SEEN UP NORTH: From Tichbourne to The Pentagon
What defines a chaplain in the United States military?
The image that may come quickly to mind is that of a senior officer, a religious minister in a military cemetery in any part of the United States or Europe, presiding over a funeral of someone who has made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of the country, its flag and its principles.
“At a funeral, when I see the flag being folded, see and hear Taps being played and watch the tears streaming down the faces of loved ones who have lost someone near and dear, it means a lot to me,” said United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Harewood, a Bajan who was grew up in Tichbourne, Howells Cross Road, St Michael, but who is now a command chaplain in the army, an administrative position that deals with anything religious at his base of operation in New Jersey.
But that’s not all there is to the chaplain, who has been in the military since 1990 and holds several university and college degrees in religious ministry, divinity, theology and counselling, including a doctorate and a master’s awarded by Howard University.
“As a command chaplain, I am required to keep the secrets of those who keep the secrets,” he said.
In other words, four-star generals and others who guard the nation often speak to Lt Col Harewood in the deepest of confidence, knowing that what they share with him wouldn’t be repeated on pain of death.
“The importance of the role and function of a priest in the military is underscored by the fact that under the Geneva Convention, a priest can be held but not executed,” he added.
Harewood, a heavily decorated senior officer, who is likely to be promoted to a full colonel later this year, traces his career in the army to a fateful day almost 23 years ago when he enlisted.
“I wanted to experience what it felt like to be an enlisted man,” he recalled. “I wanted to go through what most men and women experience – the challenges, the tough days, and the rewards and satisfaction.”
For five years he took it in, rising to become private first class and then a specialist, before attending the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy. Next, he was made a first lieutenant in 1996. Four years later he was promoted to captain before becoming a major in 2005. Just last year, the father of two sons, Andrew and Jason, was elevated to the rank of lieutenant colonel and made command chaplain at the joint base McGuire Dix Lakehurst.
“Anything to do with religion would come across my desk,” said the former student of St Giles’ Boys’ School, who also attended the Seventh-Day Adventist School and Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic before coming to the United States in 1980.
The chaplain, who has served in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Persian Gulf, Qatar, Iraq and Afghanistan, is a focused and eloquent senior officer whose approach to life and military duties is reflected in his operating philosophy.
“The military gave me a poignant and sharp focus on what life really means,” he said. “Life is greater than me and the depth of it is brotherhood. In our group, we are present at marriages, deaths, graduations, promotions, you name them. We are priests and counsellors, and war forces clarity on what life really means. The military has certainly helped me to understand many facets of life. That’s particularly true of war. War can be beautiful but it can be worse than hell.
“In every unit in the military, you can find a chaplain. We are embedded in the units. We train as we fight. We care for the wounded, nurture the living and we honour the dead,” he added.
The 52-year-old Barbadian, son of Eileen Harewood, slips in and out of Barbados at least three times a year for some rest and relaxation, but if there is a lesson in his rise from enlisted man to lieutenant colonel, it is that one shouldn’t underestimate “what you are capable of achieving with hard work, devotion to duty and commitment to getting the job done”.
He has had opportunities to put those values into action in the office of the chief, army reserve; deputy chaplain in The Pentagon, the United Nations Department of Defence; deputy command chaplain of the combined forces command in Afghanistan.
When in uniform, the rows of medals, awards and commendations on his chest tell a story of a varied stint in the army. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Defence Meritorious Service Medal, Global War On Terrorism Service Medal, Army Staff Identification Badge and the Army Military Service Medal are among them.
“My life and career have been rewarding and it has brought me considerable satisfaction in the service of the country and humanity,” he said.
Sometime this year, possibly in June, he will add another reward when he receives a doctorate in philosophy from Cappela University in Minnesota to add to his certificates and diplomas from an array of military educational institutions, including National Defence University, Joint Forces Staff College, the Academy of Health Sciences of the United States Army and the Chaplain Centre and School.