Forest Boar has posted about Chaplain Frese previously on his blog; here is an update:
I recently received, through various roundabout means, the following update from Chaplain Michael Frese, who is serving in Andar Afganistan. His world is far more immediate than our own. Death is something always lurking in the shadows, and it randomly hits strong and healthy men in brutal ways. Here is his letter, describing his work, as well as a list of materials for care packages, and an address to send them. (Keep in mind, things move slowly getting to remote places like this, so you want to send it soon.)
From: Rev. Michael Frese
US Army Chaplain
FOB Andar, Afghanistan
Dear family and friends,
After just over a month deployment, I have settled into a pretty good rhythm. I travel from Tuesday to Friday to my four outlying Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) to give worship services and Bible studies. I either take a convoy with my soldiers or I fly in a helicopter (whichever one gets me their faster and safer). From Saturday to Monday, I do the same for my “home” FOB. I have started a Saturday Bible Study on the Gospel of John. The discussion last week showed me how well some of my soldiers know their Bible. We had a lot of fun discussing the sacramental and incarnational character of John 1 as relating back to the Old Testament! We have a service of the Word on Sundays. Because of the dynamic nature of a deployment, patrols and other missions change from day to day and week to week. There are groups every week that have to work during “church” time. In that case I go to their area and have a shorter service, so that I have the opportunity to preach a sermon on the readings for the day to as many people as possible. This has worked out very well. I find that many people who may not feel comfortable in a church service in my chapel come to hear me preach in their sections (it’s a good stepping stone to getting them to come to the worship service).
For those outlying FOBs, I have set up devotion/Bible study leaders that I can email material for leading a weekly Bible study and devotion. I can only get to those places every three to four weeks, so it gives them a regular meeting time that I can join when I travel there. I am using a Bible study provided by www.scholia.net called “Daily Bread.” It is easily downloadable and emailable to my 4 leaders. If you have other ideas of resources I could use, please let me know.
My unit consists of about 1,000 soldiers and civilians. It’s called a Task Force (TF) because it is made up of many different kinds of soldiers and civilians to be able to fight in this kind of war. My soldiers are primarily infantry soldiers. They go out on patrols every day in order to maintain security in our area. They sit down and meet with local leaders to see how they can keep the citizens safe from the Taliban who move around our area. The other soldiers and civilians that I have in my TF support the infantry with lethal targets (artillery, mortars, snipers, etc) and the “non-lethal” forms of fighting. Non-lethal targets are those that don’t use an M-16 and bullets. We are in charge of building schools, wells for drinking water, roads, and other helpful things to help the local population have a better way of life. We are taking an active role in supporting the Afghan National Government. We meet with a Sub-Governor often. The Sub-Governor is like a State Governor in the United States. He is the local politician who represents his “state” at the national level.
Everyone on the Battalion Staff has more than one “job.” The chaplain is no different. One of my other duties is being a liaison between organizations that want to “adopt” one of my platoons (a small group of 30-40 soldiers). I make sure that an adopting organization gets in contact with the Platoon Leader and they can start corresponding. An adopting organization is one that has agreed to send letters and care packages to the soldiers of that platoon. I am finding that there are many generous organizations in the U.S. I knew that already, but it is very nice to see how Americans support their soldiers!.
Another duty that I have is being the “religious expert” for our area. That sounds like an important title, but it just means that I am the staff officer responsible for briefing my Commander about religious considerations for the mission. The Afghan people are practicing Muslims and have traditional celebrations and feasts. My duty is to know when these local celebrations are and how they celebrate. This gives my commander insight when he is planning patrols and lethal and non-lethal military actions. It also shows the local population that we want to be considerate of their culture and religious practices. I learn about their local customs and practices by sitting down to a meeting (called a Shura) with a governmental religious representative called a Mullah. He’s like a chaplain to the Sub-Governor. I sit down with this Mullah and with the help of a translator ask him what we should know about upcoming religious and national holidays.
