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Interview with Walter Dinkins, November 3, 2009 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Walter Dinkins, November 3, 2009
November 3, 2009
Interview with Chaplain, United States Navy, Walter Dinkins.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Dinkins, Walter Interviewer:  Parnell, Jerry Date of Interview:  11/3/2009 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  68 minutes


Parnell: Today is November 3, 2009. I'm Jerry Parnell with the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Project. We're in the Helen Hagan room with special collections at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Here with me today to talk about his service in the gulf war on terror is Commander Walter Dinkins, Chaplain, United States Navy. Good afternoon.

Dinkins: Good afternoon.

Parnell: I want to go back to the beginning. Tell us about your childhood, where you're from, your family, and anything like that you want to talk about.

Dinkins: Sure. I grew up in a family of--that believed in--was very strict Calvinist background. We didn't--we were strict members of the Presbyterian church of the U.S. It was--it merged with the northern church and the western churches of the Presbyterian church to form the Presbyterian U.S.A. in 19--in the early 1980s, and went solid in '83. It has strong Calvinist roots from Scotland so a lot of Scotch Irish that moved to the states were affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of the north, out the west, and of the south. And I grew up in a family of politicians, lawyers, doctors, and teachers, and my father had served in the military a total of--he retired finally with a little over 40 years of service as enlisted noncommissioned officer, an officer in both the active duty army reserves and national guard.

Parnell: Did you travel around some growing up?

Dinkins: I did a little bit of traveling around but my mother did not like the military service and put her foot down and went--said that she wanted to go back home to live near her mother and--which was also near where my father's family lived. And my grandfather served in World War I. He went to law school with Strom Thurmond, Senator Thurmond. They went to law school together. His wife was my grandmother's suitemate at Columbia College and my first cousin was his second wife's suite mate in Winthrop in the 70s.

Parnell: So you're from South Carolina?

Dinkins: I grew up in the low country of South Carolina. My grandfather was a senator for the state of South Carolina, state senator, and sat on many commissions. One was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's commission, one of those people that went to Washington as part of that. And if you did a little search you'd find out. See his name pop up there.

Parnell: You say low country, what part of South Carolina?

Dinkins: I lived in the town of Manning, which is near the Santee Cooper lakes. Miss America of 1957 came from there and the children's author Peggy Parish that wrote the Amelia Bedelia series grew up there. That was my aunt.

Parnell: I'm from Florence.

Dinkins: Oh, you're right up the road.

Parnell: Right up the road, yeah.

Dinkins: Right up the road, about 44 miles, yeah. And that's an interesting area all up in there. So my grandfather and my father believed that public service was the highest form of endeavor, but my grandfather did not stay in service following World War I, where he served with Americal division. My father came in right after--while he was at PC and right after Pearl Harbor, and he retired when I was a PFC in 1981. So I grew up in that way, where the church and public service was very strong on people's mind. Did my undergraduate at USC and grad school at Columbia. Did the theological seminary, part of the Interdenominational Theological Seminary of the Southeast in Atlanta. Had professors from Spellman and John C. Smith, which was a traditional African American Seminary and school there in Southern Atlanta, and Georgia State and of course Candler and Emory. I had professors from all of there and enjoyed that very much. Matter of fact, Mrs. Martin Luther King taught me one three day class on pastoral leadership and civil rights, which--was very lucky to do that. Her eldest daughter was doing a dual program at Candler during the same time I was at Columbia Theological Seminary. That was Yolanda.

Parnell: When did you go into the military?

Dinkins: I had dropped out of the premed program that I was in and reflecting what I was gonna do, if I wanted to stay in school and--or do what at that particular point. And I was told by my father that there was no question about what I was gonna do next, that was I was gonna join the South Carolina army national guard where he had--the company was in that town that I grew up in and he used to be the commanding officer of that during the Vietnam--early part of the Vietnam conflict. And everybody knew my father and I knew most of the people there and I went in there and after about a year of that I was ready to go back to college, and my grades picked up super quickly and I graduated from USC Coastal. My degree was from Columbia. USC Coastal was just outside of Myrtle Beach in Conway at the time. It left USC system later. My degree, of course, came from there, BA in history, minor in Ancient Languages. I was very good in language. Applied for and received recognition as a second lieutenant in the army reserves and then was--did my pastoral requirements for my Presbytery of New Harmony, and then was brought on active duty.

Parnell: And this was about when?

