Photo: U.S. Army

Print this story

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter


By Fr. Donald Van Alstyne, MIC

"Stand by, incoming wounded soldiers!" sounded the alert over the loud speaker.

The medical staff would scramble to their respective positions getting the necessary medical equipment ready to go into action. A faint humming sound would get louder as the helicopters came in for the landing. A triage would be set up to take care of the most severely injured first.

They would be the ones I would minister to first as well.

Such harrowing scenes played out many times at the field hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where I served. Such scenes point to how vital my daily prayer life is in my ministry as a U.S. Army chaplain.

As the medical team worked intensely on the soldier, I would lean over whispering into his or her ear stating who I am and offering words of reassurance. I would tell the soldier, "You are safe now. You are going to make it because you are in the good hands of the doctors and nurses." All the while I'd be saying brief words of prayer and then repeating, "Jesus, I trust in You."

Tragically, there would be rare moments when the doctors would inform me that the soldier wasn't going to make it. They'd ask me to say a few prayers. On one occasion that I'll probably never forget, the soldier's buddy heard what the doctor said. He was behind a drawn curtain. He was lying on a cot. He shouted, "I want to pray, too." The nurse opened the curtain, and there was the soldier leaning on his side with tears in his eyes looking at his buddy.

With oils in hand, and prayerfully reciting the words for the Commendation of the Dying, I finally said, "Saints of God, come to his aid! Come to meet him angels of the Lord! Receive his soul and present him to God the Most High."

I sensed during such moments that all the members of the medical staff who were gathered around the soldier were feeling the presence of God. I could see peace on their faces. I would pray silently. I would ask our Blessed Mother, standing at the foot of the cross, to intercede for the medical staff — for people who have such a passion to give life to our soldiers. My prayers then would turn to the soldier's loved ones back home who would be getting the sad news that their husband or wife or parent or son or daughter had died defending our country against terrorists.

This memory has brought home to me the importance of maintaining a constant, deep relationship with the Lord, in good times and in bad. My human energy will always be limited, but I know that through daily prayer I can be sustained and given the strength I need.

The summit for me is the celebration of the daily Mass. I have always cherished this privileged moment and remember in a special way at Mass the souls of our departed soldiers and those who are serving in combat.

Then, there is my prayer of the Holy Rosary, which keeps me centered and rooted in the Lord and reminds me to turn to Our Blessed Mother in all my needs. I also pray with the mind of the Church by keeping the Liturgy of the Hours, found in the Breviary.

In my prayer and service to our soldiers, the depth of the mystery conveyed is all the more profound for me because of the principles we stand for in defending our country. I am also inspired to see in the eyes of our soldiers the need to know and love God.

My mission is to bring God to soldiers and to bring soldiers to God. All of these experiences give me a joy and energy in my heart and soul that no one, or no tragic moment, can take away.

Major Donald Van Alstyne, MIC, has served as a U.S. Army chaplain in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and in South Korea along the DMZ. He is currently pastor at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

Print this story

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter


Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

MAJ Rick (ILE-CC) - Feb 9, 2011

Dear CH(MAJ) Van Alstyne,
You are truly a sincere warm and wonderful human being. I am honored to have served with you and experience life with you as we spent time in school together at Fort Belvior.
God Bless you and I pray to the heavenly father that the foot of the cross will always shine in your presence.
Please know my family has so much love and admiration for you. God Bless you Fr. Van Alstyne.

A Desert Storm Vet - Jun 1, 2009

Thank you, Father.

Olguita - May 26, 2009

Thank God for people of faith who are willing and able to minister to our soldiers. Both my sons and my daughter-in-law are soldiers in the US Army National Guard. My son at 28 years old is a veteran of war. May the Lord bless Major Alstyne and all our troops!

Brenda - May 26, 2009

Thank you Father for being there for our soldiers and for those taking care of them. I pray every day for our soldiers but now will include those who take care of them physically and spiritually. Thank you for reminding me and thanks again for being there for all of them.

mother of a solider -marietta ga - May 25, 2009

Father i just want to thank you for the work your doing though my son is not over in the war he is in the states but its still very hard being a mother of solider and i just want to aay thank you and i will pray for you and all the good work you do im glad to know there someone out there that cares for our troops

Alexei - May 24, 2009

Thanks, Don. Proud of you!

SweetDaisy - May 24, 2009

Dear Fr. Don,
We as Catholics know that a priest always has his parish, but a militay priest, has his mission, which are the soldiers, where ever they may be. Just wanted too, "Thank You" for being their for them, with them, in good times and in bad times. The very words that you share with them in your story. I now use all the time: "Jesus I trust in you". God bless you and protect you

Anthony - May 24, 2009

Thank God for priest like you and I shall keep you and the soldiers in my daily prayers.

Christine - May 23, 2009

Thank you Father Alstyne for your service to God and our country!!

