7:00 A.M. EST June 23, 2010
The Rev. Nicolas Camacho holds a young girl at the Mirza Abdul Qader Day
Care Center in Afghanistan. UMNS photos courtesy of Nicolas Camacho.
View in Photo Gallery
It had been a painful week in Afghanistan. Constant direct and
indirect attacks brought many “high-tension moments,” and resulted in
the loss of six more soldiers.
Yet their memorial service, reflected the Rev. Nicolas Camacho, a
United Methodist chaplain with the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade of the
U.S. Army, allowed others to think about “our own commitments to what we
are doing around here.”
For Comacho, now in his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, that
commitment means both serving the brigade’s 54 soldiers and overseeing a
charitable mission for the Afghan community.
A clergy member of the denomination’s Eastern Pennsylvania Annual
(regional) Conference, Camacho had already served almost 10 years as a
U.S. Army chaplain when the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks hit.
He immediately volunteered for Operation Enduring Freedom and was
sent with the 528th Battalion to the frontiers of Uzbekistan and
In this new tour of duty with the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade, Camacho
has been making a difference in the world through his concept of
“Operation Winning Afghanistan.”
Enhancing the partnership
The project’s three main goals are to build cohesion between Afghanis
and coalition forces, enhance the partnership between the people of
Afghanistan and U.S. and coalition troops in charitable efforts and
provide an opportunity for volunteers to make a difference in the Afghan
U.S. military personnel visit with Afghan orphans.
A UMNS web-only photo.
“We began our first charitable mission by bringing school supplies to
a local girls’ school,” Camacho explained. “The experience of seeing
hundreds of kids embracing with so much affection a simple pencil and
bringing unto their faces a smile of gratitude was well recorded in my
mind and heart. After that moment, I knew and understood that I would
not be the same.”
The Operation Winning Afghanistan charitable effort now extends to 10
local missions, including five orphanages, two day care centers, the
Afghan National Army Hospital, a School for Girls and Boys with more
than 3,200 students, a mosque under construction and the Kabul Children
The idea behind the program, created this year, is the realization
that winning against the Taliban is dependent upon separating people
from their control. “This means, for us, that we must learn to respect
and protect the population from violence and from being coerced,” he
said. “It also means that we need to operate in a manner which will win
Through Operation Winning Afghanistan, Camacho has met different
local Afghan leaders, including one who is today a good friend, Col.
Sediqullah Saberi, garrison commander for the Afghan National Army
Training Center in Kabul. “Thanks to his support, I have been able to
partner with him and use as secure protection for most of our missions
the Afghan Force Protection based in his compound,” he explained.
Answering God’s call
It is not part of Camacho’s job to coordinate charitable work with
the Afghan people, but rather to serve the religious needs of the
soldiers and to advise his commander on anything affecting the welfare
of his soldiers.
“However, to serve beyond your own described and identified duties is
something that God calls you to do,” he said. “I highly appreciate the
dimension of social justice that we have in The United Methodist
Church. You help others because it is a call that is given birth in
your heart and soul. You need to be very conscious of what you are
doing, the places you are getting into, the challenges and high-risk
factors that are involved. There is a high price in Christ our Savior
that involves the dimension of serving by and in the grace and
compassion of our Lord.”
Camacho (second from right) visits with community elders and military leaders about construction of a mosque near Kabul.
View in Photo Gallery
As a chaplain, he is very aware of the risk factors—not only to his
own life, but also to every soldier and civilian who has volunteered “to
help, to bring charity and kindness, hope and joy, a smile where there
was sadness and lack of hope.”
The missions call for travel through hostile territory, “so when we
go out I surrender completely in the merciful presence of God and I pray
intensively for each life that offers his/her time to one of my
programs,” Comacho said.
He is thankful for the United Methodist connection and support of his
ministry from the denomination’s Board of Higher Education and
Ministry. “They have provided spiritual support through their prayers
and e-mailing of supporting materials for our use as chaplains,” he
added. “They also have provided more than 800 free calling cards for
soldiers in my brigade, which is so essential when in need of calling
your family or support group in the USA.”
For his second tour in Afghanistan, which ends Oct. 15 when he
returns to Fort Dix in New Jersey, Camacho will be awarded the Joint
Service Commendation Medal, the Afghanistan Medal and the NATO Medal.
Camacho is collecting donations of school supplies for his project. For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Keenan is director of communications for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.