Dinkins: This was in the late 80s. I was volunteering as a pastor volunteer at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas when I got a call that I had orders going to Fort Lewis, Washington, first special operations group. And then I was very excited 'cause I liked all that hurrah airborne group of people, and then I got a call a couple of weeks later, told me all my orders got cancelled and I was going to White Sands, New Mexico. I didn't even know where that was. So I went to New Mexico as a young army First Lieutenant Chaplain and it had about 80 something navy personnel doing nuclear missile technology, weapons technology, research and development, Star Wars programs, all these type of things. And the army had people working on different types of things there. That was famous after--or during the World War II years and then following thereafter. So a research and development base out of New Mexico. And there I started working with the navy and I . . .

Parnell: You were still in the army?

Dinkins: I was still in the army, yes. I had responsibility for the navy in that, and the army troops, and I started dating an admiral's daughter down there, Admiral Paul Arthur I believe was his name, Paul. His daughter, who was in the chemical engineering program and went and got her PhD from UTA in biochemistry, nuclear background. And anyhow, he had taught me in one day about would I like to transfer to the navy, and I put some paperwork in for that to see if--to see what would come back and it came back and I was approved and the next thing you know, well all of a sudden I was in the navy and waiting for an assignment. They sent me up to Newport to learn how to wear the-- all the different uniforms of the navy officer, and then they sent me to the marine corps. And I went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which I thought was about the size of Fort Bragg, pretty big, or Benning, whatever, 'cause I had worked a lot in the army reserve prior all over the nation and seen a lot of things. I had worked with airborne air assault infantry and hospitals of the Walter Reed and Fitzsimmons, 101st Airborne assignment in the army reserves in Fort Benning, and when I covered the rangers and all, and those people were very interesting. I get to see a wide variety of those things.

Parnell: When you say you work with, you're talking about counseling with the soldiers?

Dinkins: Yes, yeah.

Dinkins: Go through what you do.

Dinkins: It was very similar to what we do in the navy, it's just a larger group. A battalion in the army might be 1200 people. A battalion in the marine corps might be 800 to 1100 people. A brigade in the army might be a couple thousand people and a regiment in the marine corps is very similar. Now hospitals are all the same. Training is basically a lot of the same, just more regimented. So those assignments are all very similar. But the navy, the ships, there's nothing like that. I mean the army has boats but, you know, the navy has massive ships. So I went and did two years with the marines, deployed all over the world with them, and then asked for a ship assignment and was assigned, after all those years, with the marine corps to a ship out of Apra Harbor, Guam. And we covered from, oh geez, Taiwan to Australia. We did cruises and all out there and it supported repair and refit facilities. Now I went from battalion chaplain to a ship's chaplain, like what they call a command chaplain, and I replaced the commander as a lieutenant, the equivalent of an army captain, an 03. So that was a pretty good job when you have an 03 with a staff of seven on a ship that deploys 197 days out of the year. That was big time with the army so.

Parnell: And a lot fewer men and women too.

Dinkins: Well you had--we had 1400, and at the time the navy did not have women on aircraft carriers. The largest ship that they put them on would be a sub tender, so the more problems you had in terms of cases going to mass and all like that would be on the sub tenders, so that was, you know, it was never a slow day. There was always something going on, people in trouble, chaos and calamity, you know. And then we deployed, usually, one month out, two months back, two months out, you know, one month back, two months out, one month back. And then an occasional three month deployment. Sub tender's very different from ships that would go out from other areas that would follow, you know, aircraft carriers and stuff. Those were big. So I tried to get an aircraft carrier after that but my ship decommissioned in Washington state, Bremerton. I had gotten married when I was in Guam and had to send my wife to South Carolina while my ship was taking a four month cruise back to Bremerton. I got to Bremerton and then was sent to naval air station Whidbey Island, which was a naval air training facility.

Parnell: Where's that?

