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Title:
Interview with Rajmund Kopec, December 9, 2003
Date:
December 9, 2003
Description:
Interview with Chaplain Rajmund Kopec.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Kopec, Rajmund Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul and Brinsfield, John W. Date of Interview:  12/9/2003 Series:  Military Length  55 minutes

 

Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. A staff person assigned to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Randall Library. Today is the 9th of December 2003 and we are interviewing for the Military Chaplains Oral History Project. We are interviewing in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. My associate in the interview is John Brinsfield. We will be working together on this interview.

Zarbock: Captain, please tell me who are you and where do you come from?

Kopec: My name is Father Rajmund Kopec, also known Chaplain Captain Kopec. I was born in Poland in 1965 so I’m still very young. I grew up in Poland. At the age of 21, I came to the United States, relocated with my family, my parents. In Poland I already had four years of seminary, came to the United States and continued my studies at Seton Hall University, was ordained as a Catholic priest by Arch Bishop McCary at the time, 1992.

Zarbock: And where were you ordained?

Kopec: I was ordained in Newark, New Jersey.

Zarbock: Well I said off camera, I’m going to repeat the question, what event or series of events or what individual or series of individuals helped you identify the priesthood as your profession?

Kopec: I joined the seminary right after high school. I graduated high school in Poland in 1984. Right out of high school, actually I joined the _____ order, Capuchin, which is a branch of Franciscans. So I spent four years, first a year in a monastery in ____ which is outside _____ Poland and then three years in a monastery Krakow also known as Krakow, Poland. That’s why I always joke with soldiers that basic training is nothing compared to monastic life (laughter), but I don’t think they take it seriously.

Zarbock: They don’t have a frame of reference.

Kopec: People are quite often surprised that I decided to come to the priesthood at such a young age, but by standards in Poland I wouldn’t say it was a young age. It was pretty much what normally would happen. Growing up in Poland, by the time you graduated from high school, you had a pretty clear idea of what you were going to do with your life.

Zarbock: What would be the average age upon graduation from high school?

Kopec: Eighteen years old. You start school at the age of 7 so we had a little extended childhood. As I said quite often they are surprised that I made that decision at such a young age, but I would say it was common practice at that time in Poland.

What brought me to the priesthood was…I would say there were several factors. First and foremost it was my family influence. I had great parents. They were very Polish Catholics. They’re great people with their shortcomings and with things, but they always made sure that raising me and my two sisters, faith was always very important. They always made sure that we got our religious education, that we went to church and first and foremost they would set up an example by taking us to church.

Then I guess what I truly appreciate was that they really didn't force me or encourage me or discourage me from becoming a priest. It was always in my family if you think that’s for you, go ahead and do it. The most important thing I would say was the influence of my parents.

The other factor was I guess it’s also growing up in Poland in the 80’s, I was 16 years old when martial law was introduced so we went through this _____ painting and all this stuff on the walls and the whole political situation in Poland was also a factor since the Catholic church was really powerful enough to affect the government and it had a great influence on people and actually pretty much the church was the one where you could find a place where you could find peace, where you could find truth, where you could find yourself while growing up in the environment t that was created by the government was the opposite of it.

I found it very attractive. Ultimately I would say I’m a strong believer that God doesn’t force us to do anything in life. I strongly believe that God is the one who, I would say is the only being in the whole world that truly, truly respects our freedom and God gives us options. One of the options that God gave me was to serve “Me and My people.” I could say no, but I said yes. Again it’s very difficult to explain that because it’s such a personal journey and personal experience that you go through.

Again when you take all these factors and influence, personal faith journey, church influence, the political situation, when you put everything together, it creates an environment in which ultimately I was the one to make a decision to answer God and my answer was yes. Quite often soldiers ask me, Father what is vocation, I would say vocation is a deep strong conviction that you have in your heart that this is what God wants you to do. This is the way in which you can live your life to the fullest in a spiritual sense by serving God and serving His people and being happy in the process because I think it is really important to be happy in the process.

