A merry top hat in red, white and blue winks from a row of hats in Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Richard Grice's office at Fort Gordon.
It would be just right for a 12-foot-tall Uncle Sam.
If a husband or wife should come in and complain a spouse is acting like an idiot, Chaplain Grice dons one of the hats, he said. "I'll become the idiot." As a stand-in for the offending spouse, the man or woman can speak his or her mind.
Humor is one of the best healers, said Chaplain Grice, a Presbyterian minister who joined the military chaplains 20 years ago this March.
His trunk-loads of tricks in his office help divert attention from the tension which can bind people to anger or hate, he said. "In a values collision of that kind, there is no way I'm going to change anybody's mind unless I can come in a back door."
Tricks can also help him capture attention while he teaches a scripture verse or ministers to the soldiers and families he encounters on post.
Magic has a negative connotation in a Christian context, he said. "There's no magic in what I'm doing, just sleight of hand."
In the 1980s he began working with Vietnam veterans and stress management. "One individual was in solitary confinement in the Hanoi Hilton (a prisoner of war camp) for about 7 years," he said. The way the prisoner handled stress gave Chaplain Grice insights into how people can overcome irritation regardless of the circumstances.
Sometimes a commander or sergeant will ask for his help, he said. "They say, `Chaplain, there's really a lot of tension here. Can you help us?"'
Simply trying harder to resolve snags in relationships may only make matters worse. "Sometimes it's going to take a trick like the professor's nightmare," he said as he pulled out three ropes from his pocket.
Though each is a different length, he makes them appear equal by pulling up the lengths at the bottom and lining them up together. " ` Look at this. They're all even. Now we can get along,"' he said he tells them. "And they say, `Aw, come on, chaplain. They're not. That's just a trick.' Well, I don't know..."
He moves his hands and the ropes are no longer uneven but even.
"Now, what are the kinds of things that would even it up so that we can get along? It's usually the simple things like the please, the thank you," he said with a sudden laugh. "It's the respect."
If someone wants to be an irritant, it is easy to do, he said. "The challenge is the stuff it takes to get along."
When he greets soldiers on post, he often has a trick in his pocket. He kids them a little and then pulls out a trick.
"Once I've got their attention and ask where they are from, and their background, I can point out some scripture references," he said.
Problems aren't going to go away but there are things that can help like the 23rd Psalm, he said. The psalm says though walking through the shadow of death, do not fear. " `Hey, I'm going to be OK. Ahh,' they say, `That's something to hold on to"' he said.
In trying to motivate one person or 10, the army has several ways to get things done, he said with a laugh. "We have standard operating procedures. We have a chain of command. We have authority, and we've got power."
But the truth is, sometimes things get complicated. "We still need to build teamwork," he said.
One of his favorite methods is to use an easel and a marker, and brainstorm about leadership, he said. The left side on the easel is for leadership in the natural realm and the right side, for the spiritual.
" `All right, all you tough guys, what is spiritual leadership?' " he'll tease his audience. "Spiritual leadership is harder to come up with," he said.
As a pastor, it's his job to help them put the two together. "Most of us leave out the connection between what we believe and what we do," he said.