Rambo in a dog collar, Mark Chester is not!
Mark, vicar at St Paul’s Camberley, made this very clear as he spoke of his recent mobilisation to Afghanistan at a men’s breakfast at Pine Ridge last Saturday 29th October.
Seventy men, including counsellor Paul Deach from Surrey Heath’s Resident’s network, listened as Mark spoke of his experiences as a padre in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Mark was one of ten padres looking after approximately 700 soldiers for six months. This meant he got firsthand experience of the British forces across Helmand Province. As well as padre he acted as a team medic, having trained with Amputees in Action. At the peak of activity, Mark dealt with 12 casualties in 24 hours!
During the talk he recounted episodes from his diary which brought to life the poignant and sometimes disturbing truths of what he and the soldiers experienced out there. On a more light hearted note when asked what his role included as a padre he answered, give out sweets! A kindly gesture greatly appreciated by the soldiers who felt relaxed enough to open up and chat informally. “A padre can be told what to do,” explained Mark, “But cannot tell anyone else what to do, which means anyone can talk to you in total confidence.” Soldiers can air their issues and let off steam in a way which does not result in a disciplinary. Padres provide support to commanders too. Being in command is tough and lonely so being able to speak frankly to a padre is a relief. Primarily padres are there to provide spiritual support. Mark says, “You’re out there to represent God who is intimately and totally interested in everything you are doing.”
Reaching a maximum of 50 degrees, heat is a major issue in Afghanistan. Mark routinely went on patrol with his unit carrying a comparatively light pack of 40KG and facing the thick constant billows of dust. It was essential to keep up liquid intake or you would soon become dangerously dehydrated.
To read more about Mark’s experiences in Afghanistan, see the previous blog posts.
To find out more about St Paul’s, please visit stpaulscamberley.org.uk or contact the office on 01276 700210.