Zarbock: But why the military?

Kopec: Well that was the next step because what I described up to this point happened in Poland. To make a long story short, in 1998 I immigrated with my family, my parents and my sisters to the United States which was again a total new reality.

Zarbock: Did you have any language skills?

Kopec: At that point the only languages I spoke were Polish, Russian and German and I didn't speak any English. When I came in 1988, the first thing I had to do was to learn the English language because I wanted to continue with the seminary. I wanted to go to college, continue my education. It was painful…

Zarbock: How old a young man were you when you came to the United States?

Kopec: I was 22 years old when I came to the United States and I had to learn the language from scratch.

Zarbock: Who taught you?

Kopec: I started in a place, Catholic Community Services, in Newark, New Jersey. Basically what I did was I took a three month course during the summer time which was very intense because I spent 7 hours a day 5 days a week just to study, what we called survival English. Basically you learn how to communicate with people to take care of the very basic things in life.

But within those three months I learned well enough to be accepted through, trace back … I started in September and finished by Christmas. In January ’89 I was accepted to Seton Hall University. Of course I studied English as a second language and I took once course in graduate school. Again people quite often wonder about my accent, they ask about my accent. I always tell them it’s not an accent, it’s a speech impediment. That’s what happens when you’re born in Poland and you’re learning English in New Jersey (laughter).

It’s a good conversation piece although I know sometimes it’s very annoying when people ask, “What did you say” (laughter). It also has its advantages when it comes to preaching because quite often people because I have an accent pay attention because they never know what I’m going to say anyhow.

So when I came to the U.S. I learned the language. To make a long story short, in 1991 I got my Bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall University in religious studies and in 1992, I got my Master’s degree from Seton Hall University. On May 30, 1992, I was ordained a priest by the Arch Bishop of Newark.

I got my assignment at a civilian parish and actually when I was in the seminary, I remembered those guys in the uniforms coming and trying to encourage us to go into the Army or whatever. They were Army recruiters. When I got to my first parish, on a regular basis I would receive letters from the Air Force and from the Army. I don’t recall anything from the Navy. They pretty much were stating that they were looking for priests to serve as military chaplains.

So I did some research and I found out that the Army was the one who was in the worst shape when it came to Catholic priests. What I mean by worst shape is that the shortage, there was a great shortage of Roman Catholic priests. I came to the conclusion that it would be worth it to try. I’m making a long story short again, but again it was several factors that brought that decision.

The first factor was again the fact that there was such a shortage of Catholic priests in the Army because if I remember correctly in the late 90’s we were about 30% strength as far as Catholic priests. That was one important factor. The other factor was I came to the conclusion that this country had been so good to me, so maybe it would be a good idea to give something back to this country and I looked at that military service as a way to serve the country as such.

Finally the third factor was I like adventure. I like challenges. So I would say that whole concept of working in a very challenging environment sounded like something I would enjoy. I like challenges. So I would say that would be the final argument.

Zarbock: Well somewhere along the line you stuck up your right hand and you were sworn into the military. How old were you at that time?

Kopec: I was 31.

Zarbock: So you served as a parish priest for…

Kopec: I served as a parish priest for five years from 1992 until 1997.

Zarbock: In New Jersey?

Kopec: In New Jersey. My first parish was St. ______ a Polish-American parish, bilingual and my second assignment was the Sacred Heart in ______ New Jersey. I was sworn into the Army on May 17 by a retired brigadier general with a Catholic priest, Father O’Donnell who is the bishop.

Zarbock: So you were sworn into the Army. Now somebody has to teach you left foot from right foot and how to salute and how to wear the uniform and such as that. Where did you do your introduction into the military?

