Alongside U.S. troops, on a battlefield of intense bombing and gunfire, stands one unarmed man – a military chaplain – ready to serve and minister to the living and the fallen.

A recent report by the Associated Press reveals how U.S. military chaplains are instrumental in providing support to the troops by their very presence and by helping them deal with moral as well as life-and-death issues, through prayer, comfort and spiritual advice. The report states that their ministry helps keep “the U.S. military machine running.”

Since Aug. 5, U.S. troops have been fighting with Iraqi militants in Najaf's cemetery, believed to be the largest in the Muslim world.

The AP report tells how military chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Paul Shaughnessy joined a supply convoy and spent the night with Marines in the cemetery recently crouched behind tombstones for cover.

One round exploded about 50 yards from the 58-year-old priest. After hearing calls for help, he found two Marines, bleeding profusely. Believing they would die, he performed last rites on them. One survived; the second did not.

Performing such rites, holding prayer services and giving soldiers blessings are typical of chaplains, who are also involved in helping soldiers work through moral issues that arise from combat. 

Chaplains help to ease a soldier’s troubled conscience in combat, says the report, by arguing that killing combatants is justified, and emphasizing that they perform their duties in a just way, do not take innocent life or use excessive force.

Baptist Army chaplain Capt. Warren Haggray, 48, told the AP that he draws from Scripture to teach his soldiers that there are times for war and for peace, “and there are times that you just have to get out there and fight.”