Hope & faith for our troops

Military padres walk with personnel through life and death issues, a tradition dating back to the 14th century

Navy Lt. Nigel Tully

Navy Lt. Nigel Tully pushes his nerves aside and calms his mind as he walks toward the young lieutenant waiting for him outside the morgue at a covert Canadian military camp in the Middle East.

Over the course of the long, hot day and into the next, Tully offers his support and a listening ear to Lt. Mike Yung, who is escorting the casket of his close friend, Saanich resident Lt. Andrew Nuttall, home to Canada. The 30-year-old platoon commander was killed by a homemade bomb while out on a foot patrol in southwest Afghanistan, on Dec. 23, 2009.

“(Yung) was exhausted, he was tired, he had just flown in from Kandahar,” recalls Tully, a CFB Esquimalt chaplain who was deployed for six months in support of the Afghanistan mission, in 2009 and 2010.

“I told him I would be there to support him,” he says

The Anglican priest is one of 10 Protestant and Roman Catholic padres at the base, and about 180 regular force chaplains in the Canadian Forces.

They provide crisis intervention, referrals, confidential support and spiritual counselling to military members at home and abroad, and their families.

They also preside over church services, baptisms, weddings and funerals of military personnel, and are usually present when families are told a loved one has been killed.

“The privilege is that you are there to walk with them through an absolutely life-changing (event),” says Maj. Doug Friesen, a Victoria resident who heads the chaplain team at CFB Esquimalt. “That’s a sacred moment.”

The Anglican priest’s career highlight was the 10 months he spent in Kandahar as the senior task force chaplain, from 2008 to 2009.

“You can’t move anywhere in Kandahar without facing the possibility of death,” Friesen says. “You’re dealing with (members’) anxiety about taking life, or the possibility of taking life.”

Nuttall’s death was Tully’s first experience with a member killed in action. During his deployment, the padre presided over 14 more repatriation ceremonies honouring the fallen.

“You pray that nothing would happen and then it happened,” he says, recalling the days before Nuttall’s death. The loss of the young man still brings tears to his eyes.

“I think for me it was just the realization that war is real … that everybody is susceptible to the realities of war, not only the serving members but the families and the communities that support them.”

Many times, Tully sat and talked with Yung on a bench outside the camp morgue, helping the soldier prepare for the next leg of his emotional mission.

“He really wanted to make sure (the Nuttalls) were comforted in the midst of the loss,” Tully says.

Some chaplains were regularly flown to remote outposts to support battle-weary troops, even going with them on patrols. Padres going to the front lines is a tradition that dates back to the 14th century, when armies took monks to war.

“It’s tradition, it’s integral to military history that a padre deploys with the troops as close to the front as possible,” Friesen says.

“That means that when you walk that walk, you’re walking in a soldier’s boots, or sailing with a sailor. You’re sharing the risks, you’re sharing the hardships, you’re sharing the lifestyle – then they talk to you.”

Padres often must dig deep spiritually within themselves to remain strong so they, in turn, can provide strength to others in need.

“Those moments when you talk with a soldier, where they begin to disclose what they experience, we define it as a sacred space or a sacred time,” Tully says. “Being a priest, I couldn’t imagine being anything else.”

•••

Remembering the fallen

There are days when Jane Nuttall just has to hear the voice of her son, Lt. Andrew Nuttall.

The Saanich resident will listen to two voicemail messages her 30 year old left before he was killed by a bomb during a foot patrol in Afghanistan, on Dec. 23, 2009.

“A couple of days ago I got up and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve just got to hear his voice,’ and put it on,” Jane says. “But I can’t do it lots of days because it’s too hard.”

With her husband Richard by her side, Jane will once again attend Saanich Remembrance Day ceremonies today (Nov. 11) as a Silver Cross mother. She will lay a wreath for all Canadian mothers whose sons or daughters died serving their country.

Despite their extraordinary loss, Richard’s Remembrance Day message is simple.

“These men and women did us proud,” he says of the 158 Canadian military members killed in Afghanistan. “They made a huge sacrifice and we should remember them for what they did.”

Such events prove difficult for the couple, but they enjoy meeting people who share their stories about Andrew.

“There’s a lot of comfort in it all,” Jane says. “Just another little puzzle piece of his life.”

The Canadian military took the Nuttalls, and other families of the fallen, to Kandahar in March, as part its next-of-kin program. It was a moving experience for the couple, reminding them of their son’s phone calls and messages from the war-torn nation.

“Just breathing the air and the dust all over us and realizing we were looking out on the same hills that Andrew would tell us about in his phone call … it was very powerful,” Jane says.

emccracken@vicnews.com

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Helping others, especially those struggling with mental health issues, keeps MOD Pizza owner Jim Hayden cooking. (RIck Stiebel/News Staff)
A 1900s writing box found in Greater Victoria contained ink, photos and a letter addressed to Clara McCaubry dated October 14, 1898. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Hervieux)
Mysterious 1900s writing box finds a home among Saanich Archives

Wooden chest owned by early Saanich resident Clara Isabelle McCaubry

(Black Press Media file photo)
Spooky online class cooks up funds for Greater Victoria Imagination Library

United Way Greater Victoria offers how-to for witch cookies, tasty coffin as fundraiser

Murray Rankin has announced he will seek the nomination for the Oak Bay Gordon Head riding in the 2021 provincial election (which could happen in the fall of 2020). The former Minister of Parliament for the Victoria riding from 2012 to 2019.
(MurrayRankin.com)
New Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Murray Rankin says he will use his federal connections

Rankin said being part of NDP majority government gives him a strong voice

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read