Dinkins: That's way up near the Canadian border in northwest area there. So--and while I was in the ship we got to go to Australia, and we were in line for Singapore, a lot of times in Japan and Korea. With the marines I got to go to like Twenty-nine Palms and to mountain warfare school and to Okinawa and mainland Japan, but there wasn't any war zone then, and everybody thought after the first scuff war there would be, you know, not be another war for ten years, so that was the way that was. And then after I left Washington state I decided to take a parish, went into the reserve community, took a parish in Florida for a couple of years and belonged to a reserve community that was spread out from Texas to Virginia to North Carolina and Mississippi, units all over the place. Our job was to visit our people all over the place but only do that two days a month and two weeks a year, and then after that 9/11 happened. But before--I'm getting ahead of myself. Before 9/11 I had gotten offered to come back on active duty for a short period of time to replace people that had gotten hurt and they couldn't fill a slot. They couldn't leave it open so it was best to do that. That brought me to Hawaii and then back to Washington state again, usually for short assignments, four months, six months, those type things. So I ended up at a church in Wilmington, and three months after I arrived I was singing and whistling a tune and I came in and my secretary said, "A plane has crashed into the twin towers." And I said, "Is it--must've been foggy." And they said, "No, the radio says it's, you know, they don't know what's going on." And she couldn't understand what was going on. I said, "Well, in the late 40s a bomber crashed into the empire state building, way up in the thing, and that was due to fog." But she said, "There was no fog." So we went in and we saw the other crash had already happened by the time we got to a TV set, and I put a call in and they said they would let me know something if they needed me and they were getting a lot of calls from a lot of people. And I guess a couple of months later I got a phone call saying I was going to be recalled and so I was recalled and then came back to the parish. I was recalled again and it was a bit too much for the parish. They aren't used to that. They had a pastor before me that had been there 27 years and never gone anywhere.

Parnell: Which church in Wilmington?

Dinkins: That was a--one of the Presbyterian churches here. But--so I got called a third time and that was about it. And that was a bit too much for the church and the people to handle all of that. So I got a phone call that led me back to the marines again. I'd be assigned to marine training command somewhere or to a navy command somewhere, another marine command somewhere. And after I came back from Afghanistan in 2004 I was called into the two star general's office. He said, "You--your record said that you were very good in languages, right?" And I said, "Yes sir, about 16 years ago." He said, "Well, you're going to Arabic language school." I said, "I'm going to Arabic language school?" I said, "Sir, I'm, you know, 47 years old and that was 16, 17 years ago, last time I was in school." "You're going!" Said, "Okay sir, aye, aye, I'm going. You're gonna pay me to go to school, I'm gonna go to school." So they had a course where it was like three semesters of conversational Arabic taught by a professor from defense foreign language school. They brought him to the east side and they were trying to get as many people to get a good grasp of that. There was 46 in my class. I was one of 26 that graduated and it was after that things started happening. A lot of people wanted to utilize me. I was sent-- when I was sent to Chicago they had me draw up work on a little pamphlet for Arab-English emergency phrases that you could translate- transliterate into English. So people would laminate them and put them in their pocket if they didn't have a translator, and if they came across someone that was injured or whatever they could speak and do that. So-- matter of fact I have a copy of one of those if you want to look at that. And next thing you know, what was it happened? Oh, I was-- every time I'd go looking for a parish I would be like within a month to get a parish, just a month, and all of a sudden the phone would ring and they'd go, "We need you somewhere," and it was like okay. Well my family didn't mind 'cause they like Wilmington and they want to stay in Wilmington.

Parnell: You're back. You just came back recently.

Dinkins: Yes sir, just got back the other month so I'm out looking for a parish somewhere in the area. And matter of fact I just preached this last week over in Leland, one of the churches over there. So my presbytery, which is--here is called Coastal Carolina Presbytery, is trying to find a parish that would be a good fit for me.

Parnell: You're considered still reserve?

Dinkins: As a reservist, and one of a few that can speak Arabic. It's--although I'm not fluent. I'm conversationalist. I'm a conversationalist.

Parnell: I'm surprised they don't call you back full time.

Dinkins: They don't--they can't do that. I'm a commander and, you know, you don't bring back commanders. They don't even, you know, bring back lieutenant commanders, except for short periods of time. I'm in my 27th year so--but of active duty time. I can only do about a little over two years more of active duty time and then as a navy reservist you can't do beyond 17 years of active duty time. You could claim sanctuary and they would have to let you retire with pay early. So that's really a legal and administrative issue for the navy, that they don't like reservists to do that. So-- but nevertheless it's been pretty interesting. I remember once a guy said, "Well, you're never going to be anywhere. You're never going- you're deployed a lot, you're not gonna deploy anywhere else." And then the next day said I said, "Okay God, I guess You don't want me to deploy." And then I go out, do my work, and I come back and there's a person standing there and he says, "These just came in for you," and it was orders to send me to Africa. And never did I think that I would ever go to Africa. I mean this was like the same day this big shot in the chaplain core told me I wasn't going anywhere, you know. And then that same day I get orders going to Africa. And I was just excited about that. So I'd never been to Africa. I don't know if you've ever been to Africa.

Parnell: No.

