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Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Tuesday, 10 August 2010 15:53 UK
Army chaplain returns from Afghanistan
Padre Stephen Hancock
Padre Stephen Hancock provided support to soldiers in Afghanistan

Stephen Hancock went out to Afghanistan in 2009 with the Royal Engineers.

Now based in the Logistic Support Regiment in Abingdon, he spent his time in the conflict unarmed and never engaged the enemy.

Instead he fought the heat, dust and dangers, relying on his comrades, as well as his faith, to protect him.

This was because Padre Stephen Hancock was the Army Chaplain to the soldiers, providing comfort and support whilst on operations.

Non-combatant

The Army Chaplains' Department was formed in 1796.

These non-combatants provided the service of the Church in war.

"We provide pastoral care to soldiers, officers and their families, as well as spiritual and moral care," Padre Hancock told BBC Oxford.

It could be said that the military has always been in Padre Hancock's blood.

His grandfather served as a medic in World War II, his father was in the Royal Corps of Transport in the 1950s and 1960s whilst his brother has served aboard submarines in the Royal Navy for over 30 years.

Stephen Hancock grew up on a council estate in Whitley Bay near Newcastle upon Tyne. He had his calling at 14 years of age and would leave school without any qualifications.

"I felt that warming in my heart that it was what God wanted me to do. I just trusted Him that it would eventually happen."

But Stephen's life would lead him through a series of other jobs first - a bouncer, a sales manager - and his marriage to Anita, before events brought him back on track.

"There was an army recruitment office and there was a poster in the window of a military policeman on the Reichstag looking down on the Brandenburg Gate.

"I went in and said I wanted to do that. I'd brightened up a bit by 25, sailed through their entrance tests and was accepted as a military policeman.

"I asked Anita to marry me, and then said, 'by the way, God's called me to be an ordained minister and I've also joined the army!'"

Stephen and Anita moved to Berlin first, before a posting in Northern Ireland. Stephen then left the army to pursue a Theology degree at Queens University in Belfast.

Upon completing his degree he was ordained in Cork, Ireland and ministered in Waterford for four years.

He then returned to the armed forces as an army chaplain, where he served the first of two tours of Iraq, supporting the troops in times of need.

Casualties

"I bring my experience as a soldier. When a lad comes to see me and the world's on his shoulders, I don't see the rank, I don't see the uniform, I see the human being and I provide pastoral care and grace to that individual, whether they are a brigadier, a general or a private soldier."

Afghanistan posed even greater challenges for the padre.

"It is different to anything I've experienced, either as a soldier or as a chaplain.

"I did a summer tour so the biggest memory is of the heat and the casualties and the weariness of putting our boys in coffins up the ramp of an aeroplane.

"I'm in my 40s now so to many of them I'm their Dad. They need a fatherly arm around them when a girlfriend's written a poor letter or they've received bad news from home.

"I've never been told 'no, you can't pray with me Padre.' They've always accepted that when offered.

"To the other extreme you're the unarmed, spiritual man who hopefully is unflustered in the eyes of combat.

"When the guys are going through the mill we are the steady rock to say you can come here and receive a degree of peace."

Padre Hancock's tours can take their toll on wife Anita and children Rebekah, 12, Thomas, 10 and Matthew, 8.

"I know that they fret when Daddy's away," he said.

"It's heavy on their hearts but we have faith."




SEE ALSO
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Army chaplain: I saw nine dead
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