US Army Chaplains Go Where It Sucks

A group of Army chaplains sat down with a local reporter and helped explain their role in the US military — a role that goes well beyond leading Sunday services.  Chaplain (LtCol) Paul Hurley was joined by five chaplains:

Major Moon Kim, a Presbyterian minister who serves as Deputy Division Chaplain; Maj. Clayton Gregory, a Church of God minister and Family Life Chaplain; Capt. Jared Vineyard, 4th Brigade Combat Team; Capt. Erik Alfsen, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and Capt. William “Jeff” Sheets, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion…

They talked about their service to the wounded and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, some they knew personally.  In fact, the personal relationship with the troops was a focal point of their ministry:

Sheets recalled being in Iraq and seeing God in the fact that he seemed to spend more time than usual with a particular platoon before it hit a bad place. He called the time spent “relational equity.”

“It ended up that this platoon got hit the hardest,” he recalled. “They lost six KIA, scores of wounded, lost their platoon sergeant. It was a really hard deployment. But God used me and those months of relational investment. They knew they could trust the chaplain because I was someone they had gotten to know.”

The chaplains realize that the austerity of combat was actually a place they could meet the soldiers in a spiritual way…but they first needed to meet them there physically.

Did the group think there was more of an opportunity to talk about things of the spirit in a place where the artificiality of modern life had been ripped away?

Alfsen jumped on the question.

“Absolutely,” he answered. “The guy who brought me into the Army said, ‘If you want to go where the ministry is best, you have to go where it sucks the most.’ “

While many outside the military sometimes misunderstand the role of the chaplaincy, sometimes its not entirely clear to members of the military, either.  SPC Raymone Byrd has his perceptions of the ‘military pastor’ changed by what he saw them do in Afghanistan:

Spc. Raymone Byrd…had his image of chaplains changed from guys in uniform who happened to perform religious services on occasion.

“That was my thought,” Byrd admitted. “It was negative, but Afghanistan shined a light on chaplains in general.

“We lost a buddy, Sgt. (Michael) Beckerman, and the support from the chaplains wasn’t just for that space in time; it was continuous.

“Then I went through a divorce and, oh man, it was crazy. I was referred to the Christian Life Center and their passion to help me out and give me a support system was amazing.”

Finally, the chaplains acknowledge the now-commonly known “post-traumatic stress,” but also not there’s something else not often talked about:  post-traumatic growth.

“We become more resilient and we grow as a result of these experiences. I think God uses these in our lives, these deserts we have to walk through that shape us into who He wants us to be.”

Chaplains in the US military truly serve, and they serve all.  They are on the frontlines and in the foxholes, with their hand on the soldier next to them through both trials and celebrations.  That is the value placed on religious liberty by the US military — and it demonstrates the passion and sacrifice of those who volunteer to be chaplains to support their fellow man, wherever he may be.