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.