Army chaplain helps soldiers understand the true meaning of
loving their enemies
By Carol Pipes
Working out of a portable operating room, Chaplain (Maj.) Tommy
Vaughn helps his soldiers cope with the daily interaction they have with the
enemy. No, they’re not fighting the enemy; instead they are providing expert
medial care for them. It gives a whole new meaning to Christ’s command to love
Vaughn is senior hospital chaplain for Task Force 115th Medical out
of Fort Polk, Louisiana, stationed at Camp Cropper Hospital and Detainee
Facility outside of Baghdad.
“It can be a struggle,” Vaughn says. “Some are thinking, ‘I’m not
sure I want to care for this person who may have just caused the death of one
of my battle buddies.’ I help them balance those emotions.”
The mission of the hospital at Camp Cropper is to care for the
detainee population being held there. The hospital staff provides every
possible treatment you’d find in a civilian hospital in the states including
optometry, physical therapy, dental, ICU, orthopedics.
They also treat U.S. and coalition soldiers and contract workers,
but it’s a small population compared to the detainees who are their primary
“The mission is a little easier for believers,” Vaughn says. “ I
remind them we're to love our enemies, to meet their needs. In that provision
of a cup of water, or in this particular case the medical care you're
providing, you're being a light for Christ.”
Changing hearts and minds
One area of progress in Iraq is the treatment of Iraqi detainees. U.S.
commanders have found that the average detainee is an Iraqi civilian motivated
to action by mere survival. In many cases, a number of factors contributed to
the average detainee’s arrest; illiteracy, fear of reprisal, underemployment
and the need for cash are major contributors.
A simple farmer, just trying to feed his children, can make quick cash for
an act as simple as carrying a gas can across the road. The farmer may or may
not know if the item is intended to be an explosive. Al-Qaeda has also been
known to use youth as well as mentally disabled adults to carry out their dirty
At Camp Cropper, U.S. guards separate “low-value” detainees from what they
consider hard-core terrorists into separate holding areas. Detainees wearing
bright yellow jumpsuits and plastic sandals can be seen saying prayers, reading
and playing table tennis behind the chain-link fence and razor wire.
Working with the Iraqi government, the U.S. military offers detainees
incentives to abandon jihadism and opportunities to become a productive member
of society including vocational training, education programs, payment for work
at the camp, family visitation, even sewing and art classes. Chaplain Vaughn
has helped to bring in local Imams to make weekly visits and give spiritual
encouragement to detainees that are hospitalized.
One of the clerics told him, “I expect you to provide for my physical needs,
but I did not expect you to care for my soul.
“That translates into something so much more than he understands, because I
truly do care for his soul.”
These actions are making a difference, according to Executive Officer John
Garrity. By providing proper medical care and teaching them how to read and
teaching them vocational skills, the U.S. military is not only making a
difference in the life of the individual but that translates into better
relationships with Iraqi civilians. When family members visit the detainees and
see the care they are receiving, they take that information back to the
neighborhood or village where they live.
Word is getting out that the Americans are here to help.
“We are slowly changing the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people,” Vaughn
With so much interaction with detainees, stress is a major factor in the
lives of soldiers called on to provide medical care.
Chaplain Vaughn is meeting the needs of a wide variety of faith groups
through regular chapel services—a contemporary protestant service and a
liturgical service—as well as Bible studies and accountability groups.
He’s also started some fellowship-based ministries. With the pounds of
coffee he’s received from companies like Starbuck’s, he started Operation
Caffeination. These morning coffee breaks are a welcome distraction from the
Another favorite pastime among soldiers is the Friday Night game nights held
in the chaplain’s office.
“People come out to play board games, Wii and the X-Box,” Vaughn says. “It
allows them the opportunity simply to hang out with their co-workers.
Hopefully, the more they get to know me, the more comfortable they’ll be
coming to me when they have problems.”
Chaplain Vaughn has seen many of the game night visitors trickle into Bible
studies and services as a result.
Vaughn also stays busy with one-one-one counseling sessions.
Vaughn helps soldiers deal with the stress of the job as well as the stress
of being separated from loved ones for such a long time.
But even Vaughn isn’t immune to the feelings of loneliness and missing his
“There are few that understand that the chaplain hurts, too,” says Vaughn.
“My wife has been such an invaluable support throughout all of this, even
though it’s difficult on her and on my daughters. We’re in this journey
Even though the journey is long, Vaughn is dedicated to meeting the needs of
those serving with him in Iraq and teaching and discipling them so they can go
out and be a light in their own particular world.
“God is doing a work here. Eyes are being opened to who He is.”
Carol Pipes is editor of On Mission.
Camp Cropper Hospital and Detainee Facility – Two nurses take
a break from their work at the combat support hospital at Camp Cropper. The men
and women who serve with Task Force 115th Medical take care of the medical
needs of Iraqi detainees and U.S. service members.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC