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S'side pastor serves Navy in Middle East

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Sunnyside United Methodist Church Pastor and member of the Navy Reserves Randy Quinn just recently returned from two weeks in the Middle East.

Once he departed the plane, Sunnyside United Methodist Church Pastor Randy Quinn knew he wasn't in the United States any more. Quinn, an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves, was aboard a flight for 24 hours before he arrived in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia on Feb. 13.

Quinn said he flew out of Seattle on Feb. 11, changed planes in Minnesota and Amsterdam before arriving in Saudi Arabia.

Quinn was in Bahrain as part of his duties as a member of the Navy Reserves, for which he serves as chaplain with the Military Sealift Command. Quinn explained that as a member of the Reserves he dedicates one weekend a month and two weeks a year to military service. This year he served his two weeks in the Middle East.

Quinn said when he arrived in Bahrain at 1 a.m. Friday, the first thing he learned as a chaplain was that Friday is the Holy Day in Muslim countries. Quinn said members of the military stationed in the area had decided to hold their church services on Friday as well. He further explained that in Muslims countries Sunday is treated as Monday is in the United States.

Another thing Quinn learned upon his arrival in Bahrain was there were no ships in the area. He said the ships were located in Kuwait.

Sunday, Feb. 15, Quinn found himself traveling again, this time to Kuwait, where he could work with the men and women of the Military Sealift Command, as well as meet with the chaplains serving the people stationed in Kuwait.

Quinn said once he arrived in Kuwait he spent all of his time at the port of Al Shuaibah, which is a commercial port that is still being used by commercial ships. However, Quinn explained that the military is using a portion of the port to move people and supplies in and out of Iraq. Quinn said a tall cyclone fence topped with barbed wire separates the military portion of the port from the commercial area.

"We were told it was there to help keep us safe," Quinn said.

One of the reasons Quinn was sent to the Middle East was to check up on the people working in the Military Sealift Command, ministering to those who need someone to talk to. Quinn said he also went hoping to talk to the chaplains stationed in the Middle East, specifically in Kuwait, about the Military Sealift Command, which is made up of mostly civilians working to transfer equipment to and from the Middle East.

During his time in Kuwait, Quinn said he had a chance to visit 14 different ships, talking to the mariners on board and often sleeping on the ships. Quinn explained that of the people aboard the Military Sealift Command ships, most were civilians, but each ship did have 12 National Guardsmen on board to offer protection for the vessels. Quinn said most of the National Guardsmen he met were from Puerto Rico.

Besides ships coming and going from the Kuwaiti port and the men and women serving aboard them, there are nearly 2,000 people who are stationed in the area, living in a life services area, or "tent city." Quinn said it was in the tent city where the mess hall was located, as well as a small store and a place to call family and friends in the United States. He explained that when military personnel would arrive by ship they could come on land and visit the tent city. However, he said the United States agreement with Kuwait to be in the country does not cover civilians. This means civilians are not allowed in the country.

Quinn said this agreement had a direct effect on those people working in the Military Sealift Command. The civilians operating the ships were not allowed to leave the vessel when they arrived at the port.

"There were mariners who wanted to visit the tent city, but couldn't," Quinn said, noting that they wanted to be able to call family and friends during their quick stop over at the Kuwaiti port.

Quinn said they often got around this by having one of the National Guardsman on board go to the tent city, rent a cellular phone and bring it back to the ship for the civilians on board to use to call home.

Besides visiting the ships as they came into port, Quinn also took time to talk to the four chaplains assigned to the tent city. He said he talked to them about the civilians on board the Military Sealift Command ships, to ensure that the chaplains were aware that they were in need of their services, as well as the military personnel in the area.

"The education I did with the chaplains will serve those ships long after the two weeks I was there," Quinn said. "I feel good about that."

Quinn returned from Kuwait on Feb. 25, arriving in Seattle 28 hours later.

Quinn said looking back at the time he spent in the Middle East, he has a new appreciation for what the men and women stationed in the area in one year increments are going through.

"I don't know how they do it," he said.

Quinn said every day at the port looked the same with people, equipment and ships coming and going.

Quinn said he is glad he got the opportunity to go the Middle East.

"I think I made a difference for the sailors who are on those ships," Quinn said.

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