Honor to be with real heroes

  • Published
  • By Clay Church
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Project Engineer might not be the title you normally associate with your unit chaplain. But in Ted Nicholson's case, Fort Worth District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it would be, if you're a 301st Fighter Wing member of the Air Force Reserve. 

Chaplain (Maj.) Ted Nicholson deployed earlier this year to support an Aerospace Expeditionary Force deployment with the 301st but it was also his engineering skills and background that played a major role in a successful deployment. 

When not performing his Reserve duty, Major Nicholson is the lead civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In the past, he has worked on environmental design and cleanups, but more recently has worked on the design and construction of civil works and military construction projects. 

This was not Major Nicholson's first Global War on Terror deployment. He first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 as an engineer with USACE's first Forward Engineering Support Team. It was there he saw the physical and spiritual needs of deployed soldiers. 

"God used that experience to convince me to become a military chaplain," said Major Nicholson. In 2004, he deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq -- this time as a military chaplain. 

"Up to that point, my deployment to Iraq was the highlight of my career."
Major Nicholson left again for Iraq in early May 2007 as a captain and returned home toward the end of September a major, spending the entire time he was in Iraq on Balad Air Base. 

The air base is approximately 40 miles north of Baghdad, occupying 25 square kilometers which makes it one of the largest air bases in Iraq. It is home to about 200 U.S. Army helicopters and is the launching point for F-16 fighters and numerous cargo and unmanned aerial systems. It is home to about 25,000 U.S. troops and is the largest and busiest aerial port operation in all of Iraq. 

Major Nicholson was one of seven chaplains and five chaplain assistants who ministered to the military members who serve on this vast sprawling base. 

Chaplain Nicholson's days were full from beginning to end with never a dull moment. Through the 126 days he spent at Balad AB, there were 142 attacks requiring "Battle Rattle" -- the donning of body armor and helmet. When the air temperatures soared above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, Chaplain Nicholson was out visiting civil engineering, security forces, aerial port, and maintenance troops on the flightline, where it was even hotter. 

"Being with people where they work and live, and experiencing part of what they experience, gives you a feel for where they're coming from, and helps you more effectively minister to their needs," said Chaplain Nicholson. 

Then there were the many nights spent with the troops. One of his "additional duties" was night visitations at the Air Force Theater Hospital. Here is where he learned his biggest lesson ... the will of the U.S. Army Soldier. 

Seeing these guys in the hospital, who defended their buddies or dragged a fellow Soldier out of a burning vehicle, wanting to get back to their units, really showed me the real heroes. I would have to tell them they have done the brave stuff; now let the medical folks get them back into shape. It was a real honor for me to be with real heroes," Chaplain Nicholson said. 

The chaplain also saw some of the not so pleasant sides of war. He was pressed into service on more than one occasion to perform duties not normally associated with being a chaplain or engineer. He described one episode when he assisted in the operating room by suiting-up in surgical scrubs, hair net, gloves and mask. 

A Soldier had been shot in the leg which severed his femoral artery and besides comforting and praying with the Soldier prior to the surgery; Major Nicholson was pressed into being a member of the surgical team. The surgery was a success and Nicholson stated how there is a 98 percent survival rate for the patients who make it into the hospital. 

Even when surrounded with the stress of combat operations, injuries, and constant attacks, the issue most people sought him out for counsel was relationships. 

"Over 80 percent of my work was helping people with their relationships with spouses and significant others back home," said Major Nicholson. "More than anything else, I reminded people that God is the only One who can help them, especially in situations where we have no control." 

Besides his chaplain and "surgical skills" his engineering talents were also put to the test when he was given the duties as the technical point of contact for a new chapel. His duties were similar to that of a project engineer, including design changes, quality control of the contractors work and ensuring the project kept on schedule -- no small task in a war zone. The new chapel is on schedule to open just prior to Christmas.
Senior chaplain for the 301st FW, Chaplain Mark McDaniel, had high praises for Chaplain Nicholson. 

"His mother and mine go to church together in Houston and it is neat to have Ted here in Fort Worth. We are proud of him and he's a great edition to the wing." 

Major Nicholson summed up his experience from his third overseas deployment since 9/11 saying how easy it is to be motivated when others depend on you. 

"There are no extra people over there. It is a dangerous mission where people get injured and killed. It is good to see people use their training where it really matters for the mission," Major Nicholson said. (Clay Church is a former public affairs officer for the 301st Fighter Wing currently working with the Fort Worth District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as a public affairs specialist.)
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