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Catholic Chaplains in El Paso charged with care of thousands

By Matthew Smith, Good Morning El Paso Weekend Anchor / Reporter
Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:24:53 AM CST
Updated On: Jan 15 2014 11:06:58 PM CST

ABC-7s Matthew Smith reports.

EL PASO, Texas -

In five years, Chaplain (Maj.) Mark A. Greschel will meet the age of retirement within the United State Army. According to him, he wouldn't mind sticking around longer. If current trends continue, he just might have to. 

While the Army stresses mental fitness, one of it's greatest shortfalls comes from within the Archdiocese for the Military. Currently, 25 percent of the military identifies itself with the Catholic faith, however only 6 percent of chaplains in the military are Catholic.

"We're so rare (extending the retirement age) is a possibility, but I figure that's in God's hands not mine," said Greschel.

Greschel, like many priests, became a priest later in life. According to him, many do. Considering it's a 5- to 6-year process to become ordained, then prepare to become a chaplain, it's typical for priests to have a short military career.

At Fort Bliss, Greschel is one of two chaplains servicing the Catholic population within the 33,000 soldiers stationed on post. He also represents White Sands Missile Range and McGregor Missle Range.

"You want to talk about blessings?" asked Greschel. "I'm never bored!"

All kidding aside, chaplains play a specific role within the U.S. Army. They're deployed with troops and gain frontline experience. Greschel recalled times he performed marriage counseling while missiles struck nearby. He's been in trenches while fire fights have broken out. An Army chaplain, while similar to civilian pastors, are pressed into far more dangerous situations.

Chaplain (Maj.) James J. Foster has been stationed at Fort Bliss since 2012. Foster told ABC-7 that many soldiers find religion during times of war. While stationed on the frontline, there is less distractions for soldiers to occupy themselves with. Often, they return to their religious roots.

"Religious needs are as key and pivotal as others," said Foster. "We liken it to a soldier that breaks his arm, gains a wound or is in an accident, and needs a physical doctor. They have to go to someone that provides that care and helps them recover. We find soldiers are in religious need as well."

Foster is not a Catholic chaplain, but like all chaplains he's found himself in war zones. Foster said that chaplains have a saying, they perform or provide. Chaplains are charged with ensuring religious rights for soldiers known an Title 10. While soldiers face different challenges, though he often finds similarities between soldiers and civilians.

"It's not everyday that a civilian goes off to war separated from their family for days, weeks, months or years," said Foster. "So, sometimes the challenges, I suspect, are different but at the same time the things that they come to us with are much like the struggles on the civilian side."

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