Because Chaplain Maj. Pablo Perez-Maisonet's desk is largely uncluttered, one item stands out: a copy of the DVD, "Hotel Rwanda." It describes one aspect of the 1994 Rwandan tribal war between the Hutus and Tutsis, that left as many as 1 million people dead.
"I use part of it for every class," because the main character holds several ethical dilemmas in tension: his marriage to a woman from another tribe; his risky protection of refugees in the hotel he manages; and a hotel supplier who stands in strong opposition to his wife's tribe.
The chaplain introducing this real-world scenario is one of Fort Benning's newest.
Earlier this summer, Perez-Maisonet, 58, replaced Chaplain (Maj.) John Kaiser as Chaplain and Ethics Instructor at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The Fort Benning school, formerly named the School of the Americas, trains Latin American soldiers in the following: democratic principles, international humanitarian law and policekeeping, among other tactics.
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Since 1990, the school has been the target of a yearly November protest by a group called SOA Watch, founded by a Catholic priest and war veteran who lives just outside Fort Benning's main gate. SOA Watch alleges that some SOA/ WHINSEC graduates are responsible for crimes in their respective homelands, including the murder of Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 in El Salvador.
Perez-Maisonet said he knows little about the protest, held just outside the post's main gates.
Perez-Maisonet's new assignment makes him the first Seventh-day Adventist minister to become the WHINSEC chaplain. Keiser is a Presbyterian clergyman from Germany. Writing for the Combined Arms Center blog earlier this year, Kaiser said: "What I have found at WHINSEC are people (military, police, and civilians) of sincere faith, who come here from their democratically elected-governments for professional education that is fully certified by the American Council on Education. Some of our courses are even certified in conjunction with the UN, such as Peacekeeping Opera- tions. Obviously, if there were anything questionable about our curriculum, those organizations would have nothing to do with our educational process."
Like Kaiser before him, Perez-Maisonet will have a full plate. In addition to his chaplain duties — counseling individuals, couples and families and visiting patients in the hospital — Perez-Maisonet teaches ethics to the approximately 200 student soldiers at WHINSEC. In addition, he'll be expected to give the invocation at the myriad ceremonies that take place in and around the school, located on Ingersoll Street.
He was previously stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and expects to be here three years.
Perez-Maisonet, originally from Puerto Rico, learned English only recently. Sent to Korea by the Army in 1997, the chaplain "was desperately looking for someone to teach me English. He met a blond-haired, blue-eyed Mexican tutor who told him to immerse himself in books and English TV programming.
"I'm still learning the language," Perez-Maisonet said. He also is versed in Greek and Hebrew, for Bible study, though Greek and Hebrew aren't used in speaking.
The chaplain was ordained in 1990. Perez-Maisonet graduated in 1994 from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Next year, he expects to graduate with a second master's, in ethics.
His father, Pablo Perez-Silva, who died 10 years ago, was ordained an SDA minister; and a brother is also. Perez-Maisonet and his wife, Clotilde, have four children. Three are on active duty. One is a student in Puerto Rico.
His main goal will be imparting ethical lessons to soldiers who are studying at the school and returning to their home lands — "to reach as many peo ple I can with military ethics and so they can go back with good impression," he said. "Hotel Rwanda" isn't the only item on the new chaplain's desk There's also a well-worn black Bible that belonged to his father His brother had placed it atop their father's body before he was buried. But Perez-Maisonet re trieved it at the last minute. " said, ‘Just give it to me.' "