***image1***BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq — Sitting casually in a white plastic lawn chair
under the yellow hues of the tent and wearing the new Air Force fitness
uniform, he looks nothing like the priests many of us grew up with.
But Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Fitz-Patrick is well known and loved by KMC Catholics and now the people of Balad Air Base.
Chaplain’s Fitz-Patrick’s life as a priest began almost 26 years ago.
“Growing up, I always had wonderful priests,” he said. “At some point, I felt that this is what God wanted me to do.”
After 10 years of serving as a priest in the civilian world, the chaplain decided to join the chaplain service.
“I was a military brat,” he said. “I always thought the chaplain service was something good and something I could do.”
At Ramstein, Chaplain Fitz-Patrick works with two other Catholic
priests and nearly 20 contractors to hold Masses, provide counseling
and offer educational programs to the parish of approximately 3,000
people. He also serves as the unit chaplain for the 435th Mission
Although he and the chaplains he leads here provide many of the same
services to the people of Balad, he also must deal with the unique
spiritual needs that come from working in a deployed location.
Here, he spends a lot of time with individuals coming into the chapel for counseling or support.
“A majority of the issues (that come up during counseling) are issues
that are going on back home, thousands of miles away,” he said.
Additionally, with death being on the forefront of many people’s minds, he is asked often about what might lie beyond.
“A lot of people come in, especially those who are going outside the
wire or those who know someone who’s been killed, and they say it makes
them wonder, ‘What is there beyond this life?’” he said.
The chaplain also responds to calls for a priest at the hospital here,
which is the largest field hospital in Iraq and the largest field
hospital since Vietnam.
Additionally, he also travels “outside the wire” to forward operating
locations and will support the Army while their chaplains rotate in and
out of theater.
Although he is extremely busy and says “free time is a luxury,”
Chaplain Fitz-Patrick feels blessed to work with the people around him.
“I am so fortunate with most of the staff,” he said. “We support each
other and listen to each other’s heartaches and pains. Not being able
to work with people like these can make for a very long deployment.”
As the wing chaplain here, he makes sure he takes care of his four fellow chaplains and three chaplain’s assistants.
“I’ve tried to evaluate their talents and gifts and have let them know
that I am here to help them,” he said. “I’ve let them know that if they
don’t feel like they can do something, I will do it for them.”
The people of his Ramstein parish have continued to stay in touch with
their chaplain, sending him e-mails, letters, cards and cookies. And
when he returns home, he will do so with a new rank, having pinned on
lieutenant colonel recently.
For now, the chaplain and his staff are concentrating on continuing their support to the people of Balad.
“As the holidays approach, this might be the first time that some
people are away from their families, and it’s hard to not get
emotionally upset,” he said. “We know that people will be turning to us
— maybe not for answers, but for support.”