely not only on their weapons but also faith in God.

"Sometimes when you hear that pop or see that flash and know it's coming our way, you can trust God," Franklin said. "Don't think you can do this on your own."

Combat stress teams counsel soldiers, but chaplains are on the front lines of soldiers' lives.

A man who has to be gregarious by job description but has a low-key approach, Franklin says he gets "any issue that you can imagine."

"Generally, relationship issues are very big, and sometimes for the younger soldiers, adjustment issues - adjusting to the military, to an environment like this."

As the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) trained for its convoy trip to northern Iraq, Franklin said he's seeing a fairly normal reaction.

"Normal for a unit that's experiencing their first entry - for most of the soldiers - into a combat environment," said Franklin, who's married and has a 9-year-old daughter. "Think of it as a stressful environment, and when you multiply stressors on an individual, the more difficult it is to negotiate. Some will have problems."

There is also a process for soldiers to get counseling if they are having more difficulty than normal, but Franklin said soldiers overall "are confident, willing and determined" about the Iraq mission.

"Really, as far as equipping them to go forward, their training plays a huge role in giving them confidence," he said.

Spc. Giovanni Bennett, a 21-year-old rifle team leader from Georgetown, Texas, with Charlie Company, 1-21, said he appreciates Franklin being there.

"He'll do stuff for you at the last second, on the spot," Bennett said. "He'll listen whenever you need to talk."

Bennett said Franklin is a "very good chaplain. Nine times out of 10, he can probably help you with any problem you have."

A noncombatant who does not carry a weapon, Franklin was part of the vanguard that made its way from the south into Baghdad last spring. Along the way, his battalion lost four soldiers.

When that happened, "I did a lot of listening," Franklin said. "I ask them - and we're trained in this - what did they see? How did they experience it? What did they do? After that, we help them to work through it - which is normal stress counseling.

"The overwhelming majority want to do their part, and there's a great willingness to go forward and do their part," Franklin said.