Kopec: You insist on asking me very difficult questions. It seems like nothing in my life was really simple. It’s interesting that you ask because I was one of a group of guys…I came on active duty in June of 1997; however, it came out that year that the Army had commissioned too many chaplains so they couldn’t send all of us to basic training. What happened was I left New Jersey and got my orders to go to Fort Carson, Colorado, 3rd Army Cavalry Regiment.

I left New Jersey. I landed in Colorado Springs. I was picked up by a whole bunch of guys in uniforms. The next day we got our uniforms and pretty much they told me I was in the Army now. Basically what happened, again to make a long story short, I was on active duty for about four weeks and I was sent for a month and a half to _____ Canyon to train for NTC rotation. Then in September I went to a National Training Center in Port Huron, California with my squadron, with my regiment for NTC rotation, came back from NTC…

Zarbock: What is NTC?

Kopec: National Training Center, that’s one of the Army training centers. Came back from NTC, celebrated Christmas and finally in January of 1998, I was sent to Chaplain Officers Basic Course (laughter). By the way I got promoted to captain in the meantime. People who really helped me a lot first I would have to say was Father Kevin Cavanaugh. He was the other 50% of the Catholic priests at that time at Fort Carson. He was a senior captain and he treated me like his little brother. He took care of me, helped me out with the uniform, to try to do the right things.

Also our regimental chaplain, Chaplain _____ who is now retired. At that time he was my Regimental Chaplain. He really put a lot of time and energy training me and two other chaplains who came in the same manner to the Army. It was pretty much practice by fire, just learning on the job. But hey I always told them if I messed up badly, I would say what do you expect from me, I’m Polish and a Lieutenant, what do I know (laughter). Lucky enough I didn't have to say that too often.

BRENSFIELD: In addition to four languages one might say, it would seem to me to indicate much more than the standard Polish jokes (laughter).

Zarbock: What sort of assignments have you had?

Kopec: My first assignment was three and a half years with a support squadron in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Carson, Colorado. It’s the last real cavalry regiment in the United States Army. There’s a lot of field time, a lot of deployments. My squadron was a challenge because it was a support squadron which meant we had all the soldiers, almost 1100 soldiers in my squadron of different denominations and different problems, different issues.

It was a good three and a half years, a good learning experience. When I was with the 3rd Cavalry, I was deployed to NTC, the National Training Center, twice. I deployed to Bosnia for SFOR 7 rotation.

Zarbock: How long were you in Bosnia?

Kopec: The first time was almost seven months. We deployed in March 2000 and came back toward the end of September.

Zarbock: Tell us about that experience.

Kopec: It was…going to Bosnia, I went there full of questions. I’m now speaking from a personal perspective. I went with a lot of question because we were in Bosnia for a little while and there was always this discussion maybe Europeans should make more effort to take care of that, why did we have to go, it’s a peacekeeping operation, so on. That’s what it is so I had a lot of questions in my heart going there.

Overall very quickly during that rotation I came to a very quick understanding why we were there. Pretty much I came to the conclusion that again our soldiers were doing a great job. There were a lot of good positive things happening in Bosnia, but I came to the conclusion that even if we didn't make any difference from our perspective by being involved with local communities and so on, there is one very important difference that we make by the fact that we are there and those people don’t kill each other. We stop them from killing.

That’s what I tried to relate to our soldiers. I’m serious, those who have been in Bosnia, they know. Every day is the same, every day is the same, but again that’s what I was trying to explain to my soldiers, that even if this whole thing didn't make sense to them, they need to keep in mind that because we are here, these people don’t kills each other. How they learn that, that’s where other languages come in handy because in the meantime, we call it ____, but in Bosnia it’s either Bosniac or Serbian or Croatian. They’re very similar languages.

So that helped me to…being from Poland and having a last name which some people thought I was Bosniac because of my last name, I had an opportunity to talk to local people at a little different level. Some of them would say in Polish, “You are one of ours, you are one of ours”. Well if you say so, last time I was checked I was born in Poland. I was a United States citizen. I was born in Poland, I had no connections with Bosnia, but hey if the shoe fits, wear it.

