Holstonians in Baghdad: Military chaplain tells of reunion and blessed gifts from home

Holstonians in Baghdad: Military chaplain tells of reunion and blessed gifts from home

Two clergy members from Holston Conference recently reunited in Baghdad, where they are stationed.

Capt. David Knight (Air Force) and Lt. Col. Chaplain Mike Charles (Army) had met previously at Annual Conference. Having joined the active duty Air Force Chaplain Corp early in 2002, Knight was deployed to Sather Air Base, located at Baghdad International Airport, in May 2008.

"One of the opportunities that we have as chaplains is to honor our fallen military members is a Patriot Detail or Ramp Ceremony, as the member's remains are loaded onto an Air Force plane to travel back to the United States," Knight explained by e-mail.

He described the ceremonies as brief services of remembrance in which scripture is read, the deceased is named, and prayers are lifted to give thanks for the soldiers' lives and service to our nation.

"Prayers are also said for the fallen individual's unit, family, and the air crew who will be transporting the remains back to the United States. It is a solemn time when the person is honored by their comrades in uniform," he said.

Often, when an Army troop is involved, the unit's chaplain and Knight will join together in the ceremony. In July, Knight and Charles joined to perform a Ramp Ceremony for four soldiers killed in action. Two of the soldiers were members of Charles' unit.

Knight also traveled to Charles' office for a visit. Prior to the recent Ramp Ceremony, the two had last seen each other in 2001 at Annual Conference.

Knight's home charge is East Stone Gap/Legion Memorial Charge in the Big Stone Gap District. Charles' home church is Bradbury United Methodist Church in the Oak Ridge District.

Gifts from home

A week after Knight arrived in Baghdad, he visited the Army Civil Affairs Military Operations Center Clinic located near the Air Force base.

"I went over to the clinic to visit with my own Air Force medical personnel to see how we could help," Knight explained. "This clinic provides basic medical care for Iraqi civilians who live around our military compound. Many of these persons cannot go downtown to Baghdad because of the ethnic strike and insurgent attacks."

The clinic, which operates three afternoons each week, treats 160 patients weekly. Knight talked with Iraqi doctors who work with the Army Civil Affairs personnel and learned of a need for medical supplies.

He comprised a list of the needed items, including acetaminophen, ibuprofen, decongestants, basic first aid items, and vitamins. Asthma medications and antibiotics are also needed, as well as children's shoes and diapers.

"I sent the list to my wife at our home back in Las Vegas, where we are stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, as well as to my mother who is back in Big Stone Gap, and I asked them to send some of these items to me. My wife and mom both sent the list out to many of our friends around the world, and especially, to our many friends in the Holston Conference," Knight wrote.

According to Knight, the Holston grapevine widely distributed the list, along with a plea for help.

"The response has been incredible," he said. He estimates that since early June, about $20,000 worth of medications and over-the-counter medical supplies have arrived in Baghdad. Although there have been numerous contributors, three churches have been large supporters: Hixson UMC, where Knight served as associate pastor from 1994 to 1998; Clapps Chapel UMC; and East Stone Gap/Legion Memorial.

"One of the Iraqi doctors told me, with tears in his eyes as he opened some of the boxes and saw the magnitude of the gifts coming to the clinic, 'Your gifts are taking the rifles out of these Iraqi children's hands.'" He went on to say, "They are seeing the goodwill of the American people and it is turning them away from terrorism and violence."

An Army officer who runs the clinic recently commented, after learning that Knight is a United Methodist minister, "Not only am I impressed by you Air Force people, but I am also going to start going to the United Methodist church close to home when I return from deployment. You guys don't just talk about God. You show that he cares about people."

Currently, Knight receives about 30 or more boxes of supplies addressed to him each week. He takes the boxes to the clinic for the doctors and nurses to distribute.

Knight recalled when an Iraqi girl of about 4 or 5 approach him and shook his hand. She smiled and pointed at her new flip-flops, which came in one of the boxes from Holston.

"I had to turn away with tears in my eyes in gratitude to the good folks in Holston who are making a difference," he said. "I will be leaving Baghdad in late September to return home to my family. But, I will never be the same after seeing God's grace here at work in Baghdad."

Barnes-Hemsworth is lifestyles editor of the Newport Plain Talk.