- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The altar was the tailgate of a Humvee. The pews were a couple of olive-drab Army cots plopped down in the sand.
The sanctuary was the windy, rain-splattered desert of northwest Kuwait, just a few miles from the Iraqi border.
And Sunday service this week actually came on Monday for soldiers of Alpha Company of Task Force 4-64 out of Fort Stewart, Ga.
Time is an abstract in the desert, and it matters little to the soldiers training here whether it is Sunday, Monday or any other day of the week.
"In the field, every day is Sunday," Capt. Peter Johnson, a Presbyterian chaplain, said after conducting a religious service for about 20 soldiers.
It was an ecumenical service with soldiers from different faiths attending. Capt. Johnson, a former tank company commander during the 1991 Persian Gulf war with the 1st Cavalry Division, gave a message geared to what the soldiers are facing now and what they might be facing in Iraq in a few weeks.
Capt. Johnson, 36, of Glendora, Calif., told the soldiers it was important to have high spiritual morale before embarking on any combat operation. He also urged them to use whatever talents they possess to make the best of their situation here.
"When we find that talent and use it, it gives us a purpose in life, a goal," he said.
Unlike in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf war, when commanders expressed concern about chaplains wearing crosses on their collars because it might offend the Saudis, there apparently has been no negative feedback from government officials in this largely Islamic nation.
But the Kuwaitis are much more tolerant of other religions than the Saudis, who forbid the open worship of any god other than Allah. In fact, there are several Protestant and Orthodox churches in Kuwait, including three Catholic churches that have about 60,000 worshippers.
And most of the American troops here are in a portion of Kuwait that has been closed off to civilians.
Capt. Johnson likens himself to a circuit-riding preacher, who roams the desert offering services to units within the task force. He says on some days he can have as many as six services, but more often it is three or four.
"We have to hit them at a time like this when they are doing maintenance or have some other downtime. [Sunday] they were involved in an exercise all day and couldn't stop for services," said Capt. Johnson, who has been a chaplain about two years.
Spc. Bryant Raines, 25, serves as Capt. Johnson's assistant. The Clark Atlanta University graduate, a Baptist, gave up a job at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce to join the Army.
Being a chaplain's assistant, he said, means a lot of driving. In the 10 days he has been here, he estimates he has driven about 1,500 miles as the two men crisscross the desert offering church services and counseling for troops who need to talk to someone other than their immediate superiors.
"We try to get around to all the units at least once a week, but a lot of times it just depends on what they're doing, whether we can hold the services," said Mr. Raines.

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