By Anne Marie Amacher
After offering hope and healing for soldiers serving in Afghanistan, Father William Kneemiller sought his own healing upon returning to the United States.
Fr. Kneemiller served as a chaplain with the U.S. Army Reserves’ 649th Regional Support Group based in Cedar Rapids and recently completed a yearlong tour of duty. He had been serving the parishes of Lost Nation, Oxford Junction and Toronto prior to going on leave in June 2009.
After preparations at Fort Lewis in Washington state, Fr. Kneemiller’s first stop overseas was to Kyrgyzstan, a NATO base in southeast Asia located in a mountainous area with cooler temperatures. That contrasted with the majority of his active duty deployment at another NATO base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where the weather was hot and the terrain rough. Fr. Kneemiller previously was deployed as a chaplain in Iraq from 2003-04.
This time he was with soldiers from different countries on the NATO base. “They were from Britain, Canada, Romania and elsewhere. We all had important roles.” On the weekends, Fr. Kneemiller offered Masses at the Kandahar base. Throughout the week he traveled to other bases to offer Masses, conduct Bible studies, help those desiring to become Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), offer religious education and the sacrament of reconciliation and be available for soldiers of any faith who sought counseling.
Because Afghanistan is mountainous, he typically flew in a helicopter. At times he rode in transports traveling on supply routes. His services were most appreciated on smaller bases, which typically drew the greatest attendance, he said. There was no shortage of opportunities to help soldiers, he noted. No matter where he went, people asked him to pray with them. Counseling and reconciliation were heavily sought. “They really appreciated the sacrament of reconciliation.”
Whenever he arrived at a base for the first time, Fr. Kneemiller said he gave the “ruck sack” talk. “I talked about how nasty old sins weigh heavy on you. I encouraged them to go to reconciliation.” Some soldiers hadn’t received the sacrament in over a year, while others had been away from the sacrament for nearly 10 years.
Fr. Kneemiller said he worked to help soldiers dealing with marriage difficulties, the frustrations of yearlong deployments, problems with co-workers and stress. “If you were in crisis mode — they told you to see the chaplain,” he said.
“Some were suicidal. It was difficult. In the beginning I wasn’t sure how to help on occasion. They are dealing with complex issues.” He said he did the best he could to offer healing and prayer. “I would pray for the Holy Spirit to help them deal with their problems and for the gifts and grace of the Holy Spirit to help them.”
He took some of the knowledge he learned at Msgr. Marvin Mottet’s monthly healing Mass in Davenport to help him deal with those in crisis.
When Fr. Kneemiller returned to the United States this summer, he attended a healing conference after his debriefing from the Reserves.
A priest suggested praying for healing for himself, Fr. Kneemiller said. He had used meditation and prayer personally, but needed more. So he went to a healing conference. “It was an amazing experience. I learned about bringing Christian love and healing to others and afterward received the gift of grace.”
Gifts of faith
“In Afghanistan, I saw how important DVDs are for the younger soldiers, and so I always had a collection of DVDs on the lives of the saints and other inspirational films from Ignatius Press and Catholic Vision Video,” said Father William Kneemiller. He recently returned to the Davenport Diocese after a yearlong tour of duty as a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves. He was stationed throughout Afghanistan.
“I believe that any media has a profound effect on our lives, and if anyone doubts this, just look up how much a 30-second Super Bowl commercial costs! Advertisers are betting millions on the power of the media.”
Fr. Kneemiller offers the following as his favorite religious movies: full-length saints’ movies on the lives of St. Anthony, Padre Pio, Francis and Clare. He also likes “The 13th Day,” a new Fatima movie.
“And of course, all the great oldies from the 1950s and early 60’s when Hollywood was making movies about saints,” Fr. Kneemiller said.
Religious Supply Center in Davenport carries several of the movies and can order many more. “See some of my favorites as an experiment to see if these ‘gifts of faith’ will take off.”