Reverend Chris Antal resigns commission (originally posted 17 May 2016)

Reverend Chris Antal was a source of faith and hope to those of us who were touched by his ministry while he served in RC South from Kandahar Airfield. He was an Army Chaplain devoted to the work of counseling and helping heal those who suffered moral injuries from their participation in the conflict. An example of the sort of work he was doing was posted here in 2013 with an interview (Song for Healing)  conducted with Angel, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A 2013 posting here (Reverend Chris Antal) described his Veterans Day (2012) sermon that led to an official reprimand. His battalion commander at Kandahar told him that the sermon did not support the mission. He was returned to the US prematurely with a ‘do not promote’ evaluation and removed from active service. He challenged the Army’s actions which were overturned following a Congressional hearing by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Antal was reactivated and promoted to Captain.

On 12 April, Reverend Chris Antal resigned his commission as an Officer in the US Army. The details are covered well in a 16 May article in the Army Times. The letter of resignation and its response from President Barack Obama are found on the web site of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern where Antal currently serves as minister.

A 12 May article in discusses changes in the wording of AR-165-1 related to Army Chaplain Corps Activities. This text is critical to the disciplinary actions taken following the Veterans Day sermon. At the time of the Kandahar sermon, the wording was, “Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with a prophetic voice and must confront the issues of religious accommodation, the obstruction of free exercise of religion, and moral turpitude in conflict with the Army values.” Antal took seriously the expectation that he speak with a prophetic voice. His reprimand in the aftermath of the sermon was in contradiction of that call to prophetic voice. The text now reads, “Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with candor as an advocate to confront and support resolution to challenges and issues of the command.” Army Chaplains have now been cast in the role of apologists instead of spiritual counselors.

Reverend Antal’s departure from the Army Chaplain Corps is a real loss for the Army. Chris was a skilled counselor and a blessing to those struggling to make sense of their role in a poorly defined conflict. Reverend Antal continues some of that same work as staff chaplain at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center but these skills are sorely lacking near the battlefield. I hope that there might be some lessons learned from the Reverend Chris Antal’s experience with the Army Chaplain Corps and that the Corps might come to see the benefits of accepting a broader role for the support staff of the spiritual condition of the troops.


Reverend Chris Antal – Unitarian Universalist Minister, Army Chaplain

The honorific Reverend really does apply to Chaplain Chris Antal. He is revered by those of us who knew him in his short time at Kandahar Airfield. The link that Bob LaVallee had passed on excerpting Chris’ 2012 Veterans Day sermon no longer works. Ministerial student Karen G. Johnston has published the ‘Confession’ on her blog. It, along with some background information she provided, does an excellent job of explaining why Chris Antal will be fondly remembered by those touched by his ministry at Kandahar Airfield.

Repentance and (no) Reluctance: A Confession for America

I was in the congregation that heard A Confession for America at the Veterans Day Service last year. The group was a fairly even split between civilians and uniformed service members. All were moved and none were offended. Any objections came later when the text was picked apart after appearing on Chris’ blog.

I am happy to report that a lot of what Chris began here has taken on a life of its own. The Sunday Unitarian Universalist services continue with Bob LaVallee serving as lay religious leader and other members of the fellowship taking their turn with the sermons and other duties each week. David Graham also went through the religious lay leader training and has taken over the Saturday Zen meditation practice established by Chaplain Antal. David is even performing the Japanese Tea Ceremony at the end of the meditation.

Some elements of Reverend Antal’s ministry cannot be carried forth by others. Chris was particularly skilled in support and counseling. The loss of those talents from the conflict zone is significant. The healing of moral injuries was an abiding concern for Chris. His spiritual counseling has been praised by those whose lives it helped turn around. One very moving example is found in this interview with a soldier who had struggled with the emotional trauma of incidents that occurred during his service in Iraq. A song he wrote which deals with one of those incidents was part of the healing process and begins the recording of the interview.

