Texas-based chaplain ministers after Iraq shooting

BAGHDAD, Iraq?It wasn’t by chance that Chaplain (Capt.) Kent Coffey arrived at the Combat Stress Center on Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq, just moments after a U.S. soldier opened fire, killing five soldiers and wounding three others May 11.

“It was the providence of God that I was even aware of what had happened,” Coffey said. He and his assistant (Pvt.) Russ Glover were walking back to the division chapel after lunch, 30 minutes later than normal, when they noticed emergency vehicle lights at the Combat Stress Center. Having served closely with combat stress team members, Coffey and Glover stopped to see if they could be of help.

They were the first chaplain team to arrive on the scene. Coffey sent Glover to the chapel to call for chaplain reinforcements while he talked to the soldiers on site to sort out what had happened.

Once the division chaplain arrived to take over at the scene of the incident, Coffey and Glover headed to the Troop Medical Clinic where the wounded soldiers were being treated. They arrived just as the medical staff had “called” the death of one of the victims.

“The staff was still lingering in the treatment room, so I gathered them all, and we said a prayer for the soldier’s family,” Coffey recounted. The commander of the medical unit asked Coffey to stay and help with an After Action Review. “I said a prayer and spoke some words of encouragement, offering my praise for the work they do in times like these.”

In the meantime, the division chapel where Coffey serves had been turned into the center of operations for evaluating the soldiers who had been in the Combat Stress Center at the time of the shootings. Coffey soon learned that one of his battalion’s soldiers had witnessed the deadly incident.

“I was only able to speak to her briefly, but I told her that if she wanted to talk I was available day or night.”

Later that evening, Coffey and Glover went back to the clinic to offer further support. Again, God’s timing was evident. The team of first responders who had given life-saving measures to one of the soldiers had gathered for a gut check. They asked Coffey to join them.

The next day, Coffey and Glover attended the ramp ceremony at the Air Force base as the fallen soldiers were placed on an angel flight en route to their homes in the U.S.

“There were tons of people out there, paying tribute to these men,” Coffey said. “I was glad we went if for nothing else than to just lay my hand on the back of those who were openly weeping.”

Coffey, a member of the Division Special Troops Battalion, 1 Calvary Division from Fort Hood, is one of 1,200 Southern Baptist chaplains serving in the U.S. military? more than a third of the 3,078 chaplains endorsed by the North American Mission Board.

On Wednesday following the incident, Chaplain Coffey was finally able to debrief with the private in his unit who was present during the shootings.

“My heart broke as she shared with me what had happened,” Coffey said. “I was glad I already had a relationship built with her, so she felt comfortable enough to talk.”

“That is why chaplains run PT every day, why they are on the battlefield, leaving the green zone to go with soldiers, so that they can build a relationship that will offer them the right to lead them to the cross.”

Coffey is no stranger to tragedy, death and sorrow. During his first deployment to Iraq in 2006, he lost 13 men within 24 hours. He heard over a radio cries of distress as the enemy ambushed an American unit.

Then and now, Coffey leaned on the support of the one who provides hope and everlasting life. And he relied on the training he has received as a military chaplain.

“I always ask myself the question, ‘What would I want said to me if I were in this situation?’ If the answer is nothing, then I just shut my mouth and am just there,” Coffey said. “The essence of a good chaplain is being where the need is the greatest, assessing where you can best be used and then moving out of the way and allowing God to use you as he sees fit.”

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