Basically that was the fear of all those people in the area, that if we left, the killing would start all over again. On a positive note because I had an opportunity to go to Bosnia 18 months after that rotation because when I finished my assignment in Fort Carson, Colorado, I made a sacrifice for the Army and took assignment with Schofield barracks in Hawaii, the 25th Infantry Division. As soon as I got to Hawaii, I found out I was going back to Bosnia.

I went about 18 months later and what I was glad to see was you know what, we really make a difference, we do. Again the same fact, the fact that we are there and people don’t kill each other, but also within those 18 months I could see how things had improved because I would go to the same places. Being the only Catholic priest in the neighborhood, you go to the same places, I spent a lot of time going through the local areas and it was interesting after 18 months driving through the same villages and seeing a lot of renovation.

Zarbock: Could you specify, when you say things had improved, what sort of things?

Kopec: SFOR 7, the way our base camps were set up were pretty much close to the separation zone because Bosnia __________. Basically what happened was originally when we got into Bosnia, as Americans we didn't go inside of the Republic of ______ because that’s where there were a lot I guess disagreements. Some of the camps were in the zones that separated Bosnia ______ from _______. Our job was to make sure that those zones were clear and that there was no killing going on and nothing nasty going on.

Eighteen months later, I go to Bosnia and we had already moved within the territory of the Republic of ______. A couple of forward observation bases were built like FOB Conner and FOB Morgan which were inside of the Republic of ______. The purpose of that was to protect resettlements, people who, Bosniacs who decided they wanted to go back to their previous homes where they lived. I don’t know where they got money from, but I’m sure the international community was supporting them still at that time.

Those Bosniacs who were going back to where they originally came from which was the Republic of ______ rebuilding their houses. Our soldiers were placed in those areas to protect them from hostilities from Serbs. The simple fact that we moved our bases within the territory of ______ was a huge improvement.

Zarbock: What about food supplies? The first time you got there and then 18 months later. Were there food shortages?

Kopec: I wouldn’t say that…I think the biggest issue is not as much of a food shortage in Bosnia as a shortage of jobs. These are very proud people who want to work, but in some areas the unemployment percentage was about 50% to 60%. Again these are very proud people who want to work and are not afraid to work hard. Like in the area of FOB Conner, if you would go up to the mountains you would see people who live up there in little houses, no electricity, nothing, just supporting themselves, producing their own food, very, very tough, proud people.

Of course the benefit for them also, that’s another aspect why they like having American bases in Bosnia, I would presume because that creates jobs and creates the economy. A lot of people are working, the local people are working at the American bases, but also woodworkers who are allowed to live on a local economy which generates more income for them. But you know it’s good to see that they’re happy to…at least most of them are happy to see Americans there. They want us there. I guess it makes a difference in many aspects.

Zarbock: What was the morale level like with our troops?

Kopec: Overall, it’s interesting because on average it’s a seven month deployment and you can see in the beginning there is very high energy. Everybody wants to see what’s going on. Everybody wants to get off the base and after about two or three months, the excitement wears off and everything turns into a regular day and I think that’s where most of the problems begin.

I would say that our soldiers did a really great job in keeping their heads together and realizing that yes, I miss my wife, yes I miss my kids or my girlfriend or boyfriend back in the U.S., but whatever I do, it is important. That’s why I always try to convey to them…quite often we would sit down and chit-chat and again I would try to explain to them, I would try to tell them – just the fact that you’re here and that you’re sacrificing, that makes a difference because here you might be saving somebody’s life.

And I strongly believe that. Once I went with a couple of Polish officers from the Polish Army. We took some of the clothes and donations that we could give to families in apartment complexes in _____. One of the families was half Bosnian and half Polish, the lady was from Poland. So you know we had a very nice conversation in the Polish language. She and her neighbors, they wanted the forces to be there because they believed as soon as the forces left, they were afraid that the killing would start all over again.

