Pro Deo Et Patria- An Army Chaplain

I am a chaplain in the US Army, serving in Iraq. I'm keeping a blog to share my thoughts and experiences while deployed. They are my thoughts and they don't necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Army! :)

Thursday, July 29, 2004


As a Reservist in the Army, I live the vast majority of my life on the civilian side.  Thus, there are certain things that really jump out when I am training or on duty.  One thing is respect.  The use of the salutation "sir" or "ma'am" in recognition of rank, is an example of this.  It may sound strange to those of you who are active duty or lifelong member of the military, but this is still a big change for a guy who is a pastor in the civilian world.

A couple of examples:  I was walking out of the PX (Post Exchange- basically a small Walmart type store), and a young soldier was talking on his cell phone.  As I walked out, he literally stopped mid sentence dropped his phone to his other (left) hand, came to attention and saluted.  I returned his salute, and he returned to his conversation.  Another example...There have been scores of families on post the last day with the young soldiers coming out of training.  I assume graduation is this weekend.  You have seen these baby-faced soldiers walking around with moms and dads, girlfriends and boyfriends, and other assorted loved ones...thankful to finally be done with their grueling training.  Last night as I was walking out of military clothing, heading to the dry cleaners, a young soldier was sitting on a bench, engrossed in a conversation with a young woman who was obviously his girlfriend.  As I turned the corner, I spotted them and he immediated popped up from the bench, came to attention, and saluted me.  Truthfully, it was a little embarrassing.  Who am I?  Just a pastor with a different symbol on my shoulder.

But that's the point.  In the Army is has NOTHING to do with the individual.  I never, ever get saluted.  What enlisted soldiers are saluting is the commission- the fact that I am an officer.  It is nothing personal, and has nothing to do with whether or not I merit it.  It is respect to the uniform, just as when I salute a higher ranking officer, I am rendering due respect to the rank.

Respect is a good thing.  We lack it in our society (witness the election campaigns).  Would that more 19 year olds act like the ones in the Army.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Pastoral Care in the Army

Today was a typical day, again.  PT the morning...hundreds of sit ups and push ups on the ground without a mat, in wet grass!  :)  But it's a great way to wake up, and I always feel more ready for the day when I have worked out, whether at home or here at Fort Jackson.

Our classroom instruction for today, (and Wednesday and Thursday) is on Pastoral Counseling.  I will receive over 30 hours of classroom instruction here at CHOBC, and we are required to do an additional 20 hours outside of CHOBC in order to become qualified as a Pastoral Care Specialist with the AAPC (American Association of Pastoral Care or something).  Basically, this means counseling.

This is one of those subjects they don't (can't?) teach you much about at seminary.  I've learned more from talking to Pastor Mark at LCC about pastoral care than I did at seminary.  This classroom instruction is helpful, though it affirms much of what I have learned from Mark (and others).

Pastoral care in the Army is very specific (yet applicable to the civilian world).  The Army life has incredible stressors:  time away from your family, low pay (well, for enlisted soldiers in particular), great physical and mental demands, a war with deployments overseas, and so on.  Along with these, the typical soldier doesn't have as much time to schedule "counseling" as a civilian...between deployments, training, FTX (field training exercises), etc.  So the method they teach here is called "Brief Solution Focused Pastoral Care."  It's about helping soldiers to get at the solutions to their current crisis by looking at potential changes in behavior and lifestyle rather than probing into the past and family of origin issues.  This does not mean that family of origin issues are not important; to the contrary, it affirms that type of counseling, but simply seeks to find solutions in the context of a very different counseling setting.

Anyway, it's interesting, and will benefit my ministry as a pastor too.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Busy Days

Yesterday was a nice relaxing day, but I kept busy.  I went to worship in the morning, at the Roman Catholic service at the Post Chapel.  We have to visit each "type" of worship service at least once.  It was a nice service, but confusing.  That is not a criticism, so much as an observation about the audience for which the service was intended.  I was lost for much of the service.  People would start reciting things, or singing verses, from memory.  It was clear that this service was geared toward Roman Catholics, and not visitors.  But it had a nice sermon, though short. 

Yesterday afternoon I went out to a nice sized lake here at Fort Jackson, and rented a Jet Ski.  That was a much needed time of relaxation.  There is something about lakes for people from Minnesota.  It just felt good to cruise around and jump over waves and take in the scenary.  I miss the lakes in Minnesota.  Some day I'll have to get my own jet ski for Saylorville Lake in Iowa...but that's a way off in the future.

