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Vincentian priest joins troops in Iraq

Vincentian priest joins troops in Iraq

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by Nelson A. King in New York

When prominenT Vincentian-born clergyman the Rev. Dr. Glyger Beache joined the U.S. Army Reserves 21 years ago, he knew that one day he would probably be deployed to full combat action. {{more}}

But Rev. Beache, 53, a lieutenant colonel who serves as a senior chaplain at Ft. Toppen, Flushing, Queens, did not know that he would be among American fighting men and women and coalition troops fighting in what many, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan, have described as an illegal war in Iraq.

So when the senior pastor at Vanderveer Park United Methodist Church in Brooklyn received orders for active duty in Iraq, effective December 2, he and his beloved congregation, estimated to be on average about 750 souls on Sundays, wept and prayed profusely.

“They’re saddened,” said Rev. Beache in an interview, referring to his congregation, before leaving for Ft. Dix in New Jersey where he would join other soldiers heading for Iraq.

“There’s a whole lot of love,” he said. “We cried and prayed. We’re strengthened because over 700 people are praying for me.”

Rev. Beache said that it is extremely difficult leaving his Jamaican-born wife, six children, other relatives, friends, acquaintances, well-wishers, and thousands of Christians behind for 545 days, noting that in combat anything can happen.

But he said that his abiding faith in Jesus Christ and allegiance to duty, honour and country have kept him in high spirits.

“If I get killed, I gave my life for my God and country,” said Rev. Beache, a naturalized United States citizen.

United States citizenship is not required for individuals wishing to become members of the Armed Forces. Permanent residency suffices.

“The United States Army is a volunteer army,” Rev. Beache added. “Nobody forces you to join the military.”

On completion of their contracts, many service men and women have been forced to remain on active duty. The military says the reason is to maintain troop strength in Iraq.

Some have even successfully sued the military for compelling them to report for duty in Iraq even when they have already completed their military obligations.

The war in Iraq, many say, has spiraled out of control under the Bush presidency. And many fear that their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and other relatives may never return home alive, or will return severely maimed.

Rev. Beache, who will be the supervising chaplain for 20,000 soldiers attached to the 301st Large Support Group stationed in Baghdad, said that his family had discussed these issues at great lengths.

“It’s something we’ve prayed about, prepared for,” he said. “I’m fully aware of the kind of mission.

“All along the way, my family and I have been sitting down and praying,” he added. “They feel sad.”

But he said that he would be fully committed to counselling, consoling and providing religious support to his fellow soldiers on the battlefield.

“The families would like to know that they have a ‘Man of God’ caring for them,” he said, indicating that he, too, will undergo rigorous military actions.

The only consolation, he said: “If captured, we’re [chaplains] not prisoners of war. We’re detainees.”

Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, the No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has warned that if troop strength is not significantly increased in Iraq, security would be further eroded.

The Pentagon is expected to add 5,000 more troops before January to the existing 138,000 American soldiers in Iraq. This is to bolster the force before the January 30 elections there.

“We will make a further assessment as we get a little bit closer [to the elections],” Smith said, “and as we understand what the impact of Fullujah is on the entire country.”

Though Rev. Beache will be located a considerable distance from Fullujah, he may be called to duty there, where 12,000 Marines and soldiers and about 2,500 Iraqi forces recently launched a new offensive.

Some reports point out that nearly 1,300 American troops have been killed and 8,956 wounded since the Iraqi war began on March 19, 2003.

“The loss of life and limb of our soldiers in Iraq continues unabatedly in a far away land,” said Manuel Valenzuela, an attorney and author of “Echoes in the Wind”, a novel about the war. Like our leaves, soldiers continue to fall and die, their bodies devoid of a life once so full of energy.

“The thousands of physically wounded and mentally scarred survivors that return to our safe shores from the oil-filled deserts half a world away are swept under the rug of apathy by an administration concerned more for the President’s image than the sacrifices of those who left blood and limb in the sands of Mesopotamia,” he added.

The Rev. Dr. Randy Nugent, a retired United Methodist Church pastor who hails from Jamaica, will assume the senior pastorship at Vanderveer Park United Methodist Church until Rev. Beache returns from military duty.

Rev. Nugent is also former general secretary of the United Methodist Church’s Board of Global Ministries, an agency that reaches out to the rest of the world.

Rev. Beache said that it is the church’s policy to leave “a full elder” in charge whenever the assigned pastor is absent for a long period of time.

“My going represents the United Methodist Church’s contribution to the spiritual welfare of the soldiers,” Rev. Beache said.

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