 Song for Healing

Chris Antal has continued his ministry of healing of moral injuries after his departure from Kandahar Airfield. He is Pastoral Care Coordinator with Soldier’s Heart whose goal it is to prepare families and communities for supporting and healing veterans to bring about a healthier and more successful reintegration of our nation’s veterans.


New Image for the Old Poo Pond

It looks like the planned move of the thousands of gallons of human excrement and other wastes has been delayed as ISAF noted just before Christmas last year;

Reports of Poo Pond’s demise premature

Not much can be done about the smell, particularly as the weather starts to warm up and the fragrance is wafted in whatever direction the wind blows. Kellogg, Brown, and Root have devised a simple plan to give everyone a warm, fuzzy feeling about this crap circle until it gets moved further away from human habitation.

Only the name is new, but what a difference it makes!

Only the name is new, but what a difference it makes!

Yes, by renaming this infamous hazardous waste site, the image has been transformed from excrement to a happy animal proprietary to the Disney Corporation. Who would object to being billeted next to a pond named after this fellow.

Namesake of the relabeled pond

Namesake of the relabeled pond

Thank you KBR. It smells better already!

Panic in D-Fac Park

Stars and Stripes front page a few days back carried some alarming news, arguably more unsettling to the service member deployed in Afghanistan than the current round of conflict reporting or even stories the activities of the supreme leader of North Korea.

As US packs up in Afghanistan, the return of the dreaded MRE

Admittedly, compared to conditions at the forward operating bases (FOB), food and conditions at places like Kandahar and Bagram Airfield appear a lot like vacation resorts. While you can’t get off-base to make a visit to a nearby restaurant or chaikhana, the food in the dining facilities (D-Fac) is quite good. There are a variety of familiar franchise food outlets if you wish to purchase something reminiscent of home.

Most of the reader’s mail in response to the article expresses a bit of schadenfreude. Things back home are not that great and people don’t think that shifting to the current generation of MREs (meals ready to eat) is a big deal.

Discipline has been maintained so far. By October when the plan is implemented there might not be enough people around to make for an effective food riot. In any case, when the generators go back home ice cream and fish won’t have much of a shelf life in Afghanistan. An MRE might start looking better at that time.


Springtime, Time for Blast Wall Renovations

We were a little worried about our neighbors down the street from the radio station.  Their blast wall was hauled away the other day. Why remove so much concrete? Was the Afghanization of security so effective that it was no longer needed? Maybe they fell behind on their rental payments.

Then, a few days back, new, higher concrete slabs arrived. It was clear that this was a renovation intended to maintain their status in the neighborhood. They had probably been intimidated by our thicker and taller walls. With these new units in place they no longer have to feel embarrassed at the next homeowners meeting or block party. Urban tourists will feel right at home in these concrete corridors. A new sense of security now pervades this little corner of Kandahar Airfield.

New barriers being lifted into place around the perimeter of the Six Flags Over KAF compound

New barriers being lifted into place around the perimeter of the Six Flags Over KAF compound

The end result of the refurbishment project. The neighborhood never looked better.

The end result of the refurbishment project. The neighborhood never looked better.


Kandahar Crossroads Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Now that there is a separate place for items that are primarily photographic,, I will use this blog for more traditional blog entries. That includes links to material from other writers as well.

One of the highlights of my week at Kandahar Airfield is the Sunday morning service of the Kandahar Crossroads Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The “crossroads” in the name befits the short length of stay for many who are part of this group. There are four pictured in this January photo who are now back home or at their next assignment, including Chaplain Chris Antal, the Unitarian Universalist Minister who was responsible for bringing the group into existence at KAF.

[23 March update – five now back home or re-deployed from our group of eleven]

photo by Army Sgt. Eric Skoog

photo by US Army Sgt. Eric Skoog

In the current issue of UU World, Donald E. Skinner offers some more details about this group; In Afghanistan, UUs light chalice in new congregation

Another curative aspect of Reverend Antal’s ministry was the establishment of a Zen meditation group on Saturday morning. This has served to expose some people to the practice and to provide others with the support of a sangha, including those from other traditions.