Dinkins: And we had a very interesting thing. We cover 14 nations. Now it's down to 13 nations, 13 host nations. And the chaplain there, the head chaplain, is called C.J. Tiafoa, command joint task force horn of Africa. It's in eastern Africa but it stretches all the way out to the Indian Ocean and the Seychelle Islands, all the way west to the Burundian border off the White Nile, also called the Old Victorian Nile, north to the Sudanese border, and south to Somalia. And my job with my team was to use my Arabic language skills to interact with the moderate Islamic community, as additional duty. My primary duty, of course, was to visit our people that were spread out throughout all those nations to provide for religious services, to do studies and programs and counseling, and to assist in any way we're asked by the embassy staffers and the people that we have there. I became very well liked by the--some of the ambassadors from some of the nations and some of the Sharesty affairs, some of the PAO and special staff who-- they liked me because I was a non threatening individual that all the religious leaders wanted to meet me, and that they couldn't get access to these senior religious Islamic leaders but I could 'cause I represented the United States military mission. And what was so funny is these--all these senior chaplains in the chaplain corps who wouldn't even have time to have a cup of coffee with me, they were now calling me by my first name. And it was very, you know, God's, you know, God says that He can, you know, He, you know, nothing is impossible with God. And it just-- it's just-- it just never ceases to amaze me. I had one guy, said, "I'm sure- surely they're not gonna put you in the senior position over 14 nations. You're just a junior commander." And then all of a sudden I get a phone call and the admiral says, "You're leading an active duty full captain in 06." I used to work for that 06 two years ago. Now I am taking his place. And he's shocked and these other people are shocked, but everybody likes me. And again, I'm not a threat. I grew up in the country so I love to have a cup of tea with anybody. And this was before Three Cups of Tea came out, that book. I don't know if you read about it. It's very popular in the Islamic world. And you should read that some time. And I would go out and speak some Arabic and they would laugh at my grammar and my accent and the next thing you know the Imams would wave away all of the big shots and say, "You're my guest. You have nothing to fear. And let's go." And then we would go into these areas and ambassadors and Sharesty affairs and the military liaisons and stuff like that, they all wanted to-- they were just amazed that these people would get the word around.

And they would say, "We would like this chaplain." And my admiral, his name is Hart, I also worked for Admiral Moon and Vice Admiral Borntley at Sincom later, and of course Central Command. I mean it's just that it seemed like I was in the right place at the right time in my life and that God wanted me there because if I--it's just the way the corps operates is very political. And if God didn't put me there certainly the corps wasn't going to put me there, and because of that I was the only--I was the first person to be there a year on that assignment, and I had an admiral that believed that we should do more in the area of humanitarian and outreach in the religious community, especially if we could find--if there were moderate Islamic leaders that were willing to build a relationship with. And I met with all religious faith group people because I was the senior religious leader there but it's just--it was just amazing that the doors came open and the word came around from so many different areas. And then I was asked to travel all over the place to speak and, you know, for--

Parnell: To Islamic citizens?

Dinkins: Everybody. Lots of people just wanted me to come because if they knew I came that things would happen. I would come in, I would bring some journalists with me, the next month the military would send a medical team in to do surveys or a CB team to do a survey for a possible community center, or would work with a joint USAID and, say, an army engineer or joint engineer thing to build a community center or a school or a program that might be heavily funded more towards the USAID but would also use other people in there, that it just, you know, it was just amazing the way things would happen. My admiral said that he didn't like the fact that the ambassadors were calling him asking him for his chaplain. That had never happened to him in his whole life.

Parnell: When you'd go you'd be in your military uniform, right?

Dinkins: No. As you can see in these uniforms, a lot of the times when I'd work in the Islamic world that I would be--this is one of the largest Islamic schools in Tanzania, and they had never had anyone come over there and they were just amazed that I would. And of course that led for more interaction with people from the embassy, especially in council affairs, community affairs and stuff like--and these type things. They may be like--it may be like, you know, it may be a simple place out in the jungle like this or a big madras school in a bigger city. It could be very poor. You could see-- and it would have me interacting with the Islamic relief people and religious NGOs, and it would open the door for more positive interaction when people want to come. And it would allow--

Parnell: In that picture there you just held up, that one.

