COBAN, Guatemala – Chaplains in the Army are expected to provide religious services and counseling for soldiers. Especially during overseas missions, soldiers often count on chaplains to provide spiritual guidance.
Although they are not required to go out and do what soldiers do in the field, that is exactly what Capt. Jason Smith, a Missouri Guard chaplain for the 311th Brigade Support Battalion out of Lexington and a member of Claycomo Baptist Church, has been doing in Guatemala for the past couple of months. The Guard is in a formal partnership with the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Smith, 33, is the chaplain for Task Force-Arriero, a Missouri National Guard-led team that is overseeing Beyond the Horizon – Guatemala 2012, a partnership exercise in which U.S. service members are building new schools and clinics for Guatemalan citizens in the central part of the country.
On Monday, he went out to a work site in Sarrax-Och along with nearly 40 soldiers who had just arrived for their two-week rotation. The soldiers, from the 203rd Engineer Battalion from Joplin, continued construction work on a new facility for a school. Smith pulled nails from wooden forms alongside many of them on their first day of work.
“The majority of what I do as a chaplain is relation-based,” Smith said. “The best way to form a relationship with a soldier is to be where they are and do what they do. My job is to do what they do, not to supervise or be quality-control.”
Smith, who lives in Kansas City with his wife and three kids, volunteered for the four-month duration position in late September and arrived here in March.
“I love being a chaplain in the Guard,” he said. “It was an opportunity to get to do that full-time for a while.”
Other than going out to work alongside soldiers, Smith has provided Christian services on Sunday, with repeat services on Mondays, as well as daily morning devotionals.
“It’s been uneventful so far, but uneventful is a good thing,” Smith said.
While in Guatemala, Smith has also engaged in what he calls “civil affairs opportunities.” On Wednesday, he met with American missionaries who have been in Guatemala for eight years. The missionaries provide a Boys and Girls Club-type of center to help keep young Guatemalans from getting involved in drugs, alcohol and other negative influences.
“They wanted to hear about what we’re doing,” he said. “It was an opportunity for us to get out our message to them and to be encouraging and help increase the positive image that we have here.”
On the civilian side, Smith himself is a youth specialist for the Missouri Department of Youth Services. He helps juvenile delinquents attain coping skills to keep them from inappropriate behaviors.