British Army Chaplain Christopher Kinch based in Tidworth, Wiltshire with 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh has been overseas numerous times in his military career but his deployment on Operation Cabrit in Estonia saw him achieve a career first.
Operation Cabrit is the name of the UK operational deployment to Estonia where British troops are leading a multinational battlegroup as part of the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) to reassure our Allies and deter our adversaries.
We’re essentially protecting western values and freedom and liberation. We’re looking after people's right to choose for themselves. Being part of that is actually a real privilege. CHAPLAIN CHRIS KINCH
The 900 strong Royal Welsh Battlegroup with attached Combat Support elements from other armoured, artillery and logistics units, as well as support from France and Denmark and host nation Estonian forces, aim to strengthen NATO’s deterrence posture.
Normally based on Salisbury Plain, the commissioned officer said:
“I’ve not served with armoured or infantry before and it’s very different to my previous tours. Every battalion or regiment is different, they’ve got their own skill set they all bring something different to the party and I’m having to learn and adapt fast.”
Padre Chris’ army career spans over a decade with half of that as an Army Reservist serving with a Field Hospital in the South West of England. He has previously seen service on Operation Herrick (Afghanistan) and on Operation Rescript, the military aid to the civilian authority during the COVID-19 pandemic but his deployment to Estonia has been different to anything he has previously experienced:
“Working as part of a Battlegroup is unlike any of my other tours”, he said. “Firstly they have taken place during the summer and in hot places – when I arrived here it was cold, cold, cold and there had been so much snow!
“Secondly, working as an integrated part of NATO here in Estonia, what’s really in the minds of those deployed is what’s going on in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe. It has really set us on a course for what we are doing out here. It’s given us a real sense of purpose and focus.
“We’re essentially protecting western values and freedom and liberation. We’re looking after people's right to choose for themselves. Being part of that is actually a real privilege.”
The Royal Army Chaplains’ Department was formed in 1796 to provide pastoral and religious support to soldiers. They have taken part in most British Army deployments, and many have been decorated for their bravery and gallantry. The Reverend James Adams won the Department’s first Victoria Cross serving with the 9th Lancers during the Second Afghan War in 1879.
Twelve years into his service Padre Chris is still ministering his military flock in times of war and peace whether overseas on operations or back in Tidworth, a vocation where a few serve the many.
As a non-combatant he doesn’t carry a weapon, only a bible and a cross:
“My job comes in two parts - the pastoral care of the soldiers regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. Secondly, the hospital care and spiritual well-being of everyone. I am somebody that the Chain of Command or soldiers at every level can come too to ask advice on the rights and wrongs, on ethics, and morality both personal and wider.”
“The idea of chaplaincy is that you go wherever the soldiers go. You accompany them on exercises, on operations. You visit them and if there's an opportunity, you live amongst them too.
“We wear the same uniform, we eat the same rations, it is all about getting amongst them.”
Padre Chris practices what he preaches, and on arrival in the Baltic country took part in the gruelling 30-kilometre Estonian Scouts Battalion March, a 15-kilogram loaded march in winter conditions:
“I usually run marathons and ultra-marathons, but the Scouts March was a very different challenge. I wasn’t used to those kinds of conditions but getting across the finish line at the end felt good. I enjoyed the event, and it was a great experience to be able to take part alongside soldiers from the other NATO countries represented.”
The former labourer who worked on building sites before ordination was at Christian ministry training college, known as seminary when a Chaplain told him: ‘It’s great that you think God's calling you to be a priest, but you really want to be an Army Padre.’