SHERIDAN — Jeremiah Cates, a Sheridan father of two young boys, is in need of some Play-Doh, coloring books and crayons. However, these items are not for his own children, but children in Afghanistan that he will be working with when he deploys there at the end of the month.
Cates is a military chaplain for the Army National Guard, based in Sheridan. Cates served as chaplain with the 2-300th Army Battalion in Sheridan from 2009 until 2012. In 2012, he went on assignment to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he worked as chaplain to the Army Wounded Warriors at the Fort Bragg Warrior Transition Battalion. His upcoming assignment to Afghanistan for a year is his first overseas deployment.
Before the end of 2013, Cates will be replacing a chaplain who has completed his tour of duty and the two have been in contact for several months, to make the transition easier.
“I am actually replacing one of our Buddhist chaplains who is there right now,” he explained. “Most chaplains would be one of the Christian denominations, but we also have Muslim chaplains and Buddhist chaplains and Jewish chaplains to provide ministry to all of our soldiers of various faiths. There is a lot of collegiality, a lot of teamwork, to take care of all of our soldiers and their families.”
“We’ve been corresponding for several months and one of the ministries he (the previous chaplain) has continued and I’ll have the privilege of continuing is going to the local hospital where Afghani kids come and receive medical treatment,” Cates continued. “They have an arts and crafts time and normally they don’t have Play-Doh or coloring books and markers. So a lot of Americans have been sending care packages not just for soldiers, but for Afghani kids.”
Cates said he has been talking with friends, family and church members about making donations of craft supplies for the kids he will be working with.
“I am really looking forward to just playing with the kids and doing these arts and crafts with them,” he said. “Some of these kids, my chaplain was telling me, have terminal diseases like cancer and just giving hugs or playing with them makes a difference in their lives. That is what I am really looking forward to, just making a difference.”
Though Cates is originally from Anchorage, Alaska, his wife Jennifer (neé Anderson) is a Sheridan native and her parents and extended family remain in Sheridan. The Cates family moved to Sheridan in 2006, and Cates worked for the city of Sheridan at the water treatment plant before becoming a chaplain in 2009. Jennifer and the couple’s two sons, ages 6 and 8, will remain in Sheridan during Cates’ deployment.
“My wife Jennifer and our boys are going to stay right here in Sheridan for the family support and community support while I am gone,” Cates said. “We’re very, very thankful for the community support of all of us in the military. I am very thankful that when we come home to Sheridan, people are very interested and supportive.”
Cates’ road to becoming a chaplain has been a long one. He received his Master of Divinity from Faith Baptist Bible College in Des Moines, Iowa, where he also met his wife. In addition to theological training, Cates received military training.
“Chaplains are soldiers,” he said. “We go through boot camp just like everyone else and we are commissioned officers. Chaplains are everywhere our soldiers or airman or Marines or sailors are. Anywhere in the world where our soldiers are or any military personnel are, there is always a chaplain there with them. We are the counselors, the advisors. We provide the spiritual and religious support to military personnel all over the world.”
“It is quite a long and challenging process to go through the minimum requirements to be a military chaplain,” he continued. “It’s very competitive, especially with the way the military is downsizing these days.”
In addition to providing weekly religious services and composing sermons or messages, Cates will work with soldiers on marriage counseling, provide one-on-one counseling if needed, visit and pray with ill or wounded soldiers, and when needed, perform weddings and funerals.
Cates said word of his deployment came when a group of senior officers called him to say he was chosen to go to Afghanistan and asked if he was he willing to accept the assignment.
“It’s a very unique process for how God works out where chaplains go,” he said. “So, I was chosen and I was very excited, very willing and I accepted. This is my first deployment and when you are given an opportunity like this, you want to take advantage of it.”
Despite family and community support, Cates acknowledged that the coming year will be a difficult one for his family and that as the time of his departure gets closer, they are experiencing a mix of emotions.
However, he does expect a two-week mid-tour leave next summer that will allow him to return to Sheridan.
“My boys are very resilient,” he said, about how he expects his young children to deal with his absence. “They have a lot of support from grandma and grandpa here and all the aunts and uncles and cousins, and that is important. Three years ago I was gone for a year of training. A year went by pretty quickly but God used that almost as a stepping-stone to prepare us for this year apart. We really believe that when God calls you to something like this then his grace sustains you through it.”
Anyone wishing to send a care package for Cates, other soldiers or the Afghani children he will be working with, can contact him at:
25th Signal Battalion
APO AE 09354