dust, diesel, danger – and
the right words at the right
time – are all part of life for
Canada’s military chaplains.
By Robert White
Shortly after midnight the hangar at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, near Ottawa, bustles with activity as 150 soldiers prepare to deploy for Afghanistan. The
brigade commander speaks words of farewell and then
asks Capt. Ray Smith, the Headquarters and Signals Regiment chaplain, to pray. Smith asks for God’s blessing and
protection on those leaving for Afghanistan’s battlefields.
As buses arrive to take the soldiers to their plane, the
scene turns emotional. Soldiers and fathers weep as they
hug each other. A young female soldier holds her infant
for the last time for 10 months.
“I remember one little guy, he must have been about
four, hugging his dad,” says Smith, reflecting particularly
on a recent deployment. “The dad had to peel the boy off,
who began screaming ‘Daddy, no!’
“I stood there weeping, whispering a prayer: ‘Thank
you for giving me the honour of serving with these brave
men and women who sacrifice for their country.’ I re-
member a 25-year-man, a sergeant, who’d served on the
battlefield, faced roadside bombs and been shot at, say-
ing, ‘The hardest thing I’ve had to do was leave my kids.’ ”
While Smith didn’t do much that night except pray,