Dinkins: That's one of my bodyguards that--he would always stay out of the camera picture. He didn't like to get his picture taken. And I made him come up and give a talk. This is an English language class and that's about 15 clicks from the Somalian border, and half of the people here are from--Somalia refugees. And we were one of the many schools in that region where the United States was doing English language classes with volunteers. And that's just one of the positive things that we're doing. Of course Africa thinks the back door to Afghanistan Iraq in terms of the war on terror, a lot of--more chaos and calamity. Afghanistan, when I was there in 2004, it's not the same today. I mean it's very radically different. When I was there in 2004 my marine corps colonel told me that he didn't want me outside the gun line, that I was not gonna get sniped, I was not gonna get shot, I was not gonna get kidnapped, and he was gonna make colonel. And it's not good to have the chaplain killed or kidnapped. Of course everybody was, you know, welcome to see me and I'd go on the gun line at night, day, and stuff like that. I'd point things out and tell them that, you know, this was the history. They see the castle there and that big giant castle like structure was the Bala Hissar. The Bala Hissar was around for the first, second, and third Afghan wars. When the British marched out in 1843 I believe it was, after the first Afghan war, you know, they should've taken that position but they didn't. That's right there in the skyline in Kabul. The same tribes that are--have caused problems to this day were the same tribes that caused problems throughout the years. Opium has been a problem ever since it's been profitable as an opiate, you know, it's--I could not do a lot of the things that I could do in Africa that I could do it in Bahrain that I could do in Dubai or Abu Dhabi or a lot of the places you can't do interaction, you can't do a lot of programs, it's just very much more violent, much more chaotic, you know, you have to have people around, body guards, because see Chaplains of course are non combatants so, you know, we don't carry weapons. I carry a pen, I might carry a Bible in my pocket but that's about it.

Parnell: You've been doing this for 27 years, I'm sure when you started the work you did is different from today.

Dinkins: Yes sir.

Parnell: Talk about the differences because the training you've had to become who you are now.

Dinkins: Well every Chaplain has to have a four year undergraduate degree and a master divinity degree or a case of Latter's Day Saints they and some others they have to do like a two year counseling degree to get certified by their denomination.

Parnell: Do you have a counseling background also?

Dinkins: I did that and I did pastoral care practice at VA and Atlanta and did that for like 13 weeks for a semester, did a chaplain internship at Walter Reed and two at Fitzsimmons in specialty fields. I became--I'd worked on the hospital ship during the Haitian crisis, I was with marines and sailors on that ship. You go back to the old days I would see a chaplain maybe every so often in the old days when I was enlisted, you would see the chaplain and you were called to see the chaplain, you were in trouble or somebody died. You would occasionally see the chaplain out in the field when I was enlisted when I was a junior officer that kinda stuff. But when I became a chaplain my focus was to try to always be out and about, see and be seen especially in the nasty weather. People remember things like that, you get to be able to interact more that's the important thing for me like when I was on my first ship one of the things I wanted to do was just to see every part of the ship only because I wanted to see every part of the ship and I didn't wanna ever get lost. So I would go into areas where people had never seen a chaplain before, a lot of people operate from their office, you know, I operate from my heart and I don't need all these fancy things, I don't need to have a personal--I still don't have a personal hand-held computer, they offered me one when I worked at US Central Command and I said "I don't want one of those things, just give me a regular phone, if they need me, they need me, they can get me, I don't want all that stuff." I like taking the time to write something down with a pen, they see that you're taking time for that. I like to visit people in the hospitals. I like to check on people, I hate seeing people at jobs and not like this but to be responsible for the sick and the hurt and other people and they operate more from their office and less from visiting people. The best chaplains are the ones that got a lot of wear and tear on their boots and like to be out and about. I used to carry lots of bubble gum, marines don't like that so, you know, like hard candy or something for them in particular case but I like to give somebody something when you're way out there, you know, because sometimes you'll be carrying a pack on your back, you may be going on for about four or five or six or twelve miles. Still did that when I was an 05, they told me Executive Officer, CO told me "You don't have to do that anymore, you're an 05 now you don't need to be going out with a pack on because I think it makes them feel good just to know that.

Parnell: You're one of them.

