On Remembrance Day, November 11, the sacrifice of servicemen and women was honoured by the Adelaide Anglican Diocese.
The day was especially poignant, following Australia’s commitment to further military action in Iraq.
In every conflict since World War One, Defence Chaplains have assisted the people who serve Australia, caring for their emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Archbishop Jeffrey Driver reflects on the difficult question of when it is right or justified to enter into conflict.
“The fundamentalist answers are always the easy ones – the extremist leaders of ISIL have no doubts about the rightness of taking up arms to impose their view of the universe,” he says.
“The Christian tradition has a more nuanced approach, there are times when to take up arms, or to go to war, is the least evil thing to do.”
The Archbishop says it’s important to pause before taking action.
“In any situation where we might contemplate the use of military force, that touch of hesitancy, that note of caution and ambivalence, is the gift of our own humanity,” he says.
“So if there are times when we feel we must take up arms, let it always be with a heavy heart; and for people of faith may it always be with a prayer on our lips.”
“For stable and wealthy nations like Australia, the tragedy of conflict should always remind us that the very wealth and stability we cherish brings a responsibility within the global family,” the Archbishop says.
Defence Sunday, held annually the Sunday before Remembrance Day, recognises the contribution made by the Anglican Church to the lives of Defence personnel and their families.
The initiative of the Anglican Defence Bishop encourages parishes throughout Australia to pray for the work of Defence Chaplains.
The Rev’d Neil Mathieson has served in this role in South Australia for four years and is part of a vital support network for servicemen and women.
“One of the lovely things about Defence Chaplains is that our primary duty is one of care, and that allows us lots of flexibility and the ability to provide pastoral care
on a whole number of issues,” he says.
“There are a number of pressures – family life can be stressful for everyone, and throw in living away from home and deployment and it’s very difficult for people.”
While Defence Chaplains are commissioned members of the Defence Force and wear
the khaki uniform, the ‘Padres’ are well known as approachable confidants.
They visit workplaces, accompany personnel on exercises, and visit homes to assist in personal matters and provide support to families.
“It’s actually very similar, strangely enough, to School Chaplaincy in that you’re there for people and you talk to the principal, or in our case the Commanding Officer,” Neil says.
“Padres are seen as unthreatening, even though we hold some rank, and in essence we’re a friendly face.”
Neil has worked with the Adelaide University Regiment and currently cares for the Cadets and the 10th/27th Battalion.
Defence Chaplaincy wasn’t something Neil had considered before being approached by the Bishop of Defence but he decided to take it up and all the stages of traditional Defence Force recruiting, including ‘the dreaded physical’ followed.
“As I went through the process it felt more and more like it was the right thing to do,” Neil says.
To become a Special Service Officer
Neil also undertook courses at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in Canberra,
“Whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer or a medic we all do the same course in Canberra so we learn basics of how to be a soldier,” he says.
“Then there’s some Padre training that’s on top of that on how we conduct ourselves.”
The main tactic, according to Neil, is to always be present.
“The Chaplain’s department has a saying, ‘we loiter with intent’, so often we hang around what we call a ‘brew point’, which is a tea and coffee point,” he says.
“Most soldiers will come to that at some stage, and if you’re around you can start up a conversation.
“A lot of stuff is informal – I’ll just say ‘G’day’ and see how things are going.”
Once the initial rapport is established, Chaplains begin to build a trusted relationship with their charges.
“Chaplains are a very good release valve for people because most of the conversations we have are off the record,” Neil says
“People can ask questions and blow steam and all those sorts of things and know that it’s not necessarily going to go anywhere.”
With Australian Forces now in Iraq, Chaplains counsel soldiers and their loved ones through the stark reality of war.
“One of the soldiers told me he has another deployment, so he’s just about to go back to Iraq,” Neil says.
“That’s quite stressful for his family because it’s not a particularly fantastic place to be in.
“If we have a member who is going we catch up to see how they are and put in place a plan to contact the family on a fairly regular basis to make sure they’re ok.”
Defence Chaplaincy is far removed from parish duties, and Chaplains take on the challenges of Service life, entering conflict zones and experiencing family separation.
“Chaplains aren’t going to be out on the front lines so they won’t be on patrol, but still there is danger,” Neil says.
“When Chaplains went to Timor and they would go through the markets they would need to take an escort.
“So there are significant risks Chaplains undertake.”
Even when a military conflict is over and soldiers return from war the care provided by Chaplains continues.
“Then some people go on with their career and manage the things that they do.
“Each person responds differently to their experience.”
The strength of Chaplains is their ability to recognise and meet the individual needs of each person who makes up the Defence Force.
Whether standing by the side of soldiers or waiting with family for their return, Defence Chaplains are a solid foundation in times of instability.