Today we did our usual PT...ran about 3+ miles.  Then we had classroom instruction on meeting with soldiers who are claiming Conscientious Objector status.  We also had a session on putting together a religious preference assessment.  That basically involves reading a chart of the soldiers' religious preferences, from a survey that every soldier fills out before deploying.  Part of the survey asks their religion.  About 25% of the soldiers typically list no religion.  Then, if we ask them "if you are dying, do you want a chaplain to pray with you, and what type of chaplain," we usually get a response!

A couple of comments on homework:  we have homework and papers we have to write.  It is not difficult stuff.  A 2 page paper here, a memorandum there.  But God is teaching me patience.  Every soldier works at a different pace, and sometimes the instructors have to answer the same questions over and over again.  It surprises me sometimes because we all have Master's Degree level educations.  Today the instructor had to explain how to figure out percentages.  But that's ok.  There are a lot of good men (and women) in the chaplaincy who sincerely love Jesus, and that's the most important qualification. 

Sunday, July 25, 2004


Yesterday was a nice day off.  I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, which is about an hour and 45 minutes from Fort Jackson.  Charleston is on the coast, and has a ton of history.  It has been there for around 350 years or so, and as a history buff, I had a great time.

I began the day at Patriot's Point, a naval museum, with the USS Yorktown (a World War 2 era Aircraft Carrier), as well as various other ships and a submarine.  It was incredible to explore the depths of not only the aircraft carrier, but also to see just how small a submarine really.  From Patriot's Point I took a ferry out to Fort Sumter, which is in the Charleston Harbor, and was the place where the Civil War began.  In 1861, the state of South Carolina has seceded from the United States, and federal troops moved in and occupied Fort Sumter.  The Confederate soldiers began a bombardment of Fort Sumter, and eventually took it.  It was awe inspiring to stand on that Fort, and to think about the history.  They have parts of the original Fort intact, as well as many of the original cannons.

After this I headed to downtown Charleston and explored the old part of the town for the rest of the day.  It's interesting to walk among 250 and 300 year old buildings, graveyards and streets, and to think about the people and events that have been there.  I took a tour in the evening of purported ghostly and haunted sites in Charleston.  I don't believe in the things they were saying, but it was an inexpensive way to learn about some of the history, and see some of the lesser known sites.  After this tour I jumped in my car and headed back to Fort Jackson.  I took some photos on my camera, and as soon as they are developed, I will post some of them!

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Just War

Today was an interesting one in class.  The morning session was spent discussing the "Just War Tradition."  This tradition is the accumulation of teachings, beginning with Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries, and carried through Acquinas, the Reformation and into our time, dealing with whether or not a war is just to enter into (Jus Ad Bellum) and whether or not a war is being waged justly (Jus In Bello). 

These are important questions for chaplains.  To some extent, it does not matter whether or not a war is being waged for just reasons.  At my level, as a battalion chaplain, no one is asking me!  We are called to follow orders, and trust that the government is waging war justly. a war is waged is in the hands of the military.  A chaplain can be a resource- no, is SUPPOSED to be a resource- to the commander, helping him or her to wage war justly (Jus In Bello).  For example, waging war justly means using proportional force.  Using proportional force means you do not go for overkill.  It means you use force proportionate to the enemy you are seeking to subdue.  You want to use enough for to achieve victory, obviously.  But there can be too much force.  An example:  with the uprisings in Fallujah, a few months ago, we could have simply leveled the city.  That would have worked...we would have neutralized the threats and stopped the rebellion.  But we would over-reacted, and used way too much force.  We also would have killed innocent civilians, which is something else that is prohibited if we seek top wage war justly (principle of discrimination- you use discrimination in selected your targets).

Whether or not a war is just has great implications.  As I type, thousands of families are going to bed, missing a mom or dad....missing a spouse, who is deployed over in Iraq or Afghanistan.  They are suffering, but to know that you are suffering for a just cause brings some relief.  To know that your husband or wife is fighting for good reason helps.  But if you believe the war is unjust...well, that makes the deployment even more difficult.  Can you imagine having you only child, or your mom or dad killed in action, only to hear your fellow citizens condemn the work being done by our Army.