Dinkins: You know, you see the chaplain out there doing that somewhere. I'll sometimes drive while my bodyguard, chaplain assistant will drive shotgun. I always try to put my chaplain assistants RPs they call them in the Navy, when you're working in joint command it could be an Army chaplain assistant, Air Force Chaplain assistant or Navy RP. They normally supposed to drive and protect you but they can't drive and protect you with a pistol but, you know, so you have to be qualified to drive and be like that so. A lot of chaplains don't--aren't into that. When I operate at a senior level I'm just thankful to be out and about and to travel to a lot of places. When I worked for US Sincom 5th Fleet for the three star Vice Admiral Courtly I was called up there to cover for a month while his chaplain was in the states. His son had been sick, his focus was to do all my religious ministry, visit as many people and then every night he liked to get me out to visit with the Islamic leaders of that community. So I interacted with some of the people at the US Embassy and in the Philippine Embassy and some of the other embassies where there were labor problems and stuff and problems that were touchy issues because Pastor's gotta be concerned with all people and all issues and you get to meet the leaders and the more informal meal structure and you bring other people into the mix so they get to interact more. So you'll be able to build a relationship there. In Pakistan I got a call one day while I was setting up my boss's plans to go to Pakistan when I was Sencom staff and I said "Geez I don't like to go well, you know," I got a phone call and said "We would like you to go to Pakistan" I said "Doggone straight I'd love to go, absolutely, when?" He said "We gotta get a lotta stuff done to get you over there," boom, boom, boom and it got deferred because there were a lot of bombings and all and I finally got in and I remember people on the plane were saying "Well good luck" you know, there was no Americans on the plane it was like French and other people, saw a few people but mostly Pakistanis going in and, you know, there was bombings every day and you hear gunfire all over the place, you know, even though I volunteered to go to Iraq four times, I've never been called to go there. Afghanistan, like I said, in 2004 was a different place, the areas that I had people in which was in Kabul then we of course went down to Bagrami. But it didn't bother me; you don't worry about those kinda things.

I worried more--concerned about traffic here on College Street or some other traffic that I have to cross or, you know, Cairo is a terrible place and, you know, to drive in and, you know, I didn't like driving in Manama, or the traffic in Dubai or Kuwait traffic is pretty bad too. Just it's a different world, there I work with the Office of Defense Representative ODR, which is like a joint taskforce operating there, I work for the two star Admiral over there, his name was Mike Lefevre and then I was asked to provide counseling for the Embassy staff that wanted to and so my knowledge by who I was, was known by the Embassy people and they're a pretty tight community and some chaplains don't interact well with the other people and again I don't seem to be a threat for people, they seem to like me. I could play tennis and can talk to people over lunch and meet them at places that are convenient for them and a lot of times it's just the stress of being away from families or being in an isolated area or because of the chaos and the calamity. So you see that's very radically different from saying being a ship's chaplain, to be a part of a joint task force or special staff and that was something new and what I liked about it was no chaplain had been assigned to Pakistan.

Parnell: So you're the first.

Dinkins: And I was the first to be sent there for orders for that, my boss was the first American chaplain to get there but he was there only for two days to make a courtesy call. So they sent me there for--I was there for a couple of weeks and over a two month period. But I have since--when I returned, I volunteered to go back to Pakistan or Afghanistan and then volunteered for Iraq again if the needed me for that and I just, like I said I have about just a little over two years of active duty service that I can serve before I meet my maximum and I would be able to do 30 years in the reserves. My unit that I oversee is a group of chaplains and assistants or RPs that support second Green Expeditionary.

Parnell: At Lejeune?

Dinkins: Well actually it's called Marine Logistics Group, second Marine Logistics Group which falls under the second Marine Expedition Force and I'm getting ready to be the Command Chaplain for Naval Reserve Hospital Operation Systems around the nation. So my ideas about a lot of reservists are falling through the cracks. When they come home from a six month to one year they're given a couple of years of VA coverage which a lot of people don't utilize, they're given six months of primary healthcare and then that goes away. Under Tricare Prime there are active reservists they tri care reserve select which is about half of what people would pay for a Blue Cross, Blue Shield and they use doctors that tri care provide us but we see a lot of people that are having difficulty after they return, usually anytime between a couple of months, six months or more and some are having a hard time adjusting. Some can't find jobs, people fall through the cracks, the VA may be on the opposite side of the state in the Midwest, there may be mountain ranges and snow and people just don't--from the VA they don't go to people. The Veterans Programs, Vet Centers which people are not aware about, they do that and I've always hoped that we had opportunities to let chaplains do more in terms of getting out and visiting people more. Maybe that'll be somewhere in the future.

Parnell: When you go to a place like Pakistan and we're not really liked there well and you get to go out and meet with the local citizens, what do you try to tell them or do you try to tell them about America?

