A scene from a US military chapel in Afghanistan
We are a few days away from Christmas Eve. This past week has been difficult at times, but the guys are making the best of things at our fire base in eastern Afghanistan.
As the holiday approaches, the soldiers are profoundly aware of their separation from loved ones and the stress that causes at both ends. I've noticed a moderate rise in soldiers' need for counseling. As chaplain, that's what I do - and love to do. But I hope this is a temporary, not a permanent, condition.
Morale is key for any military unit - but especially for those in harm's way, serving in rough and sometimes desolate conditions 10 time zones or more away from home.
The men continue with their daily routines in and around our base. And they look for those diversions that help them get through.
Last Tuesday morning, we watched "Monday Night Football." The front part of the dining facility, where the TV is located, was filled with Philadelphia Eagles fans making lots of noise. Outnumbered, the lone Miami supporter made his presence known by celebrating loudly when the Dolphins did something good.
This kind of friendly banter is one of many ways the guys build camaraderie and forget about the fact that they are in a combat zone.
Last week, Charlie Company had a ceremony promoting three of their privates first class to the rank of specialist. The first sergeant and company commander had a few words with the company afterward. They reminded the men that they are doing well and that the battalion is more than halfway through its expected stay in Afghanistan. And they encouraged them to stay focused and stay together for the remainder of their time here.
These may sound like typical motivational messages. But the first sergeant has a way of making his speeches interesting - adding funny quips and colorful language. This sort of thing gets the guys to laugh together and reminds them of the shared experience of being here. I always get the feeling that these short meetings help boost morale.
As far as the ministry side, we had our second worship service in our new chapel this past Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent. Attendance was down a little, but the men who came seemed to be blessed by being there.
The third Advent candle represents joy. We focused during our service on the joy that the coming of Christ brings into our lives and the lives of all those who put their faith in him.
We had special music - two of the guys singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" with me. The song helped set the mood of the celebration of the coming of Christ.
On Wednesday, we had our weekly Bible study night. Seven guys were in attendance. The focus was on God's promises for our particular need.
I invited the men to mention a need or an emotion they were experiencing and then we would look at Scripture pertaining to that particular topic. One of the men was reminded during our prayer time that he needed to keep from complaining so much.
When he thought about what Christ went through for us, he was struck with the pettiness of his own problems (missing home, etc.). This is what our time in Afghanistan is all about - learning from God, his Word, and each other.
• US Army Capt. Ken Godwin is task-force chaplain for the 1st Battalion of the 87th Infantry Regiment, currently located at a fire base in the Paktika Province of eastern Afghanistan.