What a Special Operations Chaplain Knows
He was the best of us, as they say, but that’s not claiming much moral high ground.
Back in what’s now called the Reagan-Bush Era, I served in U.S. Army deep-sea dive detachments at Ft. Eustis, Virginia, and Ft. Kobbe, Republic of Panama, with a good friend named Christopher D. Floro.
He was the best of us, as they say, but that’s not claiming much moral high ground.
Back in what’s now called the Reagan-Bush Era, I served in U.S. Army deep-sea dive detachments at Ft. Eustis, Virginia, and Ft. Kobbe, Republic of Panama, with a good friend named Christopher D. Floro.
|Diver Chris Floro, Panama. 1986.|
If you had ever needed a poster-boy for “All-American,” here was your guy. Chris was from a small town in Ohio and looked and sounded it. Captain-of-the-football-team handsome, he was incredibly smart, practical, hardworking, honest, and one of the two or three physically strongest people I’ve ever known. He always wore a big dimply grin, especially when he was pimping you out real bad with practical jokes and teasing. He was a born leader and was promoted to sergeant before I was.
He and I were on the first Army dive team stationed permanently in Panama. Southern Command didn’t always know what to do with us divers, and Chris planned and supervised our construction of a workspace in a loft next to the parachute riggers. We spent a lot of time in the jungle with the infantry, but also got work doing search and recovery, underwater mapping, demolition of bridges jammed with logs swept downriver in tropical rainy seasons, body searches, ship’s husbandry, and the like. We wanted and deserved even more and better work. That crew may have been the most talented group of people I ever worked with.
Not to say there weren’t tensions. As I neared the end of my enlistment and had to decide whether to stay in or go back to school as I’d planned, the detachment began to splinter. Some of the men were married—wives present or not—and others were about to be married or had local girlfriends. Though a tight-knit bunch, we’d found other friends in unrelated areas—surfing, four-wheeler clubs—and new divers were arriving whom none of us had worked with before. There were many cases of the ass, and we each began making separate plans for the future. In other words, we were growing up.
Chris became platoon leader, I think, and we gave him an awfully hard time. One time in particular, there was to be a huge inspection of our living quarters, which were two- or three-man rooms, with common bathrooms. I forget who was inspecting—maybe the Sergeant Major for the whole isthmus. Chris asked my roommates and me to go to work cleaning up the pigsty we lived in. But I was short, meaning I had little time left in service, and we all rankled at Chris ranking us—or pretended to—and told him to soak his head. When he said he wasn’t kidding, we pulled everything from our wall lockers and drawers, threw it all on the floor and beds, and acted a sort of nonviolent resistance—not that violence was stooping too low for us—by lying slothfully on the piles of mess we’d created. Every time Chris walked in to ask nicely if we’d start cleaning, we cussed him. We kept refusing, as the hours fled, until in exasperation, past midnight on the morning of the dawn inspection, Chris sorrowfully said he couldn’t take it anymore and would have to write us up if we embarrassed ourselves at inspection time. The choice was ours. As he left, we showered him with even more abuse but felt we’d done something shameful. Then we stayed up all night cleaning the room to perfection.
A month or two later, I left the Army and haven’t seen Chris since. But over the years I heard things—that he got out of the army, that he went back in, that he’d been a TV preacher. All sorts of things.
A few nights ago, kept up late by indigestion from a bellyful of blogging, I googled Chris’s name. He is, in fact, an Army Chaplain now for special operations troops at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. That he’s an officer and a gentleman should come as no surprise. I e-mailed, and he graciously agreed to an interview here as a way to catch up.
Chaplain, welcome! Thanks for joining us. What the hell?
Hell, actually, is a favorite topic of mine. But likely you need more wrinkle-free spray on your panties.
You don’t write a guy for 21 years?
I’ve been a little busy saving the world and trying to have it not look like a miracle. The latter is arguably the harder part.
My sincere apologies for acting like a jerk back then.
Well, I don’t remember you being a jerk. I remember all divers, myself included, being prima donnas, but never jerks. You remember the Army Diver song, which expressed our mindset:
We are the divers of the Army,
We ain’t no stinkin’ drivers;
we work in the ocean blue (oh, baby).
We can out-dive the Navy
and Marine Corps too-dlee-oo.
We are the divers of the Army;
hooyah for us, [expletive deleted] you.
Remember it? I wrote it. [It’s sung to the tune of “Working on the Railroad.”]
If you were a jerk, I would simply attribute it to your belief in the “delusion of disassociated development.” I think it explains many sordid stories of divers, past and present.
The “delusional disassociative….” What was that now?
The belief that our childhoods don’t impact our "later-in-life” relationships. In particular, how we relate, bond and attach in the context of romantic relationships—picking a partner. Read John Van Epp, Ph.D., How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk.
