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Alan Baker huddled in the sweltering bunker as the air raid siren screamed one desert night during Desert Storm in 1991. "Scud alert. Scud alert," a loudspeaker warned. "All hands take cover!"

In each hand, Baker clutched an auto-injecting antidote to lethal nerve agents. In the dimly lit bunker, he looked at his companions, packed tightly together, waiting for the first symptoms of gas poisoning. The dark rubber masks made everyone seem faceless and robotic. Baker was as terrified as anyone, but he had something that many of his companions did not: a deep faith in God. As the chaplain to the Third Marine Air Wing, Baker had spent months praying, reflecting, and preparing for such a moment.

As the hard-packed desert sand shook with the impact of incoming Iraqi missiles, one soldier began to flail her arms desperately, pulled her mask off, and hyperventilated. Baker quickly grabbed his Communion kit, moved alongside her, and identified himself as a chaplain. "I think we're going to be okay," he told her. "I don't hear any more explosions."

"Listen," he said. "It's quiet."
"When you put all that gear on, you are very isolated," he later recalled. "You're hot, you're sweating. If you have any sense of claustrophobia, you'll find out."

In peril on the sea

War will do that to youreveal your fears and focus your desires. Today as tens of thousands of troops steam toward the Middle East for an expected showdown with Iraq's Saddam Hussein, the military's chaplains know they may soon be called upon to guide young men and women through life-changing trauma from combat experiences.

On ships, in airfields, back at bases, 864 chaplains are on active duty with the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. The Chaplain Corps includes major ...

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In the Magazine

April 2003

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