Army Major Carleton Birch, a chaplain serving in
Afghanistan, a Cedarville University grad with Dayton ties. Photo courtesy of the Dayton Daily News.
by Margo Rutledge Kissell- Dayton Daily News
February 5, 2007
Story provided courtesy of the Dayton Daily News
Troops in Afghanistan get strong religious support; Cedarville graduate says he sees 'God's hand' protecting our troops.
By Margo Rutledge Kissell
DDN Staff Writer
Original Printing: Friday, December 22, 2006
Chaplain Carleton Birch coordinates religious support for U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan, including Christians, Jews and Muslims.
"Because I work in a headquarters, I am able to see God's hand in protecting our service members," said Birch, 47, who runs a contemporary Protestant service on base.
"We've had a rocket land 12 feet from one of our chaplains, but for some reason it didn't explode. Another chaplain had the front end of his vehicle blown completely off by a roadside bomb, but he and the rest of the occupants walked away without a scratch," Birch said in an e-mail. "Everywhere we go, we hear stories about God's hand of protection in life-threatening circumstances.
"Unfortunately, we also must honor our fallen comrades, and every service member who dies on the battlefield is honored through a memorial ceremony at the Forward Operating Base and a ramp ceremony as his or her remains leave Afghanistan for the States. Our chaplains are there throughout, providing comfort so that the missions can continue."
'That Dayton connection'
Birch came into the Army in 1982 as a field artilleryman after he received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Cedarville College.
He had come to the Miami Valley in 1977 in pursuit of that degree and already had experience helping people.
He was a nationally registered emergency medical technician and was accepted on the college rescue squad. The squad was part of the Dayton Chapter of the Red Cross and its Disaster Reaction Team.
"One of the things I remember most is the great blizzard of 1978," he said. "I remember classes being canceled and going out to individual residences to help deliver supplies to people who were stuck in their homes."
Birch was deployed to Afghanistan in January. In March, he became a point of contact for the Blue Star Mothers' Miami Valley Chapter 3 when the previous chaplain was sent to Italy.
Beverly Peyton, Chapter 3 president, said members of the group, who all have sons or daughters in the military, feel blessed to have connected with Birch.
"For our letter to find its way into his hands and have that Dayton connection to us was just short of a miracle," she said. "There are thousands of troops out there. What are the odds?"
Birch, in turn, introduced the group to two other chaplains who would serve as a pipeline of donated items from the Miami Valley. All three chaplains had expressed a need for school supplies for Afghan children, and the Blue Star Moms delivered.
"They are like our eyes and ears over there. They tell us what they need," said Peyton, whose group sent 1,355 pounds of school supplies that were collected from school districts in Huber Heights, Kettering and Miamisburg, and from other individuals and businesses in the community.
Birch also was involved in distributing care packages the group sent to the troops in Afghanistan. In November, the group sent nearly 300 care packages to troops serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan and Korea.
As Birch's yearlong tour of duty in Afghanistan is coming to an end, he has watched an elected government "trying to have an effect, but it takes time to establish a central government areas where there has only been tribal loyalties in the past."
He offered this observation about other challenges in Afghanistan:
"The Taliban practiced an extreme form of the Muslim faith, which stresses intolerance of other faiths and mandates that women won't go to school or work outside the home. The current situation is that less than 10 percent of Afghans even have electricity and only about 25 percent can read. One of the base elements of the economy is poppy. Afghanistan provides the harvest for most of the world's opium," he said.
"It's a delicate balancing act, because most of the farmers know that growing poppy is against Islam, but they know no other way to feed their family."
Contact the reporter at (937) 225-2094 or mkissell@DaytonDailyNews.com