Dinkins: I'll give you an example, when I lived in Australia as a young person for a couple of months I was asked to play a sport and I played on the cricket team, I wasn't very good but I played. So the Pakistanis who love cricket, I would say "Can I hit with y'all at your cricket practice?" "What! An American wanna play cricket, I've never heard of such a thing." So I'll go out and I'll hit the ball a couple of times and play around with them. Then I'll sit and have a cup of tea with them and then I'll go around and I ask, you know, a lotta people don't, you don't see Americans playing cricket, nor do you see them sitting around with common people drinking tea. Now that's me, I'm in a non threatening situation. There's some people that don't wanna meet with me and that's fine but the people that wanna meet with me and may be in a neutral side or something like that but we gotta be able to start to talk about the issues that are there and the fears that are real. In the Islamic world the great fear is change, the western nations are gonna change and radically change everything and effect change in their life and that is what they fear. I think that we have to meet each other at some level and if it's as a religious war, religious extremism is culminated by religious leaders and there are many religious leaders that are moderate and not extremist. There are many that are extremist but there's a lot that are moderate that the issue is, is we call religious leader engagement or key leader engagement comes off of an old model that was used years ago from the Marshall Plan, utilizing political leaders, key political leaders to get to know them by the military people in the civil affairs groups and those type programs. I've had boss's before and my idea that worked well in Africa was that let the religious leaders, those that would like to be able to do that get vetted through the permission of the Commander and of course the Embassy to meet with moderate religious leaders to be able to see how we can better address situations and speak about issues that they trust and you can speak about, able to bring about if ready to change. Some place you can't do that, some places you can.

Parnell: That's one of those things because sometimes the moderates get pressure from the extremists and do they ever express those types of fears to you?

Dinkins: Oh yes sir, oh yes sir.

Parnell: They're afraid to meet with you?

Dinkins: Some people can be afraid like I would get a call to go to a program up in Lahore in the north and I was told I couldn't go because it's just too dangerous, you know, I volunteer to go with a group to Pish or Lahore, but the Admiral goes "No you can't do that, I'm not gonna let you go, it's too dangerous, we've never had a chaplain here and I'm not gonna lose a chaplain." It felt like I was back in Afghanistan in 2004 with that Commander who is just a higher ranking. The same thing, "I'm not gonna lose you, you know, you're gonna stay around here" and in Afghanistan and Iraq people try to do and go to community programs and meet with community leaders and you may have a lot of security, helicopters in the air and stuff like that. In Africa we wouldn't do that, I'd have, you know, one of my assistants from the Bronx, New York and he would just go in and be sure the room was safe, keep an eye on everything while I talked. I was the guest of a religious leader, Islamic religious leader that was a moderate religious leader, I was his responsibility. If anything happened to me he would be involved. So it was in his best interests to be sure that I was safe. See there's trust in that regard too. But it is very complex as the world is complex and getting more complex and that but I would bring a friend of mine that was a--it was amazing sometimes that when people would see me wanting to go to where the workers were, where they would, I would wanna take a look at their prayer areas and they said "Well why the supervisor would say, "Why you even concerned about this, nobody seems to be." and I said "It's a concern because I'm the chaplain for the US Forces and I wanna see where the workers that provide the services, where their religious areas are and how I can be of assistance and maybe it's been something simple like I managed to get 15 or 20 prayer rugs out. People just don't think sometimes just the fact of something simple like that that might, you know, it might cost you $1500 can make a major impact. It was, they were going "Look, look at this guy, well maybe, you know, we should invite him to meet so and so." But the issue is, is you never know unless you try and I grew up in hard scrabble and so it wasn't unusual to get out and about to do a lot of walking, do a lot of listening.

Parnell: Well when you go like to Pakistan now, you go for a month or two weeks?

Dinkins: That particular time I went for two weeks over a period of the part of two months.

Parnell: When you come back, does someone else go, another chaplain?

Dinkins: No, no.

Parnell: So they don't have a fulltime chaplain?

Dinkins: No, I can't talk too much about the area out there or anything like that but I hope you cut some of this down in that regard but I can't--we just don't--I can't talk about numbers and stuff like that but I'm just saying that it was whether there'll be another--a fulltime chaplain over there remains to be seen in the future. See in 2004 when I was in Afghanistan we had one, two, three, four, five, six chaplains all in Afghanistan that was it, six, you know, there maybe 48 or 52 right now, I can't remember the exact number because it's, you know, that's kind of uknown, but, you know, you might have that amount in Iraq at one point that numbers drawn down and I can't talk about specific numbers. But just what is to say is that Pakistan is much different from Afghanistan, radically different from Iraq, terrain and everything but history is very different, you know. So not many Americans study about the Northwest frontier. I happen to have read a lot of the Northwest frontier to so for me it was.

Parnell: How did you get interested in that?

Dinkins: You know, Roger Kipling, I read a lot of Kipling, you know, back when I grew up we didn't have--we weren't able to watch much television. I don't know where you grew up but you grew up in Florence.

Parnell: I grew up in Raleigh but we had three stations.

