Though the time for prayers would come, Army National Guard chaplain Aris Fokas saw the immediate need in the operating room was for an extra set of hands.
as doctors and nurses labored late into the night in December 2005.
, of Lancaster, got busy retrieving medical supplies, hanging intravenous drips and hand pumping blood through a warmer.
When the need for those tasks waned, Fokas
slipped back into the role of chaplain.
spoke and prayed with the wounded and with their buddies, who paced and waited for news.
It was one trying night among many Fokas experienced during an 18-month deployment in Iraq.
Fokas, a United Church of Christ minister, joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 2003.
was 39 years old and felt called to serve his
country by pastoring to soldiers on the front lines.
warmed to the challenges, and many colleagues came to admire his
professionalism and humanity.
But now that he's
, 46, is facing a challenge that threatens his
future with the military.
An officer has accused Fokas
of telling him he
Col. David W. Wood informed Fokas
in a memorandum.
"Therefore ... an investigation is in process to determine if separation action is warranted."
, for now, remains in the Guard, but his
chaplain duties are suspended pending the investigation's findings.
In the meantime, because "don't ask, don't tell" remains the law, Fokas in an interview declined to say anything about his sexual orientation other than to acknowledge he is single and has never been married.
noted, too, that the United Church of Christ
ordains openly gay and lesbian ministers, a denomination-wide policy since 1980.
The commander of the 104th Aviation Brigade at Fort Indiantown Gap informed Fokas in January of the accusation that he had violated "don't ask, don't tell."
The commander told Fokas the accusation was made by Fokas' former supervisor, a higher-ranking chaplain.
said the supervisor wrote a memo in December 2009 describing a phone conversation the previous June.
In that conversation, the supervisor alleged, Fokas
disclosed being gay.
Fokas denies saying any such thing.
had a heated phone conversation in June 2009 with the supervisor, but the memo the supervisor wrote contains "inaccuracies and fabrications."
"It's trumped up and it's abusive," Fokas
said of the supervisor's memo.
characterized the resulting investigation as "a waste of administrative time."
"I've done nothing that would violate my ordination vows or compromise my position to be trusted by soldiers," Fokas
claim is backed by a number of servicemen who vouch for the chaplain's integrity.
Harry Delorenzo, 57, of Warrington, Bucks County, was the command sergeant major of the 228th Forward Support Battalion, a unit in which Fokas
served for five months at Camp Shelby, Miss. and for 12 months in Iraq.
Delorenzo described Fokas
as a dedicated professional who truly cared for the soldiers and who went out of his way to offer comfort and improve morale.
After Fokas' 12-month deployment at Camp Taqaddum in Iraq with the 228th, he extended his stay in Iraq for six months with the 372nd Military Police Battalion in Baghdad.
Jeff Cox, 41, of Salem, Mass., a clinical social worker with the Massachusetts National Guard, worked with Fokas in the same Baghdad unit in 2006.
Fokas provided this newspaper with copies of three letters written by a Fort Dix, N.J. chaplain, a Pennsylvania National Guard physician and a Pennsylvania National Guard major.
The letters recommend Fokas highly.
"Any organization would be blessed to have him as part of their team," one said.
An economics major, graduating from Franklin & Marshall College in 1989, Fokas had a variety of work experiences before entering the ministry.
was, for example, a college admissions director, a marketing director for a winery and a funeral home assistant.
Fokas graduated from Lancaster Theological Seminary in 1996.
As a United Church of Christ minister, he was assistant of campus ministries at F&M and the pastor or interim pastor at several churches, including Grace Alsace UCC outside Reading and Salem UCC of Columbia.
For many years, Fokas mulled becoming a military chaplain.
The opportunities for adventure and personal growth appealed to him.
felt a call to a greater purpose.
remembers the evening in 2003 when he
made up his
was in his
kitchen watching The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer when the program featured a story about a fallen soldier.
"I openly wept," Fokas
"I felt a very strong sense that I can help."
Writing in his Web log in April 2005, while training at Fort Shelby, Miss., Fokas noted that people sometimes ask why he became a military chaplain.
The answer "is as complex," he
wrote, "as the experiences that have made me who I am and as simple as the desire to do something with dignity and meaning."
These days, Fokas is a Lancaster seminary student in the Doctor of Ministry program, which he plans to complete next year.
thinks about seeking promotion and extending his
time in the military, but he
has not decided.
The military may, of course, choose to kick him out.
not going to let that happen without a fight.
will defend himself against his
In addition, he
will stand up for an end to "don't ask, don't tell."
"Almost all of our military allies, notably Israel and Great Britain, have openly gay and lesbian soldiers serving without problems," Fokas
"There was consternation in Britain about what would happen if soldiers came out.
But what happened is people went to work the next day and the world did not fall off its axis."
said "don't ask, don't tell" has proven to be a dangerous policy because it gives cover to abusers.
"To frighten and intimidate someone," he
said, "all you have to say is, 'Well, I heard you're gay.'"
won't be intimidated.
Being a captain, chaplain and minister, Fokas said, gives him greater freedom than many in the military to speak out against a policy he views as unjust.
said that's why he
has chosen to take a public stand.
In speaking against "don't ask, don't tell," Fokas
said, "I hope I can make life easier for those who don't have the luxury of speaking their conscience."