BOISE, Idaho -- In an office deep inside Baghdad's international zone, Staff Sgt. Keith Millar, of Caldwell, likes to look over pictures of his wife and two small children.
It's a way of ministering to himself, of staying connected to what is waiting for him at home. Then it's back to work, helping minister to a diverse group of soldiers and civilians at Forward Operating Base Prosperity.
Though he is not ordained, Millar, 39, is a chaplain's assistant. He protects the chaplain whenever they are out and about. He facilitates whatever programs the chaplain is running. He also runs the huge marble chapel, which was converted from one of Saddam Hussein's large pool houses.
"I make sure that people can get their religious needs met in any way I can," Millar said. "A lot of my job is checking on the morale of the soldiers on the (base)."
Millar is one of about 2,700 soldiers from Idaho, Oregon and Montana in Iraq for a year with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team based out of Boise's Gowen Field. The soldiers left Idaho in September and are expected to return this summer.
Back at home, Millar works full time for the Idaho National Guard, but not as chaplain. Still, Millar said he is a religious man. He and his wife belong to a small Anglican church in Boise.
"In some ways this is not a stretch," Millar said. "I do have a degree in ministry, but I haven't worked that in a long time."
Millar said his friendship with an Iraqi national named Malik, who works at the laundry drop-off on the base, has left the biggest impression on him.
The two men talk about their sons, parenting, their home and religious lives.
"We talk about bragging on our kids and how he is raising them and trying to figure out the similarities and differences," Millar said. "There is a lot more similarities in the way we think than differences. That's the cool thing."
On the multicultural base Millar and the chaplain have provided services for people from Sierra Leone and Uganda and for adherents of religions from Christianity to Hinduism. Exposure to different faiths has strengthened his own, Millar said.
"Having a chance to be able to worship the way you want to worship, it affects your morale, it takes time from their everyday life to do what they would at home," Millar said. "Here on the (base) we are able to do something that reminds them of back home."
When the 116th trained at Camp Shelby last year before heading to Iraq, it was a tense time. One soldier was struggling with financial issues and leadership, Millar said.
"He was just very overwhelmed," Millar said. "We helped him as we could and said, 'This is what you need to do.' "
Though the soldier seemed to want to fight the spiritual and practical advice from the chaplains, eventually he relented.
About a month into Iraq, Millar came across the man.
"He was all smiles and said his life was going so much better," Millar said. "That makes it important, when you stop and talk to people that actually need someone."
Forward Operating Base Prosperity essentially runs like a large city. While some of it feels foreign -- like the climate and architecture -- the rest just feels like a normal urban area, Millar said. That includes the standard American (and Mexican) fare in the base's cafeteria.
Reminders of home, like the green rice cereal treats his wife, Robyn, sent for St. Patrick's Day, are a respite.
Still, when he goes home to Caldwell, he plans on taking a bit of Iraqi culture with him.
"They move a bit slower than what we do in Idaho and America," Millar said. "That's something I'm going to try. They stop and have tea a little more often and make personal connections."
Robyn, 36, is working to grow her own Mary Kay makeup business and to reassure her children that their dad is OK.
"We just talk a lot about it. We send care packages and color pictures and things like that," Robyn Millar said. "At the very beginning I had to really just reassure my 10-year-old that Daddy was in a safe place."
And Millar has a message for his family in Caldwell.
"I'll be home soon," he said.