Reporting for duty
This Monday, Sept. 1, while most of the lakes area is enjoying Labor Day festivities, Rev. Paul Anderson of Perham will be boarding an airplane in Fargo, bound for North Carolina.
When he arrives, he will be taken to the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, near Jacksonville, for five days of processing and paperwork -- the first step in his eventual deployment to Iraq.
Anderson, who enlisted with the U.S. Navy reserves in 1993, has spent much of that time working as a chaplain for the Marine Corps.
This past May, he was with his Marine unit in Michigan for two weeks, helping them prepare for deployment to the Horn of Africa ("across the pond" from Iraq, as Anderson put it), when he was given his 60-day notice of deployment.
"I received my orders about a month ago," said Anderson. After processing at Camp Lejeune, he will head out to California for two weeks of classroom training, and then, on Sept. 22, he will board another plane -- bound for Iraq.
"I will be stationed in the province of Anbar, which is in the western region of Iraq," he said. "I will be attached to the First Marines, and my title will be the RCT-1 deputy chaplain."
Anderson, who holds the rank of lieutenant commander, said his duties as deputy chaplain will include conducting chapel services at the base and ministering to the troops as they head out into the field or on patrol, as well as when they return.
"I will minister to those who are wounded, and I will do quite a bit of counseling, both with the Marines and the other armed forces people stationed there," Anderson said. "There's a contingent of Army folks there, and there are also some international troops."
Though he is excited by the challenges he will face, Anderson admitted that he also feels some anxiety -- both about the family he will leave behind and the fledgling church that he helped to start..
Anderson is the pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church, which was first organized in Perham just two years ago. The church, which holds services every week at the Comet Theater, is in the midst of beginning a fund raising campaign for a new building.
"We just started our capital campaign," he said. "We've purchased some land out behind Pamida on Highway 10, and hopefully, they will be breaking ground sometime next spring or fall."
Though the timing for his leave of absence is not ideal, Anderson said he believes the congregation has things well in hand.
"I'm very confident that my church is very strong spiritually and will survive (my absence), no problem," he said. "People are really stepping up to take the leadership responsibilities, as they look for an interim pastor to come and take my place while I'm gone. Until then, the lay people are just awesome -- they're covering everything from home visits to leading worship."
Anderson is also understandably concerned about leaving his wife Kimberly to care for their five children on her own. Oldest daughter Maren, 13, will be in seventh grade this fall, while Lauren, 10, will be entering fifth grade. Son Clayton is seven and will be starting second grade, while daughter Kjersten is three and a half and youngest son Bjorn is just a year and a half old.
"We're also in the process of adopting a 10-year-old girl from Nicaragua," he said. Though Anderson hopes the Nicaraguan ministry will agree to delay the adoption until he returns, so he can accompany his wife to Nicaragua to bring their daughter home, it might not happen that way. And then there are all the everyday events of family life that he will miss.
"I will be missing three of my children's birthdays, plus my own, not to mention Christmas and Thanksgiving," he said.
Though it's possible he could be back home as early as February, Anderson said, "That's the best-case scenario. My orders are for a year, 365 days...and it's also written into my orders that I can be extended for up to 24 months."
It's not likely that he will be asked to serve extended duty, but the possibility does exist. "I'll just take it one day at a time," Anderson said.
But despite his sadness and anxiety at the thought of being away from his young family for so long, Anderson said, "I've trained for this. I'm more than ready...and my family understands that this is my calling -- I'm going to serve my country."