Home' Army News : February 3rd 2011 Contents FEATURES 25
Army February 3, 2011
ACALL to service can lead an
individual in many directions
but for Chap Renton McRae,
it has taken him full circle:
from a young soldier serving in the
SASR during the 1980s to an older,
wiser man deployed to Afghanistan as
MTF 2's chaplain.
After reaching the height of his mili-
tary goals, Chap McRae stepped away
from the uniform to spend time as the
pastor of a church and became both a
husband and father. It is this unique blend
of soldiering, ministerial and civilian
experience the padre brings to the sol-
diers he advises.
"A lot of my time is taken up by just
being with the troops -- getting to know
them, talking, being there," he said. "I
learn what their problems are and what
issues are affecting them."
While at Multinational Base Tarin
Kot, Chap McRae can be found at his
office or performing services at the chap-
el facility. However, he is often travelling
to visit troops at 10 forward operating
"It's critical that I get into their work-
space and try to get to know the soldiers,
because they won't seek me out if I'm a
stranger and they might slip through the
cracks," he said.
"Often they will come to me because
they aren't sure where else to go. I'll
ask a lot of questions to define what the
issues are so that I can give them a bit of
framework to manage it."
Chap McRae has at his disposal a list
of contact names and information to help
soldiers work through specific issues with
finance or relationships.
Faith can be an important avenue to
handle stress, but Chap McRae said any
belief system could be tapped to help a
soldier through tough times.
He said one of the unique aspects of
being a military chaplain was interacting
with soldiers of all faiths and finding a
common ground to help them find peace
"If I were ministering to an Islamic
soldier or a Jewish soldier, the same
principals would apply without doctrine
getting in the way," Chap McRae said.
"The chaplain's position is one that rec-
ognises we're all human, we're all frail,
and the basis for a lot of our faith is very
similar. The greatest strength that I have
experienced as a chaplain is that the walls
that divide us are generally not there in
Defence -- I'm a minister to everyone
regardless of faith or no faith."
He always knew that he would end up
a chaplain. He had a calling when he was
just 16 years old, but it was a personal
journey that developed over time and for
"This has been beyond anything
I would have anticipated and not just
because this is a new age and a new
era for the Army but more a feeling of
contentment," Chap McRae said. "This
is where I'm meant to be. It's a coming
together of the heart and the head. It feels
very comfortable being back in uniform.
The last 20 years has prepared me well
for this, and this is where I am."
Ministering to the mentors
Soldiers' padre: Chap Renton McRae, deployed to Afghanistan
as MTF 2's padre, began his military career in more combat-
Photo by Cpl Christopher Dickson
THE CAMPFIRE flames
crackle and engulf a chunk
of smouldering wood as Sgt
Jason Johnson prepares a
brew and settles in for a chat at a
remote patrol base in Afghanistan's
An MTF 2 mentor, Sgt Johnson is
one of the 15 Australian soldiers who
call this particular patrol base home.
Constructed from Hesco barriers, the
patrol base overlooks the Baluchi
Valley, Dorafshan, and Tarin Kot bowl.
Sgt Johnson and the other
Australian soldiers work with Afghan
National Army (ANA) troops to pro-
vide security in the local region.
He recalls one notable incident
when a joint patrol was fired on in the
"I was patrolling as part of the lead
call sign when I noticed the atmos-
phere change significantly. All of a
sudden, the kids, who were happily
playing outside, were called by their
parents and locked up inside the sur-
rounding qualas," Sgt Johnson said.
Ten minutes later, insurgents fired
at the patrol.
"At first, it was hard to identify
where the rounds were coming from
because of the echoes bouncing
around the qualas, so we took cover to
work out what was happening.
"An ANA soldier was hit, so we
already had one casualty.
"As we drew closer, the ANA sol-
diers fired accurately at the insurgents.
The insurgents realised that we had the
upper hand and broke contact. Usually,
insurgents operate in small teams of
two or three, so it's easy for them to
cache their weapons and disappear."
Sgt Johnson said his mission at the
patrol base was to mentor the Afghan
soldiers in planning, logistics and
patrolling techniques to provide better
security in the Baluchi Valley region.
"I work closely with the ANA's
squad commanders to advise them
on how to keep their troops together,
maintain patrol formations and identi-
fy vulnerable points, which are where
insurgents hide IEDs," he said.
"When I talk to the ANA soldiers,
I get the feeling they realise the ANA
offers them more opportunities than
the Taliban ever could."
Apart from mentoring Afghan
troops, the Australian soldiers also
assist local communities with devel-
opment projects. Sgt Johnson's team
recently finished building a school.
"Interacting with tribal leaders and
helping out the locals with develop-
ments really demonstrates that we're
not in Afghanistan to cause problems
-- we're here to help the Afghan people
build a secure future," he said.
"The locals also have a significant
part to play in the security of their
communities. One local has led us to
numerous significant IED sites -- he
even handed in a few."
Sgt Johnson said the Australian
soldiers were busily constructing
accommodation for the school's first
teacher and discussions were under-
way to develop a medical facility as
"The community really needs its
own medical facility because at the
moment our team medic is the only
medical support in the area."
MTF 2's padre relates to soldiers well because he used to be one, US Army Specialist Jennifer Spradlin reports.
On patrol: ANA and Australian soldiers secure the
route to a shura (Afghan meeting) with village elders.
Sgt Jason Johnson (inset) advises ANA soldiers
during a patrol.
Photos by AB Jo Dilorenzo
AB Melanie Schinkel sits
down with one of MTF 2's
mentors in a remote part
of Uruzgan province.
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