Chaplain Capt. Rick Pak is his own best example in the stories he uses to help veteran Stryker soldiers cope with the stresses of juggling combat deployments with family lives at home.
Having trouble adjusting as newlyweds? Pak’s been there.
Have each spouse pick a destination for a date. He took his wife, Sara, to a gun range. She took him for a pedicure.
Or maybe the family doesn’t feel the same as it did before a deployment. Pak went through that, too, when his daughters, 7-year-old Samantha and 5-year-old Addyson, were not as warm with him when he returned from Afghanistan last winter.
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They bonded over a shared love of Transformers and worked from there to re-establish their relationship. Transformers hero Optimus Prime united them when they weren’t ready to talk about much else.
Pak, 41, shared those stories at recent couples events he organized to help soldiers in his 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment settle in together in the months after their homecoming. The stories break the ice and help soldiers consider their own personal challenges.
“For me, why I share so much is I’m not a perfect person and I can make the same mistakes myself,” he said.
Pak, a Foss High School graduate, has been a fixture in the squadron for five years. That’s an unusually long tenure in the same unit for a chaplain, but one that gave him a chance to connect with hundreds of soldiers and their families through two combat deployments.
It’s soon coming to an end. Pak expects to take a new assignment as a chaplain for basic training candidates at Fort Benning, Ga.
“It’s going to be sad leaving because I’ve been here a long time. I’ve learned so much here,” he said.
He joined the Army just after he finished high school. He deployed as an infantryman to the Gulf War with the 3rd Armored Division, then spent six years in the Washington National Guard.
His first experience in combat showed that he wanted to become a minister.
“I didn’t know if I was going to live or die, so I took my faith seriously,” he said.
Pak graduated from Bible college and seminary, then served as an associate pastor at a church in Seattle between 2003 and 2008, but he long wanted to return to the Army. He said he had a heart for soldiers.
Pak got to the cavalry squadron in time for its 2009-10 deployment to Iraq. He stayed for its more recent tour in Afghanistan.
Some of his toughest days took place at the memorials he led for fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. His squadron lost five soldiers last year, and each man deserved an honorable ceremony so their peers could grieve them.
“The biggest worry (for a chaplain) is that you don’t want to do a memorial ceremony. You want to make it home with everyone,” he said.
But, when the worst happens, “You have to make sure you really honor your brothers and sisters.”
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 firstname.lastname@example.org/military