Catholic soldiers, chaplain honor veterans

By Charles Albert
The Sooner Catholic

Nineteen years ago, when he was ordained a priest, Father Uche Iheke was asked what his goal was as a priest. “I want to be a pipe (to bring the living water),” he said.

His work as a Catholic military chaplain has taken him to Korea, Germany, the Middle East and now Fort Sill where he carries the Gospel message to soldiers and their families.

“The ministry may be challenging sometimes, but it is one of the greatest privileges in the world to serve both the Catholic Church and serve America’s finest men and women in the military,” said Father Iheke, who grew up in Nigeria.

The “pipes” to the soldiers can get filled with debris, rust and problems, but it is his job to clean them and let the Holy Spirit back into their lives.

“My special joy at Fort Sill is working with the young, as they are on ‘fire with the faith,’” he said.

At times, the need can become overwhelming, so Father Brian Buettner, pastor of Blessed Sacrament in Lawton and a law enforcement chaplain, is available to help in emergencies.

Among those who work with Father Iheke is Sgt. 1st Class Pedro Campoverde, president of the parish advisory board at Fort Sill.

“My faith has been instrumental in my military service and the way our family has dealt with the ups and downs of this profession,” Campoverde said.

“My wife, Jessica, and I have been married for almost 16 years, and having a strong Catholic faith has kept us grounded during separations due to four deployments, military schools and countless training exercises. Prayer and having the ability to attend Mass to participate in the Holy Eucharist is something that I don't take for granted; and is what has helped me to successfully serve in the military.”

Both Father Iheke and Campoverde have been assigned to Fort Sill in Lawton for about two years.

Veterans Day holds a special significance in Lawton with Junior ROTC programs from the three high schools and units in Fort Sill participating in the annual Veterans Day Parade. Campoverde and his son, Esa, are in training for a 5K on Nov. 22 at Fort Sill in remembrance of fallen heroes.

Charles Albert is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.