But overall I would say that the soldiers’ morale was very high. Also I would do is again being a Catholic priest, I had a parish there because I was the only Catholic priest. I had five or six base camps to go to so I was on the road pretty much all week long. Some of the soldiers would spend all day on a base camp. They don’t get out very much so I would take the soldiers with me on the route just to get them off the base for a little ride.

Zarbock: So you were not only the only Catholic priest, you were the best one.

Kopec: Exactly.

Zarbock: One of those times in life when fame comes to you.

Kopec: That’s why I always say, I’m the best son of my parents.

BRENSFIELD: Just as a matter of clarification, did SFOR 11 start in March of 2002?

Kopec: Yes.

BRENSFIELD: And lasted for six months?

Kopec: Yes. The rotation itself is six months and usually there are two weeks overlapping before and two weeks overlapping after so it ends up as seven months.

BRENSFIELD: So you left in early October 2002?

Kopec: September.

BRENSFIELD: Could you describe the organization just a little bit, the technical organization, the technical chain, who was your supervisory chaplain for example.

Kopec: Okay, with SFOR 7 first, was unique, another first one, another unique experience because that was one of the first from what I understand deployments where we combined active duty and the National Guard. So SFOR 7, the headquarters element came from the 49th Army Division of the National Guard from Texas. All the foot soldiers came from the 3rd Army Cavalry Regiment from active duty. So it was a very unique experience having pretty much the National Guard in charge of active duty.

The technical chain of command was also very unique because our division chaplain, Chaplain Colonel Edwards, he was from the National Guard. His deputy was Chaplain Joel Harris who was our regimental chaplain. Then we had Chaplain Oglesbee who was from the National Guard, a major, was an aviation brigade chaplain.

What was interesting about him was he was the first veteran of the Gulf War and his chaplain assistant was his own son (laughter). So there was a father son team in Bosnia. Nice guys from Texas and we got along so great because they still had their Texan accent and I still had my Polish accent. We could understand each other without any problems/

In the beginning during SFOR 7, I’ll basically describe the base camps and who we had in which base camp. At Eagle Base which was the main base, we had Chaplain Edwards and Chaplain Harris. Then we had an Air Force chaplain who was a Catholic priest. There were about four of them, but I cannot remember their names. Also when I arrived in Bosnia in March, Father ______ Alstine who was from, he was from the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. He was in Bosnia at that time. He was selected to be sent to Bosnia. So basically that was what we had at Eagle Base.

At Base Comanche which was right next door, which was where the aviation was, there was Chaplain Oglesbee who was an aviation chaplain. Then we had Chaplain Joseph Blay who was my classmate and myself. So there were three of us. Chaplain Blay was the aviation squadron chaplain for the 3rd.

Then at Camp Dobol, we had the 3rd Squadron so that was Chaplain Rosenberg and also one of the _____ which was an observation point so that was his responsibility to cover.

At Camp McGovern we had Chaplain Dave Wake who’s father is the retired chaplain. He was the 2nd Squadron chaplain. He had Camp McGovern, Hilltop 72 and Hilltop 3026. This was pretty much what we had in SFOR 7.

BRENSFIELD: You have a great memory, Father.

Kopec: Unfortunately I’m skipping the chaplain assistants and I hope they don’t get offended with me, but I cannot remember all their names. I still remember who my chaplain assistant was. He did very well.

Okay, during SFOR 11 was pretty much the 25th Infantry Division of Hawaii and we had some elements of the National Guard attached to us as well. I wish I could remember…some were from Indiana…

BRENSFIELD: Okay, we’ll get the roster from the Chief’s office.

Kopec: So during SFOR 11 our division chaplain was Chaplain Alvin Schram and he was located at the Eagle Base. Then we can Chaplain John Rasmussen who was an aviation chaplain and myself and I was the Catholic priest for the rotation and Chaplain Anthony Flores. He was 127 Infantry chaplain.

