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Andrew Aquino

Ohio History Connection
Jess HollerTy Pierce, Interviewer |
Standing Together: Ohio Veterans and the War on Terror |

0:00 - Introduction

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0:45 - Early Life and Childhood

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  • Grew up on West Side of Chillicothe, Ohio, “running the neighborhoods ’till dinner time”; close-knit neighborhood

  • Dad was a biology teacher at Chillicothe High School; mother as a middle school science and home economics teacher

  • Went thru the public school system; siblings

  • Father served in WWII; was on a ship in the South Pacific; Aquino grew up with the sense that the “fighting was already done”; but had a favorable view of service

  • Was an “average student” in high school; had a group of close friends; graduated in 1976

  • Wanted to head to Duke University for Forestry, but faced a flooded job market

Keywords: childhood; family; forestry school; legacy of service; parents’ military experience; WWII

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5:52 - Call to Ministry

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  • Had a tight circle of friends at the Tabernacle Baptist Church; decided to go into ministry or into teaching, to be able to do both of those things

  • Family and church supported this calling; several of Aquino’s friends also opted to go into the ministry, from his youth group; many became church pastors, planners, missionaries and service people

  • Drawn to ministry out of a conversation with a youth pastor; looking for confirmation in this work — original plan was to find full-time work as a minister and follow that path

  • Served on short-term mission trips in foreign countries (Scotland, England); connected with churches in other countries

  • Attended theological seminary: undergraduate at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia (Baptist school) — saw a new world and pushed boundaries, asked questions

  • Seminary at Trinity Evangelical Seminary in Chicago; saw an argument and perspective; influenced by being exposed to a wide background of belief systems — not just his own

Keywords: calling to ministry; church life; diversity; family support; Liberty University; mission trips; theological seminary; Trinity Evangelical Seminary; youth group

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15:25 - Enlistment; Entering the Chaplaincy

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  • After seminary, Aquino received a flyer in the mail calling for qualified pastors to join the military chaplaincy with the Ohio National Guard

  • Aquino had two young children at the time; wanted to use ministry skills in another setting (1987)

  • At the time, Aquino expected the Guard to consist of “summer camps”; emphasis on a need for chaplains to do this work supporting and encouraging service in the Guard and ensuring the exercise of freedom of religion

  • 1987-1999: had served successfully in two churches in Pennsylvania and Columbus

  • Excited by the idea of going out to the soldiers, -vs.- waiting for them to come into a church

  • Aquino had envisioned working for 30 years and retiring as a church pastor

  • Then: had joined Guard; deployed to Kosovo. Worked to start a church and teaching in an English in a high-school with at-risk students; when Aquino returned from deployment, his position was gone.

  • Got the call that another battalion was heading almost immediately back into theatre in 2005, 5 months after his return; joining a group already in-country

  • Aquino had already completed seminary; just needed an endorsement (paperwork) to become a chaplain: took 6-8 months

Keywords: chaplaincy; deployments; enlisting; family; Iraq; Kosovo; Ohio National Guard; pastoral work

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23:29 - Basic Training; Chaplaincy Training

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  • Completed officer basic course for non-combatants

  • Trained in staff duties, organizational fit and how to minister to servicemen and -women of a variety of faith backgrounds; accommodating military diversity

  • From Aquino’s Baptist upbringing and school training, he was already familiar with different belief traditional; less invested in fine-tooth theology and more committed to providing general counsel and addressing concerns; personalizing counsel to be able to minister to pain

  • Loved the work, opportunities for additional trading and helping people who would come to him with questions and concerns

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Subjects: basic training chaplaincy training officer basic raining

30:29 - Work and Life as a Chaplain

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  • Aquino was able to make an arrangement with the Guard unit to drill on alternate days; rarely drilled on a Sunday — was able to maintain his pastoral schedule

  • Commanders supported his outside life in the ministry; was able to do both at once

  • “Anytime the chaplain’s there, that’s when you have church”

  • Chapel services at drill not often well-attended; much more about walking around and being a part of the drill culture; asking questions; developing good relationships and being able to be a part of some trainings

  • Basic training drill sergeant influenced Aquino’s practice: low crawl through the mud — as a chaplain, role is to “be where it sucks the most”; create an image and impression of participating

  • Joined chaplaincy as a married man with two children; “spouse joins, too”

  • Originally offered active-duty, and decided against this; but wife had an uncle in the military and was favorable to the idea

  • Expectations were for 2 weeks of “summer camp” and drill weekends; hadn’t expected to have to go anywhere or deployed

  • 9/11 changed all that: “the way we go to war, how we do business”

Keywords: chaplaincy on drill weekends; civilian and Guard life balance; drill weekends; Ohio National Guard

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40:22 - Experience of 9/11; Post-9/11

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  • Aquino was working with at-risk students at Logan Elm High School in Circlesville

  • National Guard helicopter pre-scheduled to fly in for a demonstration on the lawn that day, to help recruit students

