Minister of Duns and District Parish, Stephen Blakey, is currently serving on his last tour as Padre of 6SCOTS, who are in Italy for Exercise Roman Star.
It marks the end of an amazing 40 years of army service for the minister, who looks after the churches of Duns, Bonkyl, Cranshaws, Edrom and Gavinton.
Stephen, who is a chaplain to the forces class three (which carries the rank of major) joined the regular army in 1977 and served for 16 years.
After a short break, he joined the TA, working with the Signals Regiment. But when the opportunity came to join 52nd Lowland, he jumped at the chance.
He said: “I have always worked with “Jock” soldiers, and I understand their lingo and their needs better. And with 6SCOTS being my local reserve unit for the Borders, it works very well with me being the minister there.
“The role of the Padre is just like being a church minister. You are there with the soldiers doing a wide range of things, the formal services such as funerals, baptisms and weddings, but beyond that you are with the soldiers 24 hours a day, on exercise and at camp, so it’s a mixture of chaplaincy and parish minstery.
“I also do work with the army training unit, so when new recruits come into the army reserves, they do their standard training at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh and I do the values and standards lesson as part of that.
“And some of them remember me when I see them in camps later, which is nice.
“In peace time, when we are not on operations, the soldiers sometimes come to talk to me , and on operations such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where they are in heavy, commmitted roles, soldiers often want to talk through what life is all about, and their fears and so on. It is a reality of life that when death is a possibility, people want to talk and the easiest person to talk to is the Padre.
“This is my last anuual camp, my swan song, although I never thought I would be in this long.
“I will miss it. The army has been very good to me. Although I have to admit that when I get the odd weekend off, I do enjoy having the Saturday with little to do.”
In Italy, one of Stephen’s main tasks was to perform a service in a “hollow church” on the training ground, commemorating the death in 2011 of a soldier from their hosts for the fortnight – the 8th Alpini Regiment of the Italian army.
He had been killed in a “Green on Blue” incident – one which involes an attack on coalition servicemen by Afghan forces.