Dinkins: We had the four stations but it didn't matter at ten o'clock we were kicked out of the house unless it was raining and we had to go stay outside until an hour before lunch. I mean we took books, National Geographic was the medium to see the world and for me to go to like Africa to go to Egypt. I took, you know, I remember being on the camel going around the great pyramids and telling people there about, you see this and they go oh look at there the, you know, the sphinx's nose is shot. I said "That was taken off by artillerymen under Napoleon in 1791." "How did you know that?" You know, it comes from books, well I used to love to, I mean the world came alive in a library, I mean for me, you know, and for Presidents, you know, you look at the different presidents that can do so much. I had thought Obama would come back to Africa, everybody told me was never gonna come back to Africa and I said "Well surely he's gonna come back to Africa" and they said "No that was a political thing as a senator" and but I do know that I mean a lot of people don't know is Bush did a lot, just an unbelievable in his administration in anti-malaria and I know Commander and Chief Obama is very concerned about a lot of the issues in Africa and Africom now, when I was there it was part of it, Africom and Central Command. When I was there for my first year in Africa and Africa was just massive, just massive and it would just shock me that, you know, 300 people would die of cholera in one area and then I'd wanna go over there and they'd go "This is not your business, you're not here for that, you're here for anti-terrorism and other things." Well I wanna be up there, I don't wanna go up there and bring some medical people up there, no you can't do that, this isn't our mandate, this isn't our mission, that's the UNs mission. Well why can't we do some things with the UN and every chance we had a thing to do stuff with people and programs like that or any chance I was asked to sit with an Ambassador, I would say, you know, "I would love for the opportunity to do these things." Sometimes my Admiral would the phone call from some Ambassador, "I would like your chaplain to come in" and go work with the program.

Parnell: And what kind of type of programs?

Dinkins: I'll give you an example, we got a call and I was asked to have a meeting with all the religious leaders and that's in one of these pictures here but and I'll show you later of all these religious leaders, Muslim, Christian, whatever and to bring a member of the public, some of their public relations people over so they could see what went on at one of these programs and so they sat in there and there were people from all over Central Africa and Southern Africa at this meeting and I was. Oh I sent you one of those pictures where I sitting in the back and one of my bodyguards is kind of ominous in the background there, mean looking guy. And all we had was a pen in his pocket that was it because were the guest of the religious leaders there, we weren't afraid. So many people would then ask me to go here and go there and go at all over these places and then I remember.

Parnell: But these programs consisted of you talking about?

Dinkins: Talking about the importance of education and leadership by example and how that we needed to be able to interact and talk more about the issues that were impacting the poorest of the poor in our communities that the power of the religious leader in Africa was twice the level of the politician because the religious leaders of all faith groups were extremely powerful in their community. People would swing a vote based on these things, these people, a lot of them didn't trust anybody but usually after meeting with me and they would take me around, introduce me to everybody. I drew the line at some things are things I just wouldn't go into and do in but my focus had always been on education and children, young people, how we can make that better and then interacting with the other medical groups and big groups. Like I would be in contact with the leaders for let's say give you an example, Microsoft, Bill Gates Foundation. I said there's a school, the largest Islamic school in Tanzania, has one computer and that's a Dell, you know, and I would tell this to the Islamic relief people. Why is this? World Bank people, why is this? Are you all afraid they're gonna use this computer for something then why not use an investment of the one laptop per child program, it has limited memory and stuff like that. You can use a thumb drive, get a science lesson, stuff like that, you can use solar power and power like that. I talked to the Director, I said "The reason the Bill Gates Foundation won't put a dime into because it's using the Linux system, not the Microsoft system." They didn't like me to say that, I said that because that's the honest truth and I would tell people, never ask me a question unless you want the honest truth, I'm gonna give you the honest truth out there so. So to interact with the religious leaders at that level and in conferences at that level, to be able to speak before all these people, I got to meet some of these powerful people in African affairs and in the Middle Eastern affairs and, you know, other places of the world I get to see different perspectives and some places I was limited in what I could do and what I couldn't do. I was able to preach my service without any threat, but I was able to have lunch and have discussions and get people introduced to other people that could help them out that they may never have that connection before unless they had someone like myself that could interact at that level and bring people together and then I would recommend for the senior military people to go to a conference or a dinner or a luncheon with so and so people and that was always vetted by the embassies and my relationship with the embassies and what we called the country coordination liaisons which were the military liaisons to certain commands there, were very key as well as my personal relationships with people at the embassy so.

Parnell: That sound like a chaplain, you sound like an ambassador type.

Dinkins: I've been called ambassador of peace and I kinda like that but it's a lot different from being a parish minister where people wanna argue for six weeks over a $5000 rug, so yeah.

(ends abruptly)

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