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Chaplain Captain James Covey is up earlier than he cares to be, fighting 6:30 A.M. traffic through Fort Hood's main gate with a hundred soldiers late to calisthenics. At 6:45 he's leading what he calls "your standard Army prayer breakfast" at Darnall Army Community Hospital.

It's also Covey's turn to carry the funeral bag. It contains a cell phone that rings when a veteran dies and wishes to have a funeral with military honors. Other times it rings for a soldier who dies in Iraq. As funeral duty chaplain, Covey helps bear the news to the soldier's next of kin.

Covey, 37, creeps through the three-lane queue in his aged Suburban with his Bible, his grandfather's cheapo guitar, and three empty car seats for his three little girls. He shows a gatekeeper his Army photo ID: a quarter-inch horseshoe of hair fringing a slick dome, striking Greek features, goofball grin.

Covey answered God's call to the chaplaincy while serving as a senior pastor in a Tyler, Texas, Southern Baptist church. As he waits to see if he'll be subject to a random vehicle search, he mulls what he can tell a clutch of doctors, nurses, medics, and soldiers in a 10-minute sermon on being deployed.

Elsewhere on the base, about a mile from the main gate, Chaplain Major Greg Walker, 39, is one of 12,000 Fourth Infantry Division troops doing pushups and sit-ups and running in formation. After 11 years in the chaplaincy, it's routine. In 2002 the Army shipped Walker, his wife, Roxanne, and their two sons to Fort Hood, the largest active-duty armored post in the United States. In this small city in the heart of Texas, some 90 chaplains representing the gamut of Christian denominations, plus a couple of imams and rabbis, shape the souls of more than 40,000 troops and ...

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In the Magazine

December 2004

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