Maria P. (Canada) - May 23, 2009

Thank you Fr. Donald for the courage and strength you are showing the military men and women as a priest and in the military. Two honourable vocations that "gives up their lives" for the salvation of others. This article has touched my heart as my cenacle keeps the soldiers and priests in prayer constantly. May God continue showering you with many blessings in all you do and may Our Lady continue to protect you with Her Holy Mantle of Love. Father, rest assured of our prayers in our Spiritual Motherhood for Priests group and at Holy Hour every Tuesday during the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Remy Dulguime - May 23, 2009

Dear Fr. Donald,
The men and women in the military are always in my prayer. May you have a full blessing in God's power and protect you from harm and danger so you can continue your mission to serve our soldiers nearer to God's love.

Marilyn - May 23, 2009

Dear Father,
Thank you for your faithful witness to God's love and mercy.

Servant of God, Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno is a beloved military chaplain for our times. He was KIA in Vietnam, Sept. 4th, 1967 while ministering to the Marines. They called him "The Grunt Padre" which is the name of his story by Fr. Daniel Mode. is the petitioner for his cause and also serves to strengthen military families and promote vocations to the Archdiocese for Military Services.

Fr. Capodanno's story ("The Grunt Padre in Vietnam") was shown on EWTN on May 20th at 10PM EST.

He is truly a friend and hero for us all. Please do get to know him.

T Carole - May 22, 2009

God bless you Father Donald and may our Good God grant you many years.

joanie E. Brown - May 22, 2009

God strengthen you and use you for the benefit of the holy souls he intends to save through your intercessions. I personlly pray for the soldiers as often as I can. I hope and pray there will be more priests on fire with the Holy Spirit to continue Jesus Christs work on earth. and God's holy people Thankyou for your prayers too for our military personnell. My neice was in Iraq but got back to the United states and is now studying for a nursing degree. If she can make it back they all can. LOve, Joanie Brown ann arbor, Michigan

Rolly Lirio - May 22, 2009

Father, God bless you and your ministry. Please connect in your prayers and sacrifices the combatants in Southern Philippines: the government soldiers and the Muslim separatists and bandits. God loves all people, especially the sinners, that they may return to God, their Creator.

Marianne Johnpillai - May 21, 2009

Dear Father,
Today in our country Sri Lanka, the armed forces are being honoured for their bravery and sacrifice in bring the civil war that raged in our land for over 27 years, to an end. As I read your testimony, I myself came to realise that someone has to die for others to live in peace, whether it is physically dying or dying of selfishness, pride, hatred, lack of love etc. Christ showed the way by His supreme sacrifice on the Cross. May God bless you and may His Spirit guide you in your ministry. I pray for priests daily and I will remember you too. May Mary, our Blessed Mother envelop you always with her loving presence.
Yours in Christ

Kaija - May 21, 2009

God bless you always, Father Donald. Thank you for all you do. You are on our daily rosary prayer list.

Cyndi - Cypress,CA. - May 21, 2009

Fr. Alstyne, my heartfelt gratitude for serving our country. Especially for supporting our men and women in time of need! Your presence is more than enough because our soldiers know that they are in good hands and they know they felt the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Fr. I always pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet and in my Prayers I always include our men and women for their safety and well being.
God Bless and my Prayers go out to each and everyone to our men and women who are brave enough to protect our country.

Cyndi from Cypress, California

Father Jim Maher, Westlake Village, CA - May 21, 2009

The whole story "hit" me pretty good. I am a Navy veteran of the Korean War, long before I was ordained at the age of 62, in 1992. Your words that we use in the Final Commendation echoed loud and clear for me. As a priest, there is never a time when I am not engergized after receiving a call to "anoint" someone. No matter how tired I am or what mood I might be in, when I pull on that stole and begin the words of comfort and anointing, I know why I am a priest. Hearing the other words of others who responded to your story are mine ten times over God bless.

ana Progar - May 21, 2009

Thank you Fr. Van Alstyne for being the spiritual pastor that they all need in critical times... I pray daily for all our service men and women who are deployed, that the Good Lord would guide and protect them. Five years ago I started a "Helping the Families of Wounded Heroes" fund to help the families visit those who come back wounded to Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital. While it is a small token of my concerns for them, it is no match for the ministering that you give to them, Father; bringing them the Blessed Sacrament. Thank you for answering the call to serve God through those in need.
In reply to do you make those Ranger Rosaries? I would like to do the same for them too....

mary - May 21, 2009

"Saints of God, come to his aid! Come to meet him angels of the Lord! Receive his soul and present him to God the Most High."

These words are strong! Thank you for sharing your mission with us! Also thank you for answering the call!

God Bless you!

Sister Maria Magdalena, CSSF - Lodi, NJ - May 21, 2009

I am an army brat born at West Point Army Hospital quite a long time ago :>)
I have a special appreciation for the men and women who serve in defense of our country as military personnel. I pray for everyone each day especially for their safety but above all that they will remember that God IS right beside them always and to never BE AFRAID. May God bless you in a very special way for your dedication and daily sacrifice to bring the love of
Jesus to each and every person you encounter in the line of duty. God
bless America! Let there be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me.

