US Army captain defying tradition with a Buddhist twist

Photo courtesy of Stars and Stripes

In a bustling Southwestern bar at a Royal Thai Navy (RTN) base, a US Army captain stood out, not just for his uniform but for the emblem adorning his cap, the Buddhist wheel of dharma, a rare sight in military circles.

Chaplain (Captain) Songkran Waiyaka, one of only 10 Buddhists among over 3,000 religious leaders in the Army, often finds himself explaining the significance of his emblem to curious soldiers.

“This wheel of dharma is my tool to interact with soldiers.”

Representing the teachings of the Buddha, or the dharma, Chaplain Songkran serves with the 53rd Transportation Battalion at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. He’s currently back in his native Thailand for Cobra Gold, a significant military exercise in Asia. Acting as a bridge between the US and Thai militaries, Songkran’s role spans from translation to cultural diplomacy, enriching his chaplaincy with diverse experiences.

Born into a farming family in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, Songkran’s journey from rural life to military service is unconventional. A former novice monk, he was ordained at a young age, drawn to the challenge that monastic life offered, much like his decision to join the army. Despite being in a predominantly Christian battalion, Chaplain Songkran seamlessly integrates his Buddhist beliefs, promoting mindfulness and mental well-being among troops.

“As a Buddhist monk, I had no hair, no civilian clothes, and strict rules. Now, as a chaplain, I abide by just five precepts.”

Chaplain Songkran’s commitment to service led him from a Buddhist community in California to the army, where he discovered parallels between his past and present vocations, reported Stars and Stripes.

In a twist of fate, Songkran found love during his chaplaincy training, something denied to him as a monk. With thirteen years in the army, retirement looms on the horizon but he isn’t done yet.

“I’m going to pop smoke permanently to enjoy life after.”

The chaplain dreams of penning his memoirs and even seeing his story hit the big screen.

Northern Thailand NewsThailand NewsWorld News

Nattapong Westwood

Nattapong Westwood is a Bangkok-born writer who is half Thai and half Aussie. He studied in an international school in Bangkok and then pursued journalism studies in Melbourne. Nattapong began his career as a freelance writer before joining Thaiger. His passion for news writing fuels his dedication to the craft, as he consistently strives to deliver engaging content to his audience.

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