US Army Chaplain Adds Ranger Tab to Jesus Tab (Video)
US Army Chaplain (Capt) Ryan Mortensen recently became one of the few chaplains to graduate from the US Army Ranger School. He only heard of it when he arrived at his first duty station at Schofield Barracks, and saw Soldiers wearing the Tab:
“I asked what it was and they said, ‘Don’t think about it, Chaplain, you’re 39 years old and you don’t have any business doing it,’” Mortensen said. “Any time somebody tells me I can’t do something, I get a little bug in my head thinking I can do it. Once I learned the Rangers were the elite of the elite, it really got my attention.”
The chaplain had to work to get permission to go:
It took Mortensen almost nine months to get permission through the Chaplain Corps to attend the school and carry a weapon, something chaplains are prohibited by Army regulations from doing. While he was aiming at Ranger School, Mortensen found an advocate in his commander, Lt. Col. Daniel D. Blackmon.
Often, born-and-bred chaplains (those who weren’t military in a prior life) may lack knowledge about many aspects of the military, even though they may actually be a higher rank than someone who has been in the service just as long as them. Just as Mortensen didn’t know what a Ranger was, he also had zero tactical experience — something that bit him in training:
[Chaplain Mortensen] had no military tactical experience and he had never carried or cleaned a weapon before signing up for Ranger School…
After sailing through the physical assessment the first week, he hit a snag. His lack of tactical experience came shining through when he twice failed the land navigation requirement.
He was recycled again during mountain training in Georgia — but that led to “one of his most precious Ranger School memories”:
Mortensen talked with the chaplain at Camp Merrill, and one day on top of Mount Yonah, the chaplain gave him an opening on a Tuesday morning to address the students.
“I preached my little sermon on the mount.”
The chaplain, struggling like most of the other soldiers, turned to the book of James, Chapter 1, for a message that went about 15 minutes.
“I talked about when obstacles or trials come your way, consider them an opportunity to have great joy,” Mortensen said…
And he related it to what many consider the most difficult phase of Ranger School.
“Even though you are in the midst of the mountains, and it sucks — you’ve got blisters and we are not sure we are going to pass or fail — isn’t this an amazing place God has placed you?” Mortensen asked his fellow students. “… You can either sit there and grumble and hate life or you can sit there and encourage those around you, which I think the Ranger Creed is all about, making your brother stronger.”
And that is why chaplains go through specialized military training that some would claim is unconnected to their theological roles. Unique to any other faith representative, US military chaplains share a bond with the troops they serve. They “share in the suffering” and the color of the mud on their boots is identical to the mud on the boots of the troops they serve, even though the chaplain is only there to serve them.
They go where you go, and that makes all the difference. That’s something even the US Army recognizes:
Blackmon knows that his days with Mortensen in his unit are probably numbered because his chaplain will likely be in demand.
“He is in a very small group right now — Ranger chaplains,” Blackmon said. “I am going to lose him at some point, I know that and I am OK with that. Special Forces, the Ranger community, SOCOM (Special Operations Command), they are going to come looking for him. I knew that going in, but this is an investment in the Army.”
As for Mortensen, he’s ecstatic:
Now he has “my Ranger tab to go with my Jesus tab…”
“If I have the opportunity to use this tab to show the love of Christ and his mercy and giving people hope,” Mortensen said, “I am excited about that.”
(US Army Chaplain Jason Phipps also completed the Ranger School, also above the age of 40.)
Also at the Stars and Stripes.