Also in the beginning of the rotation we had Chaplain…his name escapes my mind right now, unfortunately he had to leave Bosnia because of a family situation. He was replaced by another chaplain, Chaplain Wavich. It’s kind of embarrassing because I knew the guy, but I can’t remember his name right now. Any that was Eagle Base.

Then at Camp McGovern, we had the Reserve chaplain. He was in the National Guard from Indiana and I cannot remember his name. So you probably noticed the difference, that pretty much we had the U.N. peace only at SFOR 7 in two locations because again the whole arrangement was much different than for SFOR 11.

BRENSFIED: Just one more question, could you describe your own personal ministry? For example, you had regular mass and what are some of the other things you did on the base camps?

Kopec: In Bosnia, why don’t I just stick with SFOR 11 at this point because I think my memory is a little fresher and it was a little more interesting because SFOR 7, we still had very strict control of movement. In SFOR 11, basically my Sunday would begin on Friday because I didn't have my unit, I just served purely as a division Catholic priest. In SFOR 7 I had my squadron and I was a Catholic priest.

During SFOR 11 my Sunday would start on Friday. I would drive with my assistant and other soldiers, sometimes I would take a translator. We would drive to FOB Morgan which was in the ______ area. I would do a Catholic mass up there for the soldiers, one of the infantry companies that were in that base camp.

Then from FOB Morgan I would drive to McGovern. Basically I would stay there and have evening mass there, stay overnight and I would have another mass on Saturday at noon. Then right after the noon mass, I would leave to go back to ______. At Eagle Base I would have mass on Sunday at 10:30 and then at 19:00.

On Monday, we would convoy with Chaplain Flores and the peace chaplain assistant, we would convoy to FOB Conner which was very close to _____ which is a very famous town near _______. That’s were so many people were killed. We would go to FOB Conner and basically we would leave on Monday morning and spend a whole day with the soldiers, the infantry company, spend a whole day with them just doing counseling and hanging around. In the evening, I would do a Catholic mass. We would do a Protestant service. Then we would go to Camp Eagle.

Then Tuesday would be a quiet day and on Wednesday again with Chaplain Flores we would either fly by helicopter or we would convoy to Hilltop 3026. The big difference was that the ride by helicopter was about 7 or 8 minutes of flying. By convoy, it was almost two hours. Obviously we always tried to do it by helicopter. It was really high in the mountains.

BRENSFIELD: Do you recall Father, were there any incidences during SFOR 11 convoys being fired on?

Kopec: Not during SFOR 11. There was a warning that there was a possibility, in the context of Afghanistan, that there were some organizations that were planning to run a car full of explosives into one of our convoys, but fortunately that didn't happen. I would say that SFOR 11 was very quiet.

BRENSFIELD: Same question for SFOR 7.

Kopec: SFOR 7 there was one incident where in the bridge coat area there was a hand grenade that was a homemade bomb that was thrown at one of our convoys. As soon as we entered the country that happened, it was our welcome I guess. Fortunately there were no other incidences.

BRENSFIELD: Logistics, did you have enough ecclesiastical supplies and things of that nature?

Kopec: We had more than enough. The chaplain assistants, they did such a wonderful job with getting supplies. Also Bosnia would fall under the EUCOM so we got a lot of support from the U.S. Army Europe. Basically SFOR 11, as far as supplies, the sky was the limit. We had actually ____ with chapels and a lot of furniture that came from the chapels in Germany. Oh yes, a funny story with SFOR 7.

Being in a cavalry unit, of course in good cavalry tradition, my squadron…we can be obnoxious, but my squadron supposedly we had this old cavalry supply wagon, horse pulled, we had two of them in the unit. One of them we kept by the squadron and the other one which we would take on deployments. So guess what, we get to Bosnia and one of the first things that show up in our base is this big wagon.

