By NANCY GONDO, IBD
When Michael DuCharme decided to join the Army, he was almost too old to make the cut.
It was 2002, just before the Iraq War's start, so he and his wife knew that if he joined, the Army would probably send him to the front.
But they both felt it was God's calling. DuCharme had thought about serving as an Army chaplain since his mid-20s. Now he was 38.
"I got to an age where it was going to be the cut off to being eligible," Maj. DuCharme told IBD. "So about the time most people are thinking about retirement, I'm getting ready to go in."
In 2004, DuCharme was a captain and received his orders: Baghdad. The Army wanted him to provide religious support and counseling services for some 1,200 soldiers who were spread throughout the city.
With soldiers facing the daily threat of injury or death — and coping with the loss of peers — the chaplain's services were in constant demand. He earned respect from the troops and brass by being accessible even if it meant braving possible terrorist attacks, just like everyone on the Americans' side.
"You know, when (I was) talking about having faith and trust in God, they knew you had to do the exact same thing because that's why you were out on the roads coming to see them," DuCharme said.
Sometimes he traveled three hours to reach soldiers. "Mike endured the same hardships and the same dangers that the soldiers out on the street out on patrol were doing," said Col. Chad McRee, commander on DuCharme's first tour. "(He) really made himself vulnerable just like our soldiers, and certainly went beyond what most would expect of a chaplain."
The chaplain provided support not just for the soldiers, but also for their families.
One day he traveled to the Green Zone on the west side of Baghdad from his east side base. His mission was to visit a company of soldiers. One of them, a young woman, talked with him and soon began attending chapel services. Then one month before her scheduled flight home, she was shot and killed on a mission.
DuCharme contacted her parents to let them know she had "found her way back to God and was growing in that walk." That gave them solace.
"That was one of many stories where it seemed God would put you in the right place at the right time," DuCharme said. "I felt like God had brought me there just to see one soldier that (summer) day."