Chaplains, who are part of the military but do not carry weapons, share the grueling conditions in U.S. camps in Iraq, where soldiers shiver through bitter cold nights, eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) three times a day and relieve themselves in holes dug in the dirt. Like other military officers worried about keeping sufficient amounts of supplies, chaplains have their logistical headaches, too.
The biggest is the Communion resupply.
In Catholic practice, only a priest can consecrate hosts, turning them from bread to what the faithful believe is the body of Christ. But in the military, as in civilian life, there is a severe shortage of Catholic priests.
So shortly before they left the sprawling Camp Udairi in northern Kuwait about a week ago, Mahony and other Catholic emergency ministers scrambled to get a priest to consecrate hundreds of hosts.
About 300 were entrusted to Smith, who carried the special package on a convoy that took 70 hours to get to this site in the desert. "Normally they would not give it to a Protestant chaplain, but because of the need in the field, I went through EME training," said the minister, from a Baptist denomination. Other Communion hosts were given to emergency ministers who promised to keep them secure.
Maj. James Geracci, a flight surgeon and emergency minister, was one of them. He keeps his hosts in a large medicine bottle in a pocket on his camouflage vest, where he also keeps field dressings and medical shears. "They have to be on you," explained Geracci, 35, of San Antonio.