Actually what our guys did, they took it apart, shipped it to Bosnia and assembled it in Bosnia. So if there’s a will, there’s a way (laughter). It was such, believe it or not, it was such a morale booster for soldiers. Hey, we pulled this off so we can do anything.

BRENSFIELD: They took a western wagon, it was a covered wagon, took it apart, shipped it over and put it back again.

Kopec: Support squad, yes.

Zarbock: For the sake of this videotape which is going to be seen and heard years from now, why were these…you were talking about 7 and 11, what did the letters in front stand for and why are those numbers those numbers?

Kopec: Okay, SFOR stands for Stabilization Force.. When we entered Bosnia in December ’95, we entered as IFOR, Implementation Force I believe that’s what it stood for. I wasn’t in the Army at that time. Then what happened is that basically…of course you cannot send people to Bosnia and spend the whole year sitting in Bosnia, so at least the way it is handled by the U.S. Army is that originally the rotations like now in Iraq were one year rotations. You will go to Bosnia with your unit for one year.

In order to keep the numbers straight, IFOR Implementation Force was changed to SFOR, Stabilization force, SFOR 1, SFOR 2. So pretty much it was to keep track…originally rotations were one year, but then it was switched to six months. For example, Kosovo from what I understand to keep it simple, they use I think like K2 Alpha or K2 Bravo which means this is the first year, first portion or second portion of the year.

BRENSFIELD: If we might, we talked a little about organization and logistics, how about international cooperation with other chaplains? For example did you consult with Catholic priests from other nations and how did that go?

Kopec: Actually during SFOR 11, there were a lot of _____ . First of all actually Italian Carabinieri who are ______, they have their main base outside Sarajevo and Camp _____. They organized a meeting for all the Catholic priests from all the international forces in Bosnia, a meeting with Cardinal Vinko Puljic. He was the cardinal of Sarajevo. He was instrumental in keeping good relationships with the Muslims, Bosniacs and so on and so on.

So it was a unique experience because actually I went with my Polish friend, a priest from a Polish battalion. We went to Sarajevo and there were about if I remember correctly 19 or 20 priests from different nations. We had French, we had Brits, we had Italians, Spaniards, you name it. So that was one interesting experience.

The other was on a more personal level, I became pretty good friends with a priest who was assigned to a Polish battalion at Camp Dobol. His assignment was for one year in Bosnia. Actually when I was in Bosnia, he was to take a leave. A couple of times when he took a leave and went back to Poland, he asked me if I could substitute for him.

So I said of course. It was a very interesting experience especially the first Saturday that I showed up because you know, I’m in my uniform. People there didn't know me so they’re looking like what’s wrong with this one and when I opened my mouth and started to speak Polish, it was like okay (laughter). That was more on a personal level, it was very rewarding because I could say the mass in Polish.

Also our chaplains, Chaplain Horn who was our _____ chaplain, he organized a retreat for chaplains in Budapest so he invited the priests from the Polish battalion to join us on that retreat which was a very interesting experience. There was some cooperation.

BRENSFIELD: I think you have a question, well I do. If you look over this, what has been the greatest lesson you’ve learned from your experience?

Kopec: Can I make it the greatest blessing?

BRENSFIELD: Sure.

Kopec: What the military helped me with is truly appreciating my own faith more, but also it helped me to respect and appreciate people with other beliefs. I like to call it a double whammy but in a good sense because I think it helped me truly learn more about my own faith, my own religion, what I believe, but it helped me also to respect and love more. Even sometimes you disagree, but you can truly respect people with their different religions and different faiths.

What is interesting to see is that a very high percentage of chaplains I met were willing to find what we had in common. That’s what I think is very important, to find what we have in common and to build on instead of trying to find what divides us, to be able to put the differences aside and find a common ground. That’s the greatest blessing.

Zarbock: Thank you Chaplain.

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