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Unitarian Universalist is first female chaplain at Gitmo

The Rev. Cynthia Kane is one of four military chaplains at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
By Jane Greer
8.22.05

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The Rev. Cynthia Kane

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The Rev. Cynthia Kane is a Unitarian Universalist minister and Navy chaplain who served at Guantanamo Bay in 2005–2006. (Courtesy of Cynthia Kane)

The “war on terror” is now closer to home for the Rev. Cynthia Kane, a U.S. Navy lieutenant and Unitarian Universalist chaplain assigned to a six-month stint at Guantanamo Bay, site of the military detention camp for individuals suspected of having al Qaeda connections. “Before arriving here, I didn’t feel [the war] was a part of my life,” she said in an e-mail interview. “Now I’m in the midst of it—and know the war is real.”

Kane, the first female chaplain to serve at Guantanamo, is part of an interfaith religious ministry team of eight, including three other chaplains and four assistants. Her responsibilities include making pastoral calls throughout the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, including the detention center and naval hospital; organizing holiday worship services; briefing newcomers; and being part of the debriefing process for troopers leaving the island. She is not permitted to say whether she has contact with detainees.

Kane’s tour of duty began July 24 at Fort Benning, Georgia, where she received pre-deployment training on the Geneva Convention, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, terrorism, battlefield first aid, what to do in the event of being taken hostage or prisoner, and the use of chemical-biological-nuclear protective gear. She arrived in Guantanamo on August 4.

The days are long: Kane works ten hours a day Sunday through Friday and half-days on Saturday. “Homesickness is rampant,” she wrote, “as is combat stress. We usually don’t talk about our days. Sometimes we vent to one another, though it’s more a silent, knowing nod to one another.” The intensity of the environment is lessened, though, by the heat and the iguanas, she said, “whose omnipresent road crossing keep the speed limit down to 25 MPH.” Once her schedule settles she hopes to take diving and sailing lessons.

Despite the long hours and rigorous conditions, Kane is excited about her assignment. “It’s a humbling honor to be chosen for such a mission,” she said, “and I pray daily for wisdom and patience.” Guidance from the Unitarian Universalist Seven Principles is sometimes a struggle in such an extreme environment: “A particular challenge is our second one: affirming and promoting justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.”

Kane credits the support she receives from friends back home as one of her greatest sources of strength during this challenging assignment. “I’m able to do what I’m doing here—and sometimes simply get through the day,” she said, “because of the love, support, and prayers from folks back home.”

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