Padre Whitman brings army to 4 Wing

Cliff Kenyon

Andrew Whitman admits he’s a bit like fish out of water. A long, long way from the water. And it’s all a challenge he’s enjoying.

Capt. Whitman is the newest addition to the team of 4 Wing chaplains, originally from New Brunswick, raised in a small community called Brown’s Flats, not far from Saint John. Two more chaplains will be joining the staff here, following transfers by former 4 Wing chaplains. For Whitman, Cold Lake and an air base weren’t destinations he had ever thought of.
“It was a surprise, but I thank God for the opportunity and the adventure.”
Whitman is an army captain and a trained as an artillery officer. He wanted to be the in army since he was six years old. He also has a degree in mechanical engineering.

“Chaplains come from all walks of life,” he said.

Most are already clergy as civilians and recruited by the military. Whitman took a different route, attending the Military Chaplain Training Plan, through which he earned a master’s degree in divinity.

“I think I was called to the ministry because I wasn’t very good as an
artillery officer. The best way you can serve God is to be good at what you do, and if you’re not good at it, do what you are good at: what God has gifted you to do.”

He became a chaplain because he believes that is the way to be “part of the solution.”

He has been in the military for 21 years and served in Afghanistan before he became a chaplain.

That’s where he learned it’s important for soldiers “to learn why they do what they do.”

He was in CFB Gagetown for training and later at CFB Petawawa.

In 2007, as an artillery officer he did a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He said he was “rarely outside the wire” of Kandahar Airfield (KAF) as he was busy in surveillance and target acquisition.

“We were busy supporting operations while the others were out getting shot at and shooting back.”

While he was in Afghanistan, his brother was also on tour in Afghanistan.
“I experienced warfare vicariously through my brother,” he said.

The loss of a close friend, another soldier, due to an IED in Afghanistan, was one of many “surreal experiences.”

“If you believe that people do well toward each other,” he said, “then the reality of human nature, exposed by war, can be very disorienting, emotionally, spiritually.”

Sometimes soldiers carry their grief over a loss for years or even decades until the realization hits.

“It helps to know there is a God. It doesn’t make sense now but it will someday.”

“When you are fighting you have to know that it’s necessary. You have to prepare, and know in your heart what is right, and where you will draw the line. If you do that, you can have peace in your conscience knowing it’s what you had to do.”

In war there is an acute awareness of death, but, “statistically, it can be more dangerous making a highway trip.” It makes you stop and reflect on life in our peaceful nation and its illusion of safety. Many troops continue to struggle with the reality beneath that veneer.

As a chaplain “you want to be there for the troops as a light in the darkness.”

Chaplains can have a positive impact on military life because they fill a role as “a non-judgmental person to talk to.”