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Friday
Jul 25th

Walking with the wounded: The life of an army chaplain

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Rev. Felicia Hopkin

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - More than 3,700 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since U.S. troop deployment began on March 19, 2003, according to the U.S Department of Defense. So many of these fallen soldiers have had their stories told via television broadcast, memorial services and newspaper articles. Rarely are the stories of their caretakers told.
WASHINGTON (NNPA) - More than 3,700 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since U.S. troop deployment began on March 19, 2003, according to the U.S Department of Defense. So many of these fallen soldiers have had their stories told via television broadcast, memorial services and newspaper articles. Rarely are the stories of their caretakers told.

"Once I got there, I had to figure out what my job was, and it came to be bringing hope, praying with people and their families. You go to work every day and do the best you can," says the Rev. Felicia Hopkins, an associate pastor at St Mark's United Methodist Church in El Paso, Texas. She is also a recently retired chaplain major in the United States Army Reserves. Hopkins served a thirteen-month tour in Landstuhl, Germany from March 2003 until late February 2004, as well as an additional seven-month tour in the U.S. at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Fort Bliss, Texas.

"[The ministry team] counseled the soldiers, people who couldn't find their families. We ran a clothes closet for discharged soldiers. We also kept the hospital staff's morale up, because these people still have families back home, but have to work," she recalls.

Being away from her own family, including her husband Douglass and her two sons, Samuel, 12, and Adam, 9, Hopkins worked fourteen to sixteen hours a day with the patients in the trauma unit, the intensive care unit and the surgical area on the fourth floor, and with the 600 medical professionals that went with her. Hopkins also preached seven p.m. church services at the Germany hospital on Sunday.

Ecumenism was the goal when it came to spiritually counseling the wounded and dying patients.
"There were five chaplains and I took care of all Protestant patients. We hired a Catholic priest that worked in Germany who spoke English; Jewish patients were allowed to visit nearby synagogues, the hospital staff brought in an imam for Muslim patients," she said.

The hospital where Hopkins worked, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest overseas U.S. military hospital, was a stopping point for all injured soldiers, civilians and contractors.

"Our job was to either send people back to the war if their injuries were minor, or if their injuries were severe, we would send them to Walter Reed Medical Center, Brook Army Medical Center and Bethesda Medical Center and then they'd go home," she said.
Several prisoners of war who received media coverage went through Landstuhl.

"We prayed over Jessica Lynch and the other prisoners of war that came through our hospital. There were two pilots that came in. We took care of all kinds of people. There were soldiers from Germany, Italy, Korea; all of those people came in on the way to wherever they were going."

Tours of duty are harsh on the mind and body, she said. "Some people can only do three months, four months. I did thirteen months overseas and seven when I got back. It's amazing looking back years later and seeing how much trauma you took on. I looked at all the things God took me through and realized that God took me through that for a reason."

Despite her feeling that there is a purpose and reason for everything in life, Hopkins pointed out, "I'm a retiree, the Army's been good to me, but when we went to war, we thought we'd be doing the world this great service. But when we didn't find what we came there for, the weapons of mass destruction, morale really dropped. I mean, we left our families, our lives back home and for what?"
Hopkins shared in the question many Americans have been wondering since the war began.

"Thirty-six thousand soldiers have died and I wonder, ‘what was it for?' I don't think we'll ever know. I look at people we t
 

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