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Soldier without a weapon

Chaplain Kakeni
Chaplain Norman Kakeni issuing a bible to a soldier before deployment to Daru


PORT MORESBY - Chaplaincy is an intense and profoundly rewarding experience and chaplains play a distinctive role in the military setting.

They are strategically assigned to all military establishments and wherever there are military members, including in combat zones.

Chaplains tender to the spiritual well-being of soldiers regardless of religious background, provide confidential counselling and help personnel meet challenges in areas like religious education, ethics and morale.

They also operate as the pivot connecting local civilians and church ministries through the Word of God.

At the PNG Defence Force’s COVID-19 task force operations centre, you will find chaplain Captain Norman Kakeni from the PNGDF chaplaincy directorate.

Captain Kakeni is assigned to be among the troops participating in the government’s response against the pandemic.

I first met him last year when he was part of a small contingent of PNGDF medical officers and engineers deployed to provide support to Okapa district hospital in Eastern Highlands Province.

While military medical staff and engineers assisted the hospital, Captain Kakeni held special engagements with local churches, issued bibles to youths and reminded the people to build a relationship with God.

He also sat down with elders and leaders of the surrounding communities and discussed ways to address local youth and development issues.

He gave me a Bible too.

A few weeks back, Captain Kakeni was at Motukea, 12 km out of Port Moresby, giving words of blessing as he commissioned a company from 1RPIR deployed by the COVID-19 Task Force to Weam in Western Province.

These soldiers were to be inserted into the southern part of the now closed PNG-Indonesia border to support operations as well as carry out awareness to people living in the area.

Captain Kakeni quietly issued Bibles to each soldier, urging them to give space for God in their operations.

“He is your Defender; He never dozes nor sleeps,” Captain Kakeni assured the troops, reminding them of the PNGDF commander’s intent to always put God first and let Him take the lead in the fight.

‘Putting God First’ has been the PNGDF Command’s motto over the years to guide its mandated duties and the reformation and upskilling of the entire force.

In a statement last week, Defence Force chief, Major General Gilbert Toropo, refreshed the call to put God First and reminded troops to stay focussed in the fight against COVID-19.

Major General Toropo said spiritual and mental growth including the morale of service members and their families is of paramount importance in such times.

The Marape-Steven government has repeatedly urged the country to pray and to allow God to take the helm of our fight.

Recently I was allowed into the operations centre hoping to chat with Major General Toropo but found his door locked so I loitered around the task force centre.

Inside the main briefing room, a colourful map on one side of the wall displayed the entire 820 kilometre land border labelled with paper arrows and coloured drawing pins.

I stood there, staring at the pins, then it dawned on me.

The soldiers are scattered across some of the most remote areas of the country, including high risk zones along the border, placing themselves and their loved ones at risk.

The calmness, understanding and acceptance of their jobs by families, wives, husbands and children is hard to define.

Maybe it can only be seen clearly through the eyes of the chaplain. When wars get hot and graves get cold, he will be there.

A soldier without a weapon.


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Paulus Ripa

My hero was Fr Francis Duffy, a chaplain in the US Army in World War I.

Whilst attending a Catholic high school we were introduced to the Catholic poet Joyce Kilmer who fought in the same regiment (the Irish 69th of New York) and was killed there.

It seemed Fr Duffy was always in the thick of action and unarmed, bringing the wounded and ministering last rites etc.

I think he won some awards from both US and France and was even considered as a commander of the regiment by Brig General Douglas MacArthur, an unprecedented thought.

Several years ago whilst in Times Square in New York I came across Duffy square and saw a memorial to Fr Duffy. I read a little more on him and discovered he was also a distinguished intellectual and a professor before he went to France to join the war.

Arthur Williams

Thanks Alex for your story about PNG Defence Force Chaplain Norman Kakeni. A good yarn for an isolation Sunday.

During the long weeks of lock-down Netflix has been a Godsend (pardon pun) for an old fella like me.

Last weekend I thought I'd watch something different to my usually preferred crime genre; perhaps a military one. Mel Gibson has almost always acted in or produced good films so I clicked onto Hacksaw Ridge (2016). I was enthralled by the plot and some incredible battle scenes.

‘That was a good movie,’ I thought. As I often do with any really enjoyable movies, I checked on its details at the Imdb website.

I was amazed to find that the movie was based on a true WW2 hero. The movie uses his proper name of Desmond Doss who received the USA’s highest award, the Medal of Honour for his courage on Okinawa near the end of the war. That was after he’d already earned 2 Bronze Stars with an additional ‘V’ for exceptional courage elsewhere.

What interested me was discovering he was the first unarmed conscientious objector to get that highest award. He was a medic and had a deep Christian faith that included adhering to the Fourth Commandant of Observing The Sabbath.

Gibson’s film like many biopics has used some literacy licence of the dramatic events. Yet on one website it is claimed that Doss’ son cried when at a preview he saw his father being portrayed in a manner that brought back memories of him. Doss had died ten year before the film was made.

If you have time it is at least worth reading a few of the many other web pages including Wikipedia that deal with the story.

If you are into viewing war films perhaps I can whet your appetite with this little synopsis:

‘As a hundred or more lay wounded and dying on enemy soil, one lone soldier disobeyed those orders to retreat and rushed back into the firefight.

'With a constant prayer on his lips of ‘Just one more Lord’, he vowed to rescue as many as he could, before he either collapsed or died trying.

'His iron determination and unflagging courage resulted in at least 75 lives saved that day, May 5, 1945, his Sabbath.'

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