Chaplains get okay to bless combat soldiers

Blessing soldiers before missions does not amount to proselytising, defence minister says

Despite the concerns of Church of Denmark bishops, Army chaplains will not be given guidelines for blessing soldiers before going on missions in Afghanistan, the defence minister, Nick Hækkerup, announced today.

“We’re talking about 25-year-old men and women who are under a lot of pressure. I can understand if they feel reassured by someone telling them before a mission there’s someone looking out for them. I can’t get too worked up about this.”

Hækkerup’s comments to Jyllands-Posten newspaper came after the emergence of a video of Lt Thomas Aallmanns blessing soldiers before a 2008 mission, making a victory sign with his fingers and then thumping his chest.

According to Thomas H Beck, an Army deacon, the current procedure for blessing soldiers before a mission began in 2006 when Danish soldiers began operating in Helmand province and has developed over time.

The blessing used today, Beck said, is given to fully armed soldiers as they leave camp on missions and ends with the phrase: “Trust in God, and keep your powder dry.”

Beck, however, pointed out that each of the three chaplains currently serving with the Army in Afghanistan had their own version of the blessing, and that the victory sign was normally not included.

He admitted that the blessing was unorthodox and did not meet church standards, but added that the gestures were “something harmless that comrades in arms did”.

“But vicars shouldnÂ’t be making war holy – and they’re not,” Beck told Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper.

Some of the bishops who had been cited as objecting to blessing soldiers before combat later clarified that their misgivings were directed toward the closing shown on the video, saying the apparent mixture of religion and military duty evoked images of crusading soldiers.

Hækkerup, though, reiterated that the military was not in Afghanistan on a religious mission. Members of the clergy, he added, were assigned to units to care for soldiers, not to proselytise.

“If it makes the soldiers feel better, I don’t care whether ministers do pirouettes, pat soldiers on the shoulder, shake their hands or make a victory sign. Just as long as they don’t become missionaries.”

View the video of Lt Thomas Aallmanns blessing troops