1SG Barrett. - May 21, 2009

I'll keep you forever in my prayers Padre. I wish you and those you advise , Health, Safety and a great life in Christ

Chyrl - May 21, 2009

Dear Fr. Don,
Thank you for responding to God's call and service as Chaplain to our military personnel where ever you may be assigned. Our our pastor returned last August from responding to a call to leave his sheep and service personnel in Afghanistan. Our Church is located just outside of a large military base, so we have many families that become part of the family. We offer prayer intentions for all who serve each Sunday and this will give even more of a personal connection with you sharing your experience. May God continue to grace you with all your daily needs and keep you safe in your journeys doing God's Will!!!

MEH - May 21, 2009

When my brother, Kenny, was hurt in Viet Nam, he was originally sent to an Army Hospital in Japan. While there, he was befriended by the Catholic Chaplain, "Father Bob", who took a special interest in Kenny. Father Bob sent my parents several personal letters about how Kenny was doing and his faith in God. He even wrote several letters for Kenny when his hands and eyes were bandaged. After Kenny was transferred to a Naval Hospital, Father Bob continued to make the journey to see him. After Kenny's death, Father Bob sent my brother, Bob, the nicest letter about Kenny. I know that having Father Bob around helped make Kenny's last days, in a land far from home, a little easier. Please keep all the Chaplains in our armed services in your prayers. They truly do God's work.


Resfi - May 21, 2009

Dear Father,
Your service to our military personnel is very much appreciated. Five years ago, I received a call in the middle of the night informing me that my husband had a heart attack on board a navy ship. My first reaction was "We are Catholics, please send the chaplain to my husband for annointment." I was told that the chaplain already came. I was even more grateful because he came and concelebrated at my husband's funeral Mass and service.

I thank the Lord and pray for all our priests and missionaries, and you - chaplains - who place your lives in danger side by side with our service men and women. May God bless you and protect you always, and our Blessed Mother shield you with her mantle!

In union of prayers,

Annelle - May 21, 2009

Dear Father Van Alstyne,

I, too, was very moved by your words. Christ's presence is there with you, and is certainly evident in your words. May you continue to minister to those in need, by bringing God to the Soldiers, and the Soldiers to God.

Kathie Reed - May 21, 2009

God bless you Father and our soldiers, for all you do to keep our soldiers with God. I pray for our priest daily but I will say a special one for all our Military Chaplins. We do a rosary at 12:10 along with the Divine Mercy Chaplet and it will also be said for you from now on. God bless you and protect you and may Mary Queen of Peace wrap her mantel around all of you and keep you and our country safe from harm.

God bless,

Mary - May 21, 2009

Reading this brought tears to me. My brother was blessed to be a chaplain's assistant in Vietnam, but he never spoke of it. I pray for priests every day, and I will mention military chaplains specifically from now on. thank yuou for sharing this, Father. God bless you in everything.

Elaine - May 21, 2009

Father, your story touched me so deeply; esp. the part about the two buddies-very inspirational. You are in my prayers. God bless you!

Judy Riordan - May 21, 2009

Dear Father,
I pray and sacrific daily for all priests. After reading your moving story I will remember all chaplains and those dear souls they minister to each day.
My God's Divine Mercy be ever with you all.
Judy Riordan

HammerDoc - May 21, 2009

I thank God for priests like CH(MAJ) Van Alstyne. Having been an army physician, as an ER physician as well as time in the field/on deployments, I can appreciate his mission greatly.

To this day, one of my closest friends was with me first as batallion chaplain in Kuwait and then as 3/3rd Bde Chaplain when I was the Brigade surgeon.

Chaplains such as Fr. Van Alstyne and his vitally important, extremely crucial mission are why I got involved in making "Ranger Rosaries" for the troops--I love my Protestant brethren, and appreciated being with one of their chaplains when deployed. However, I know what it's like to be deployed without a Catholic Chaplain for comfort and for the Sacraments.

Thank you, Fr. Van Alstyne. (et al.) Please know that your efforts are appreciated and that you are prayed for.

Richard C. Snouffer, MD
(fmr)CPT, MC, USA

PS--I was stationed at Ft. Bliss, TX. We have probably spat out some of the same sand, Father!

Sister Maria Elizabeth - May 21, 2009

Dear Father,
My heart was touched by your witness to God's presence in the midst of the war through your faithful service within the heart of the Church. Truly these men and women are ministered to by Christ Himself through your priesthood. Today is the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Your life is witness to the fulfillment of His Promise "And behold, I will be with you all days."

God bless you and protect you, and may She who stood at the foot of the Cross always accompany you as you too stand at the foot of the Cross with each soldier.

I will pray for you, Father.

Debbie - May 21, 2009

Thank you Father Alstyne, for all that you have done, and for your future missions. Thank you for taking care of our service men and women. May God Bless and watch over you!!