Those who did not need to hurry off to work at 0700 following meditation were invited to take part in a Japanese tea ceremony. This was my first exposure to this tradition.

Photo from Mark Rhodes

photo by Mark Rhodes

I am very happy to report that several members of the group have completed the work necessary to become Religious Service Lay Leaders so that these activities did not stop with the departure of Chaplain Antal. Robert LaVallee will be able to insure continuity of the Sunday service. David Graham has taken over leading the meditation practice. He even has begun to offer the tea ceremony at the end of zazen.

Most of the people working at Kandahar Airfield have their home thousands of miles away. The sort of activity established by Unitarian Universalist Minister Chris Antal has helped provide a spiritual home for those who will spend six months, a year, or longer here at Kandahar Airfield.


Jedi Knights

Perhaps the newest religious preference which is cropping up on soldier’s dog tags is that of Jedi Knights. I had thought that this would be a tiny minority of persons serving at Kandahar Airfield until I noticed this sign which offers the Jedi Knights their own preferred parking locations.


May the force be with you.

Immovable Object

This sign that I walk by every day at Kandahar Airfield makes me ponder what sort of equipment is available here that I have never seen.


Can you imagine what kind of thing would be required to tow one of these monsters or how you could get it on and off a parking lot with a tactical vehicle in tow?


I think these are considerably over the carrying capacity of even the twin-bladed Chinook helicopters. If I ever see one of these getting towed from an illegal parking spot I will try to get a picture of the equipment doing the towing.


ISO 6400 and then some

ISO 6400 is something with which I had no experience in the world of film. That’s the fastest equivalent film speed setting in my new little camera. It allowed me to take some hand held photographs in available darkness. I could never have done this with results this good in the film days.

Of course, you might ask why I didn’t just invest in a tripod and keep all the noise to a minimum. Good question. A tripod is always a nice thing except when you are tired of lugging it with you every place to go. I was fascinated with the technology that let me do this. There’s even some chroma visible. That’s something you don’t get when you are push processing Tri-X.

Are those orbs in the foreground?

Yes, Virginia, that is color evident in the photograph.

ISO 6400 and a fairly decent dynamic range.

Both color and dynamic range. Imagine!

I am starting to like my new little Olympus E-P1. Next week it goes to Sri Lanka to see if it takes to travel photography. I think it will do just fine.



Concrete Canvas

Diego Rivera could have a field day here. In fact, several thousand mural artists could have full time work for a number of years with the sheer surface area of blank, grey spaces calling out for color and design.

In the ten months I spent in Kabul I only passed two or three locations where any use was made of the city’s vast mural spaces. To be honest, there may have been many more in those areas where the artist was less likely to be observed by someone who would object to images or text on the concrete facade.

The surface area available where I am living now, at the military side of Kandahar Airfield, is much smaller than that offered in Kabul. Most of the concrete blast walls are much lower as well since they are often protecting single story buildings. But I am starting to find some evidence of the creative attraction these surfaces have for anyone artistically inclined or who wants to make a public statement of some sort. Most any sort of decorative art has more appeal than the pedestrian posting of parking regulations as shown here.


I live in a modular building that is a short walk away from some of the early experiments with concrete as canvas. The simplest and least permanent use of the space is for a birthday message. Here the wall serves as an eye level blackboard for the foot traffic through the housing area.


The next variation of work with these materials is the quick sketch of the smiley icon.


Not far from this image are walls where stencils are used extensively. A few seem to be areas where the images are posted to help in later selection of color and composition.



The “Tag You’re It” stencil would seem to suggest the option of agitprop but the other designs are more typical of an image you might find in a college dorm room.




The next example started as “Beware of Zombies” and the eyelashes and “Females” text were added by way of commentary a few weeks later. This appears just outside a female housing unit.


This last one is the closest example to mural art that I have come across at KAF. I don’t know how long this has been up but there is some weathering noted. This is located a few spaces away from the ” . . . Zombies” image.