Fireworks and warships

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“Wow.”

His little voice piped up between the “booms,” “pows” and “bams” that filled the humid night air in the heart of D.C. It was 10 p.m. on the Fourth of July and the bad news was that our 1-year-old was still awake. The good news was that — after hearing our response to exploding colors — he’d learned a new word.

I want to let them know they are loved and that I can help them with anything.

Realizing sleep was futile amid the holiday noise, my husband and I decided to open the curtains above our toddler’s crib, plop down on the floor next to him and watch the neighborhood firework show from the nursery.

I repeated my son’s new word at least once during an interview the following day with Father Jason Burchell, the former parochial vicar of St. Agnes Church in Arlington and soon-to-be chaplain aboard the USS Ronald Reagan. The U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services recently assigned him to the massive warship, which is longer than three football fields placed end to end.

As I’ve written before, one of the things I love about my job as a reporter is expanding my knowledge through interviews and research. My conversation with Father Burchell was a catapult into facts about aircraft carriers and military terms — one of those gems of a story that leaves you with a richer understanding of the world.

I learned that a “Nimitz-class” supercarrier is a designation for 10 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in service with the U.S. Navy; that the 7th Fleet covers 50 percent of the world’s population; and that military chaplains undergo everything from rigorous physical training to learning how to deal with suicide and depression in the military.

Father Burchell said he’s eager to minister not only to Catholics on the USS Ronald Reagan, but also to men and women of other faiths. “I want to let them know they are loved and that I can help them with anything,” he said.

Father Burchell will board the warship sometime in late summer, but for me the interview was a perfect fit for the week of the Fourth of July. My Navy knowledge grew exponentially and I had the privilege of getting an inside look at a chaplain’s vocation — to serve the spiritual needs of the men and women who have, as Father Burchell said, “bled for our freedom.”

I’d say a “wow” is warranted for his efforts.

Our prayers are with you, Father Burchell.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016