COB SPEICHER, Iraq — The priest, dressed in a simple tan robe, began to say Mass for three soldiers in front of a TV with a coffee table for an altar. As more soldiers trickled in, he beckoned them to take a seat in one of the couches arranged in an arc around the altar. Lt. Col. Richard Piontkowski, deputy command chaplain with the 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a Grand Island, Neb., native, celebrated Catholic Mass Dec. 27 in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation building at the Bayji Oil Refinery in Iraq.
Due to the limited number of priests in Iraq, Soldiers with C Company, 127th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, rarely have the opportunity to attend Mass. A Protestant chaplain visits approximately twice per month, however.They partner with the Iraqi Security Forces to protect the oil refinery, which produces about 70 percent of Iraq’s oil."We respond to any significant activity involving convoys that go back and forth from Speicher to Mosul," said 1st Lt. John Bockstanz, executive officer with C Co., 127th Inf. Regt., and an Emmaus, Pa., native.Bockstanz said this was the first time he received communion in the six months he has been deployed. He said that priests have visited, but not during a time he was available to attend the Mass."It was good to be able to come to Mass, it really brought me back home," said Pfc. Phillip Graff, a gunner with the 127th Inf. Regt., and a Ft. Myers, Fla. native.Graff said the service felt more meaningful with the handful of guys from his unit than it would have among dozens of people he doesn’t know.The Mass celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family. Piontkowski encouraged the men to fulfill their obligations to their families and to be the ones to add holiness to their families, imperfect as they may be."Sometimes it’s hard to remember what the holidays are about up here," said Bockstanz.Attending Mass with members of their close-knit unit family helped these soldiers connect spiritually with their faraway loved ones."The isolation up here builds really strong community ties within the company. You really get to know everyone," said Bockstanz. Piontkowski’s visit, however, will linger in the minds of the soldiers who attended, strengthening their ties to their home and to the military family at the Bayji Refinery.
-- SPC Zane Craig
Democracy is not a root but a branch. The root is religion which alone gives value to each person as a creature of God. But atheism is the root of anti-Americanism. That is why subversive activities are always anti-religious.
--Fulton J. Sheen
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