At the last Shura, there was an authentic Afghan lunch. There were dishes of rice with vegetables, and dishes of stewed meat and potatoes. They served flatbread with it. My brother, Jacob (a restaurant owner/operator), would have had a heart attack if he would have seen how they prepared, served, and ate the meal. The guest of honor was over three hours late, so the food sat out for those three hours. When we finally did eat, we did not have flatware, plates, or napkins. We tore off the flatbread in pieces and dipped them from the same(!) dishes. I shared dishes with 25 of my closest Afghan neighbors! The rice dish was excellent. It was basmati rice that had hints of ginger and cinnamon and had candied carrots and raisins on top. The flatbread came from a local bakery and was delicious. I did not care for how tough the goat-meat was, but the potatoes were very good. I love international food, and this was a fun experience.
With my daily pastoral counseling of 3-4 soldiers per day, preparing for the services and Bible studies that I lead, managing my 4 Bible study liaisons, and the office work of the other duties, it makes for a full day. Add to that, personal devotion time, meetings, travel, and personal reading/study and the week fills up quickly. I started a Latin group on Saturday evening with two other staff officers. This is all good for making the days go by fast. It seems that as soon as I wake up it is almost time to go to bed again.
The Lord has blessed us with a very safe start to the deployment, and I pray that continues. None of my soldiers have been injured from direct contact with the Taliban. The Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have been ineffective against our vehicles, so far. My soldiers have not been wounded by the direct fire-fights with the Taliban, as of yet. And because of the snow this region receives during winter, the mountain passes are blocking the Taliban rocket and mortar teams from firing rockets or mortars at our FOBs. I thank God everyday for His protection, grace, and mercy on us. Thank you for your prayers for the same. Please pray that the Lord continues to open doors for me to preach His Word to my soldiers.
US Army Chaplain
FOB Andar, Afghanistan
Rev. Frese states: There is no store where we are. Soldiers have no chance to buy anything around here for the next twelve months. If we didn’t bring it, or if it is not donated, we can’t get it. (internet buying is very difficult even and takes a long time to reach us) We have a “Free-X” that I supervise where soldiers come and get what they need with regard to toiletries, entertainment, and snacks. We have been given oodles of toiletries, so we don’t need any of those (we have enough toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo to last 20 years). However, we are always in need of…
- Baby wipes. You’d be surprised how often we have to use those for cleaning ourselves in lieu of a shower. Those fly off the shelf when we get them in.
- In like manner, washcloths and towels would be a great item (some guys have asked me for those).
- We could always use coffee grounds and filters (as we have no store from which to buy those out here). We live on coffee out here and can’t keep those in stock. I know of several coffee makers that take the round filters.
- Any kind of beef jerky (or other dried meat) is great for the soldiers going out on patrol. They can’t stop for lunch when they are outside the protection of our camp walls, so they simply grab a beef stick on the move. My soldiers are on patrol every day, so they are going through all of the beef jerky quickly. We have enough hard candy to last many months.
- Sunflower seeds, nuts, trail-mixes, and other dried fruits are popular for guys on patrol.
- Any kind of chocolates or candy bars, M&Ms (peanut and regular), etc. are nice treats.
- We have enough decks of cards for entertainment, but board games would be a big blessing. Chess and checkers sets would be helpful. I would host a game night in the chapel with those.
- There are no lights on our FOB (Forward Operating Base) so flashlights are a must-have item. Unfortunately they break and run out of batteries, so any kind of flashlight and all kinds of batteries are very helpful (AA and AAA are the most common; as well as flashlights that run on those size). Any flashlight that runs on a D is too big for common, daily use. It needs to be pocket sized.
CH (CPT) Michael Frese
HHC, 2-2INF, 3/1 BCT
APO AE 09364
Wild Boar from the Forest recommends that if you are going to send supplies you do it quickly; given he is caring for 1000 soldiers they could definitely use the supplies. It takes a good deal of time to get packages to our servicemen, so the faster you send them the better.