Chaplain Returns Home From Iraq - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

4/19/04 - Longview

Chaplain Returns Home From Iraq

He's back home from his service in Iraq. Chaplain Tony Ciomperlik has returned to his job as a chaplain at Good Shepherd hospital in Longview.

He will never be able to forget the soldiers he met or the danger he faced every day.

Tony arrived in Iraq last year just in time for Easter. As chaplain his job was to minister to the soldiers and be a friend they could talk to. He quickly realized his life was in danger.

"I was walking down a hill. I heard a mortar round hit the compound. I knew it was close. I turned around to see the smoke and about 30 to 40 fet from me a guy was hit in the head with shrapnel and I'm thinking that could've been me. God's hand was on me," says Tony.

Tony says there were plenty of happy times among the soldiers. There are good memories of Christmas when decorated trees and stockings arrived. "Some of the sergeants would bring their buddies around and I would give them care packages or give them stockies at Christmas. We really did the best in a most horrible situation we could."

Tony also believes most of the Iraqi people trust Americans and believe in their mission. "If you go to Iraq you can find somebody that doesn't want us there you can. But you can also find a lot of people, I think the majority, want us there. They want us to bring civil order."

For Tony the death that occurred because of that quest for civil order was the most difficult part of his job. "We did too many memorial services for the troops we did too many of those."

In the midst of death Tony says what got him through was having the opportunity to help soldiers find hope.

Chaplain Tony was with the fourth infantry division in Tikrit. He says he was happy to get back home three weeks ago but also found it difficult, like most soldiers, to try and return to normalcy.

Chaplain Tony also has some advice for families once their loved ones come home from Iraq. He says they shouldn't ask any questions, but allow them the opportunity to talk about their experiences when they're ready.

Amy Tatum reporting. atatum@kltv.com

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