Chaplaincy On DART OP Hestia – by Padre Shaun Turner, Petawawa

I received the message at 0700 in the morning 14, Jan 2010.  The Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) was to be deployed to Port au Prince, Haiti and I was to be their Chaplain.  By 1900 I had packed my kit (which was, previously, carefully packed for winter exercises), said goodbye to my family and was aboard a bus to Trenton.  Just over 200 of us flew out first thing the next day to ground zero of the disaster zone.

Chaplaincy on a DART mission is an intense deployment ministry on steroids.  Helping medical teams as a spare set of hands (doing one’s best impression of Father Mulcahy), providing pastoral care to Canadian’s waiting at the embassy for evacuation, walking alongside search and rescue personnel, liaising with local religious leaders and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), accompanying Army personnel on rescue missions to gather stranded Canadian nationals in order to provide pastoral care, and much more; all the while keeping one’s primary mission of Moral, Ethical and Spiritual support to the troops as the priority.  A DART mission takes its toll on Forces personnel as it is a highly intense, no-notice deployment without a firm end-date.  Chaplain support to these Canadian heroes is a no-fail task, and an honour for anyone chosen to walk along-side them as their Padre.

The DART mission on OP Hestia included 2 phases.  The first weeks were spent providing emergency response in the capitol of Port au Prince.  This was the most intense time of operations.  Every day brought a different challenge for DART personnel.  As Chaplain there is no ‘regular daily schedule’, one simply endeavours to keep up and walk with the Forces personnel however possible.

The latter phase of the DART mission followed a move to the southern city of Jacmel.  During this time the DART Chain of Command set up 3 locations: the main ‘Camp Jacmel’ from which operations deployed, a local medical clinic in the city and a water purification site.  As Chaplain, the ministry consisted of regular visits to all these locations, as well as ministry of presence and operational involvement with Mobile Medical Teams, the World Food Programme’s food distribution, supporting local orphanages and search and rescue.  An average day’s ‘battle rhythm’ included up 20 mins before reveille (wake up), breakfast with HQ staff and then out with selected section to ministry of presence, involvement in operations or local Religious and NGO Engagement, dinner with troops, Commander’s Update Brief and an evening of circulating with soldiers where it didn’t take long for someone to seek the Padre out for a discussion.

Aside from the lifelong friends made on the deployment, the ministry highlight involved the Sunday practice of providing Communion services at all three locations.  Bringing the presence of Christ as He is found in the bread and wine into the midst of our soldier’s daily routine was an honour and privilege.  It became known as the Padre’s ‘travelling road show’.

This is Chaplaincy to the Canadian Armed Forces.  The convergence of physical challenge, emotional stress, vocational ministry and God’s grace create, for me, an amazing experience of constant ministry and growth.  There is no life like it.