  • Helicopter set down at 8:30 in the morning; landed and then went back

  • School was glued to the televisions the entire day

  • Nobody really knew impact on military service until years afterwards

  • Oldest son had joined the Guard as a way to pay for college (Aug. 2000); activated to serve at Rickenbacher; Air Force folks were gone; Aquino “saw the storm” coming

  • Second son was deployed to Kuwait; oldest daughter joined the Marines

  • Post-9/11 military culture has had a huge impact on Aquino’s family

  • Aquino was worried about his childrens’ enlistments, post-9/11: “no guarantees”; relieved that son was called locally, to Rickenbacher

  • Nephew Aaron served with Lima Company Marines, along with brother in the National Guard; Aaron was killed in action (Lance Corporal Aaron Reed)

  • Between Aquino’s own deployment experiences and losing nephew Aaron, experienced a lot of grief; “How long does grief take?”

  • Experiences of losing family members in service has shaped Aquino’s own responses and reactions — lots of pressure on the chaplain in traumatic, tragic and stressful situations

Keywords: 9/11; civilian life; family military involvement; grief; teaching

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51:20 - Deployment to Kosovo

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  • Staged out of Camp Atterbury, Indiana: series of trainings and pre-mobilization activities

  • Dispatched to Hohenfels, Germany of 3 weeks, then entered Kosovo

  • On a “Peacekeeping Mission”: not considered a combat zone; multi-national mission, with Greeks, Lithuanians, Polish, Czech, Irish, &c.

  • Lots of Catholics in the task force, but no priest; Guard was still figuring out premobilization trainings

  • Assigned to a battalion brigade

  • Kosovo mission, in 2004, was not a part of the main wars the U.S. was getting involved in; mission to help the active duty

Keywords: Camp Atterbury; deployment; Germany; Hohenfels; Kosovo; military training; mobilization; peacekeeping; premobilization training

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58:01 - Day-to-day Life in Kosovo

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  • Worked running services, Bible study; available for counseling and visiting soldiers in the workplace

  • Became a staff chaplain: supervision of 4 other chaplains; mentoring relationships; arranging for “spiritual journeys” into Greece — traveling the journey of the Apostle Paul; soldiers loved this experience; conducting baptisms in Greece

  • Chaplain ends up discussing spiritual experiences with almost anyone — even if they’re from a different faith background; working to keep the message more universal

  • Culture at Camp Bondsteel “more like a prison”; two chapels there; same routine every day — most things get taken care of for you

  • Not a lot of freedom at Bondsteel, counted down the days to return from deployment on a deployment clock

  • Nonetheless, Aquino formed lasting friendships with other servicemen and -women from Ohio

  • Communication with family at home and overseas in Kuwait was via videoconferencing; Aquino describes it as both “good and bad,” to see what is going on — sad to not feel a part of it

  • Celebrated 24th Anniversary with his wife while overseas; sent one letter a day for twenty-four days, and read the same chapter of the same book at the same time

Keywords: Camp Bondsteel; chaplaincy; communication; cultural exchange; family; Greece; military chaplain duties; staff chaplain

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73:10 - Return Home from Kosovo

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  • Glad to return home; accomplished a lot — glad to be doing something worthwhile

  • Able to interact with many locals; helped a local school to complete a remodeling project; excited about community partnerships

  • Transition home was difficult: funding for high-school job dried up; went on unemployment/living off savings from deployment

  • Sad transition: everybody goes their separate ways; missing the close bonds from deployment

  • Can be difficult to provide counseling to those transitioning, but remembering that the chaplain is going through the same experiences as well

Keywords: community partnerships; homecoming; Kosovo; resuming civilian life; transition home

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79:03 - Second Deployment to Iraq/Kuwait

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  • Quickly was called by the State Chaplain and offered a convoy escort mission; said yes as a way to make more money, though wife didn’t necessarily agree

  • State was desperate for captains; Lt. Colonel was willing to take folks 2 ranks overqualified

  • Went back to serving as a battalion chaplain

  • Political climate, in-theatre, was to “win hearts and minds”; make things safe during “the surge”; most of the more political debates were happening stateside, not overseas

  • Served from September 2005 to September 2006: a very violent time; 8 soldiers killed

  • Role included riding on convoys

  • Lived in Kuwait, at Camp Navistar; rode into Iraq to work

  • “Going into the mud” with fellow soldiers; balancing risk (chaplains are hard to replace) with duties of a chaplain to provide support and understand his soldiers’ experiences

  • Took protective measures: didn’t ride in first car of convoy

  • Convoy missions were “fast time”

  • Ministry on a convoy often consisted of driving: drove over 8,000 miles; being a part of the convoy atmosphere; having conversations with soldiers

  • Difficult situation: faith of soldiers in the lead vehicles was tested, especially when their convoy was hit

  • Difficult, because chaplains can be seen as “good luck charms”; Aquino felt his faith was tested when the convoy was hit — prayed

  • Ultimately, Aquino chose to go on more convoys; soldiers don’t have a choice

  • While in Iraq, Aquino didn’t necessarily process the experiences; just “went through the motions”

  • 2 other chaplains were also stationed at Navastar; they checked up on each other and put on a good face for soldiers

