Meet Major Dwayne Bos
By Gisele McKnight
This year, the Rev. Major Dwayne Bos, senior base chaplain at 5CDSG Gagetown, will spend Christmas with his wife, Peggy, and their five children.
But it’s hard not to think about Christmas 2009, which he spent deployed in Kandahar City, Afghanistan.
“I was right in the middle of a city that appears to be in biblical time,” he said, adding he was the only Christian cleric for miles.
It was an eventful celebration. Half-way through the Christmas Eve service, a huge explosion rocked the region, “and 70 per cent of the congregation dashed out,” he said.
They were members of the Quick Reaction Force, responding to an attempted prison break in the city.
His preferred carol to end Christmas Eve services, Silent Night, was a bit of a stretch that evening.
Maj. Bos, from the Waterloo region of Ontario, began his New Brunswick posting in July. He’s been in the Canadian Armed Forces for 20 years. Besides a Masters of Divinity, he earned a BA in social development services and is a graduate of Huron College. He is one of about 200 military chaplains in the Regular Forces.
The call to be both a priest and a soldier is a unique one and it began with a stint as a student chaplain while in the Reserves. He was the rector of a small parish in the Diocese of Huron while in the Reserves until deciding that full-time ministry within the Canadian Armed Forces was the right path for him.
“I was looking for ministry that engaged young people and I wasn’t sure I was called to parish ministry because of the age,” he said.
It was a good decision, he said.
“The diversity of what the military will throw at you in a day, the potential to assist people in need — internationally or domestic — being able to walk with soldiers and talk about their faith and spirituality” is what confirms that decision.
He made the move to the Regular Forces in 2004 with a posting to Shilo, Manitoba. After his deployment to Afghanistan, he served again in Shilo, then Borden, and most recently, to the CFSUO, the Canadian Forces Support Unit Ottawa, where he was chaplain to the National Defence Headquarters until last summer.
“Here my job is team leader for 12-13 chaplains in the Regular Forces,” he said. “The primary role is the spiritual fitness and wellness of the Canadian Armed Forces personnel and their families.
“We are one of the few, if not the only military trade that ministers to both the family and the solider.”
Among his duties — providing religious advice to the chain of command. As the senior chaplain on the base, he spends a good deal of time on administrative tasks, but he still has the opportunity for pastoral care. He takes his turn along with all the chaplains conducting regular services. The base has two chapels.
“One of our key chaplaincy programs is the Sentinel program,” said Maj. Bos.
It trains willing volunteer soldiers on how to listen to others and keep watch for those in distress, pointing them to the proper resources.
Military chaplains are possibly more relevant than ever these days, with deployments to regions of the world where religion plays a huge role in both the culture and the conflict. To address this, chaplains are now involved in Religious Area Assessment and Religious Leader Engagement, two additions to the chaplaincy role.
“Religion will have a major impact in any place we go into,” he said, adding the RAA involves chaplains researching the religious makeup of the theatre and briefing soldiers before deployment.
“We believe preparing soldiers can help with their spiritual resiliency and better prepare them for the mission.”
The RLE program is in-theatre and is much more hands-on.
“It allows chaplains to build up a relationship with the local religious authorities, to build a culture of trust, with the intent to help the mission,” he said. “It’s also made very clear that it’s not for gathering intelligence. It’s a way to build bridges.”
Both programs were in their infancy when he was in Afghanistan.
His time in Afghanistan in 2009-10 was with the Provincial Reconstruction Team, deployed with
2PPCLI (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry), mostly responsible for infrastructure building. They linked with local officials to find what they needed, including schools, wells and so on — nation-building projects, he called them.
It was during his seven months there that Canadian journalist Michelle Lang was killed while reporting on the war in Afghanistan on Dec. 30, 2009. She died with four soldiers when they hit a roadside bomb. Several other deaths followed, and it was a particularly trying time for Canadian soldiers, Mjr. Bos included.
EASTER IN AFGHANISTAN
Easter 2010 was a treat in Afghanistan. He used a nearby palm tree to make authentic palm crosses and he still has his in a scrapbook. He also presided over an authentic Seder meal with about 40 soldiers. This symbolic meal is borrowed from the Jewish tradition of Passover and leads up to the Eucharist.
“I booked off a section of the kitchen tent and we celebrated the Seder meal with real lamb, naan bread, bitter herbs, salt water,” he said, adding the kitchen officer was most helpful.
The Easter vigil service, though, was memorable for another reason. The Major’s chapel was right next to a helicopter pad, and as he was setting up for the service, a huge amount of activity was going on at the pad.
“President [Hamid] Karzai, president of Afghanistan, arrived a half-hour before I started the Easter vigil service,” he said.
Any hope of a quiet vigil was dashed with the president’s sudden visit to the base. Even so, he’s humbled to have been able to celebrate Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter in a country that looks an awful lot like a biblical setting, though not one that particularly reveres the Saviour.
“If not for these walls, what I was doing would not be permitted,” he recounted of his time there.
All things considered, Major Bos is enjoying his career as both a solider and a priest.
“Being able to celebrate key events in our church calendar is quite unique in terms of the setting and what we’re able to provide our soldiers,” he said.