That is not to day we shouldn't question the wars on conflicts in which we fight.  But it is a reminder that we must honestly and carefully examine what we say and do, recognizing that so many are giving so much for a cause that they believe is right.

Friday, July 23, 2004


It's taken me a little longer to get to posting something today.  I guess I had to process a little.  We had quite an emotional day.  We spent the morning learning about how to minister, or provide religious support during a MASCAL, which is a Mass Casualty situation.  A mass casualty situation is a situation where so many soldiers are injured that it is more than the system can handle.  The chancs of people in the class having to face this situation are pretty we're told.  We watched part of the movie "Saving Private Ryan" as an intro to the discussion.  That was the morning session.

In the afternoon we talked about Suicide, and Suicide prevention, as well as counseling soldiers contemplating suicide.  It was heavy.  Some students shared very personal stories.  CH (MAJ) Jones was our instructor for the day, and he did an excellent job.  (btw, CH means "chaplain" and the rank is in his case MAJ=Major)

What was emotional for me was thinking about the toll our nation's war on terror takes on soldiers.  The reality is that many soldiers face difficult and life threatening circumstances while deployed, but return home to sometimes even more harsh realities.  Many of them return home to find that their spouses have left them...that their companies didn't really save their jobs...that their kids don't recognize them anymore.  They do this so the nation can be free.  They give up so much, and, as a result, commanders place a high emphasis on suicide prevention.  Chaplains are the ones who are part of the front line defense against suicide.  But suicide still takes a great toll.

Maybe that's what I'm trying to remember tonight.  Right now, as I type, over 100,000 Americans are sitting in a desert, away from their families and support systems, isolated and lonely.  They are doing this so we can be free.  Free to forget about the to criticize the to question the motives of everything our government to compare our president to Hitler, simply because he hopes to bring this same freedom to a people who have been oppressed for so long.  Remember that freedom, and remember that thousands of soldiers are giving up so much so we over here can be free to forget about their work.  But let's not forget.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


Today was a little longer than yesterday.  We began as usual with PT (Physical Training).  I am placed in the A-B group, which runs faster, and the other group is C-D.  For our training, the A-B group ran 60/120s.  Basically, this means that we sprinted for 60 seconds, walked for 120, sprinted for 60 seconds, then walked for 120, etc.  We did it and it burned after a while.  My legs are sore now...which doesn't happen much.

We then had a day of instruction about writing CMRPs- Command Master Religious Programs, which includes budgeting, using Microsoft Excel, making long term and short terms plans, and the different types of funds we have:  Appropriated (basically, money from Congress) and Non-Appropriated (which basically is offering money at chapel).

One thing about the Army that is interesting is how efficient it can be, in sort of an inefficient way.  Last week there was a death on campus, of a soldier, from heat exhaustion.  So, the leaderhip on Post put together the command that all soldier be instructed in heat exhaustion.  Within days, cards with lots of info were printed up for us to carry, presentations were put together, and every soldier is being briefed.  It all happens so quickly because of the way the Army works.

Yet, in other ways the Army can be slow to adapt.  For example:  why we still do traditional sit ups, when everyone knows how bad they are for you.  Or how we spend a lot of time standing around waiting...known affectionately within the Army as "hurry up and wait time."  Regardless, the Army is an interesting study, and I'm proud to be part of it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Humidty

Well, it's evening now, and I think I'm recovered from the APFT. The biggest challenge was running in the intense humidity down here.  I can't believe how thick it is!  It makes Iowa seem not too bad.  When I first began my run, I thought I wasn't going to be able to do it.  It was as if I was sucking in water every time I breathed.  I had my stopwatch going, and for the first two of three laps I was sure I was running well behind my pace.  But once I passed the second checkpoint, I looked at my watch, did some math, and realized I was in a good position.  As I mentioned below, I ended up finishing the two miles in 14 minutes and 50 seconds.  I feel good about that, and know that I can continue to improve on that time.  The longer the time is since my back surgery, the closer I am to running like I did before I hurt it.  I am in better shape than I was last year, and my goal is to be more fit at 40 than I am at 30.  Hmm....we'll see if I can follow through.

The classroom work today was fairly dry.  We spent time learning about managing the finances, and running reports on offerings.  It's dry, by the instructor's own admission.  In addition, it doesn't apply to chaplains in the Reserve.  We don't collect offerings, and if I were mobilized, it would, as I understand it, still work differently than what they described, which is applicable to ministry on a state-side Army post.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I Passed!

