Why I Wanted to Be an Army Chaplain

This post was originally published in June 2020. While Justin takes a break from Reflect in August, he is reposting some previous articles. He’ll be back with fresh content in September.

In December 2009, I deployed as an Army intelligence officer and advised commanders of enemy threats to our operations. The first night I spent in Iraq, we took indirect fire. As I attempted to squeeze underneath my small cot while wearing body armor and Kevlar, I remember pondering the sovereignty of God. I rested in the knowledge that 31 families were praying for us on a designated day of the month. This knowledge gave me peace, and it reminded me that God was watching over me, my wife and newborn son.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, I gained a clearer understanding and appreciation for the sovereignty of God. I recall praying diligently on multiple occasions with my Army chaplain and close friend ahead of the most dangerous missions our Soldiers faced. At that time, US troops regularly grappled with the most lethal improvised explosive devices in the world. My task was to study enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures and recommend ways to counter the enemy. At the end of these prayer times, a weight lifted. I knew we had done our absolute best to prepare for the mission and had turned the matter over to God.

A few years later, in 2014, I began to sense God leading me to Army chaplaincy. I enjoyed my career as an Army intelligence officer and felt God had given me the talents and ingredients to continue succeeding in the role. I viewed a big part of my job as being competent in the skill of keeping as many of our Soldiers alive as possible by out-thinking the enemy. When I began the active duty military intelligence captain’s career course, God began to open my eyes to the spiritual state of my fellow intelligence officers. It bothered me. On the one hand, I saw intelligent, disciplined Army officers. On the other, I saw many future Army senior leaders who didn’t appear to have much knowledge of or a relationship with God. I shared my concern with my wife of fifteen years and best friend, Bethany. We took the matter to God in prayer. Bethany was supportive, and we began to pray specifically for direction. We knew this decision was critical to the direction our lives would take. Consequently, we asked forty committed Christians—close friends and relatives—to cover us in prayer over the next forty days. Specifically, we requested prayer for wisdom and clarity on the way forward. If I were to become a chaplain, should we pursue it in the national guard, reserves or active duty? What seminaries should I consider? These were questions we needed God to answer for us.

He faithfully did provide the path for us to take. In 2015, I entered seminary and began serving as an associate pastor not long after that at a church in the greater Huntsville, Alabama area. God provided a great role for me as a full-time intelligence officer (active duty operational support) for Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM). This job provided the stability and financial resources we needed to get through seminary. Again, God demonstrated his kindness and faithfulness to me and my family which had grown to six members with the addition of three more children. God has called me to serve Soldiers and to minister to them and their families.

I enjoyed fulfilling this calling in part during my recent deployment to Poland. A special gift God provided was reuniting me with my chaplain friend from the Iraq deployment for the Poland deployment
in 2018-19. He provided friendship, professional mentoring and opportunities to serve and support his unit ministry team. For instance, I often led chapel services and counseled Soldiers while simultaneously serving as the task force intelligence officer (S2) for the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) mission in Poland.

With my good friend and mentor CH (MAJ) James Saunders in Poland

My pastoral ministry over the past few years reinforced my calling to serve as a chaplain for the profession of arms. I am very thankful for this opportunity and look forward to seeing how God uses me and my family in this role to advance His kingdom here on earth.

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