  • Common experience amongst chaplains: put a band-aid on bigger issues/long-term stuff to be figured out when soldiers arrived at home; a lot of work delaying bigger issues until later

  • Experienced the consequences of living in violence: made for spiritually troubling times; challenging to see how spirituality lined up in a combat zone

Keywords: battalion chaplain; Camp Navistar; chaplaincy; convoy escort missions; faith; faith and service; Iraq; Iraq War; Kuwait; military chaplaincy; second deployment

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104:04 - Differences in Deployment Experiences

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  • Kosovo deployment was chock-full of religious leader engagements; chaplains were involved in peacekeeping negotiations and worked with Albanians and Serbs

  • In Iraq, duty was much more to serve as a convoy escort in combat zones; wearing body armor and driving in up-armored vehicles; lots more discomfort, but ministry was still the same

  • Chaplain’s role doesn’t change in an active combat zone; but there are more problems: soldiers going through alcohol detoxing; family problems

  • Communications were different in Iraq: lots of black-outs because of casualties/high-stakes combat zone; blackouts created concern for family members

  • Communications technology in Iraq was better and more reliable

Keywords: communications; Kosovo; Kuwait; military chaplaincy; military communications; peacekeeping

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112:49 - Routines in Iraq/Kuwait

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  • Navistar was a tiny post; on the road with nowhere to go

  • Aquino would walk or run every evening after dark, and work out in the weight room

  • Chaplains held a Bible Study at night with services on Saturdays and Sundays; invited other folks in and worked to study aspects of the culture; watching movies and DVDs in the small movie theatre, etc.

  • Chief duty was to be available for soldiers with news from home; to get up and be on-call at all hours of night

  • Needing to be ready

  • Did get experiences with entertainers — the Denver Bronco cheerleaders; but none of the big-name acts came through Navistar

  • Bible Study was targeted to address the culture of the area

Keywords: Camp Navistar; entertainment; Kuwait; military chaplaincy

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117:03 - Interactions with Iraqis; Cultural Exchange

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  • Interactions with Iraqis were mostly incidental; there was a Mosque right outside of Navistar; Aquino would go over to the Mosque and meet with Palestinian contractors and have long discussions about Christianity and the Muslim faith; was given a copy of the Quran and remembers good discussions

  • Throughout all of this, Aquino remembers the Iraqis seeming to appreciate the American presence and welcome the soldiers

Keywords: cultural exchange; Iraq; Iraqis; religion; U.S.-Iraqi relations

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120:30 - Homecoming; Transition to Civilian Life

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  • Came home through Wisconsin, with a plane ticket back to Columbus

  • Not the same huge crowds in Ohio as in Wisconsin; family came to the airport and got hugs from sister

  • In Kuwait, had applied for full-time job; returned in September of 2006

  • October 2006: assumed role as full-time chaplain for the Ohio National Guard

  • New role, stateside, was to do casualty notifications — mostly with Ohio Guard chaplaincy teams and to serve as chaplain for the 148th battalion, which had lost 3 soldiers

  • Casualty notifications are “difficult but honorable work”; needed to take time off after some of those experiences

  • Returned home and learned of nephew’s loss

  • Can be difficult to be in the counseling seat; not bringing up personal experiences, but just listening

  • Some of the counseling process is anticipating trouble; weighing common experiences across deployments and looking for traumatic experiences that may cause problems

  • Chaplains have partnerships with civilian and military mental health care providers; chaplains work to meet soldiers’ spiritual needs; helping to do referrals and hand-offs to get soldiers the care they need

  • Aquino kept strong faith in theatre; but also saw many soldiers question or lose those faith traditions; hard to answer questions about “why” not having all the answers

  • Service experience has made Aquino’s family more resilient; war accelerates the facing of life and death issues that all families must go through at one time or another

Keywords: casualty notifications; homecoming; Ohio National Guard; State Chaplain duties; transition home

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139:40 - Reflections on Service

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  • Key values: putting others before self; finding joy in work serving other people

  • Fighting basic selfishness; learning from that throughout

  • Maintaining a long-term vision: 4 children, 3 grandchildren; meaning of life is “adding to the human race and the glorifying of God”

  • Wake up and ask: “Who can I help today?”

  • People who serve in the military are ultimately people just like anybody else

  • Aquino most often feels not deserving of recognition; isn’t doing heroic things day-to-day — just going through the human experience; wants to be recognized, but also just to be like everybody else

  • No amount of money or prestige make military service worthwhile; you have to have the right heart for it

  • Post-9/11 military culture: deployment not “if,” but “when”

  • Appreciates the diversity of views and backgrounds in the military; military always at the cutting edge of diversity in society; no time for segregation

  • Faith has ultimately been strengthened by struggles and challenges in the military; Aquino now sees God as less a “celestial Santa Clause” but still as a force deeply in contact with the world — “God is more like God”

  • Proud to serve with the Guard as a calling, and to help guide the next generation into chaplaincy

Keywords: faith and service; impact of military service; military chaplaincy; military values

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