Well, we just had the APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) and I passed! I did 51 push ups, 61 sit ups, and ran the two miles in 14:50.  From last january, that is an improvement of 10 pushups, 20 sit ups, and a minute faster on my run.  I tried to run at a pace at which I would throw up afterward, and I was successful!  (sorry for too much information!)  Now I have to head off to classroom stuff.

Day One!

Wow....what a day it has been. It's been a good, but tiring day! It started at 3am (0300) this morning. We had a weigh-in at the school at 0430 (I passed....not too fat for the Army). Then much of the morning was spent in-processing. That means filling out lots of paperwork and forms.

The afternoon session was interesting. We had classes on preaching, and leading worship, with instructions on the various styles. It was both a good refresher from seminary, plus some new information I hadn't had before.

I'm exhausted tonight. I am going to try and get to sleep around 8pm (2000 Army time). Tomorrow we have the APFT- Army Physical Fitness Test. To pass I have to do 40 push ups, 45 sit ups (each in under 2 minutes), and run 2 miles under 17:00 minutes. I'm not worried about passing, normally, but I'm hoping I'm over the little sickness I've had the past couple of weeks. I should be fine.

I guess my only complaint right now is the housing. Like I mentioned in yesterday's post, Dozier Hall is full. This morning I went to make myself an English Muffin and found out, much to my dismay, that I have no toaster in the "kitchen." Just a small microwave and a mini-refrigerator. Oh well. Our "normal" accomodations are in one-bedroom apartments, but it's a blessing that we have so many students that some of us have to be over here. It's good for the Army and good for the soldiers who need pastors in their units!

Monday, July 19, 2004


18 July 2004
I arrived at Fort Jackson today. I left Nashville at 6am, and it should have only been about a 6 hour drive to Fort Jackson, in Columbia. However, I decided to take the "scenic" while traveling through the Smoky Mountains. Instead of following I-40, I took a detour down Highway 441. Big mistake. Well, not completely. The scenery was stunning. But I ended up losing about 2 hours, and I arrived at 1500 (3pm), including the time change into eastern time.

I'm starting to struggle with missing my family. I'm excited to be here for the training and the experience, but there is a part of my chest that hurts when I am reminded of Mary or Wesley or Calvin. I'm only gone for 3 1/2 weeks, but it still seems longer. Talking to them on the phone helps, and I think I'll be better in a few days, but I still miss them greatly.

My accomodations are different than last time. We're supposed to be housed at Dozier Hall, where each chaplain gets what is basically a 1 bedroom apartment, with a full kitchen. Dozier is full, though, so some of us are over at Kennedy Hall. It's not terrible, but it's more like a motel. We don't have kitchens, jusst a microwave and a small refrigerator, so I have to be creative with my cooking for the next few weeks.

Tomorrow starts early. I have to be at the Chaplain School at 0420 (4:20am) for a weigh-in. Tuesday morning we have the Army Physical Fitness Test. I feel good about my preparation for it over the last few months. We'll see how it goes on Tuesday.

Sunday, July 18, 2004


That what I'm going through right now- transition from civilian life to Army life. In civilian life I am a pastor, husband and father (not in that order!). I spend my days with my family, and at church- preaching, teaching and counseling. Now I am a soldier...I have to start thinking in a totally different way. Details become all comsuming; polishing my boots takes on an importance that is not easily compared to the civilian world. Rather than calling friends and co-workers by name, I am faced with ranks, titles and salutations. Rather than being able to compartmentalize the war on terror, I will soon be faced with daily reminders that we are a nation at war.

Wow. At war. Doesn't seem like it in the civilian world. What have we really had to give up? Not much. We get upset because some prisoners at Guantanomo Bay are being held too long without charges, but what has really changed for us? Nothing. But at CHOBC (Chaplain Officer Basic Course) I will rub shoulders with chaplains who will soon deploy to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, because we're at war.

Tonight I'm staying in Nashville. Tomorrow I will drive to Columbia, South Carolina, and report to Fort Jackson. I look forward to it.

I was a good drive today. About 10 hours from Des Moines to Nashville. I stopped once along the way. I went 400 miles before the first stop, and then drove the last 250 miles to Nashville. Tomorrow's drive will be easier.