I don’t think so. But I also want to apologize for that time in or about October 1994, when I called in the middle of the night. Someone at the party attacked me from behind while I was on the phone, which accounts for all the incoherent screaming.
I do remember that, oddly enough!
Does it makes you feel any better that our mutual friend Karl stuck a steak knife in my leg shortly after I hung up on you? Well, he did.
Doesn’t make me feel better. You and Karl have—or had—the same delusions. It’s your parents I want to talk to.
Army Diving always attracted unusual personalities, but you stood out. Among other things, you already had a college degree—BS in engineering was it?—as an enlisted man. What was your background—family, education, employment—and how did you get to the Army at all?
BS is a good word, because I had no idea what I was doing with my life! But my dad retired in 1995 after 43 years of service, and I can’t remember a time in my life not being associated with the Army. My dad was pretty neutral toward me joining. If anything, he discouraged me by asking things like, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
I wanted to go to one of the military academies but wasn’t smart enough, nor were my parents political enough, for me to get a nomination from our Ohio congressmen. I did get nominated as an “alternate selection” for several years. Interestingly, all the primaries went and quit, which was frustrating for me.
I was pretty good in math, so I went to Ohio Northern University to pursue a BS in Civil Engineering, with the idea that a year there would make me more competitive. Not even two years helped! Frustrated again, I joined the Ohio National Guard, between my sophomore and junior years, and went to Basic Combat Training, my MOS (military occupational skill) training and OCS (Officer Candidate School).
I had completed two years of engineering curriculum by this time, and in Basic Training scored so high on the military entrance tests that they offered me the opportunity to go to West Point’s prep school…for two more years before actually getting to the Point. Even I thought eight years for a bachelor’s degree was too much!
After graduating from ONU, I got a job with the Ohio National Guard as their Federal Facilities Management Officer. It was a great job, paid well, but I was too immature and inexperienced to handle it well. A year later I resigned the job—and my reserve officer’s commission—and went into the Army as a private and a mechanic. My first stop was Ft. Eustis, Virginia. While standing in a line to get shots, I noticed a different-looking badge on the uniform of the guy behind me. He was the commander of the Diving unit there and took me over and showed me around that night. I was hooked, and he was drooling, because the Army was short on divers. I was in fairly good shape, loved water, and was probably not going to flunk dive physics with my degree in engineering. Soon I was working with geeks like you—‘course, you didn’t come along until later.
You were freakishly strong back then and could hold your breath underwater for five minutes. You played ball in college? On scholarship?
Using the words “freakishly strong” only means you still compare my body to the puny, out-of-shape, bird-like, spoon-chested body you showed up with to the diving pre-screen course.
Now wait a minute, Chaplain, that hurt. And I want to…yeah, okay.
Yes, I did wrestle and play football in college but not on scholarship. I made the traveling squad my sophomore year in football but promptly got hurt. I played because I enjoyed sports and was reasonably good. But in college they played mean and were bigger, stronger and faster. I enjoyed it more in high school.
When I was getting out of the service to go back to school, it seemed as if everyone in diving had other plans. Patillo became a helicopter pilot,Rudman left to be a ChiPin Southern California, and you were training to go to Delta Force, of all things. How’d that work out?
I did try out for Delta. It was a pretty strong goal. Many of us want to be “the best of the best of the best—with honors!” I trained for months, lugging a rucksack around in the jungles of Panama. While most of the Delta assessment, including its location, is classified, I can say it involved many miles, day and night, up and down mountains, carrying a large bag on my back. When I went, it snowed a lot, but of course that didn’t matter. Right at the very end, I got hurt. I was running down a mountainside and tripped over a log hidden under the snow. I was very disappointed. We had started with a couple of hundred men, and when I withdrew there were only two dozen left. I had lost almost all my toenails and had blisters on my blisters. It took a while to get over that, and I had a pretty bad attitude. There’s more to the story, but if I told you, I’d have to kill you because of my “super-duper top-secret Q-level gold-badge” security clearance.
Alright, sir. You got married and started having kids?
I met Holly in college. I was a klutz relationally, and our relationship was up and down for eight years. Most of our difficulties were due to my immaturity and frustrations over my military dreams. I actually got engaged to someone else during one of our “off” periods. It wasn’t until I was a diver that the relationship rekindled. In June 1986 we were married, and she joined me in Panama, giving up her own career as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Besides my faith, marrying Holly is the absolute best thing that ever happened to me! And our five kids have been an awesome bonus!
Katharine, our oldest child, is a sophomore in college, studying International Relations. Rebekah, a senior in high school this coming year, is looking toward working with children. Benjamin is going into his sophomore year in high school. He loves JROTC and maybe wants to be a “puddle pirate” (that is, to go to the Coast Guard Academy). Emily and Renee will be in the sixth- and fourth-grades respectively. All the kids are heavily involved in our church and have established their own relationship with the Lord. Holly and I, with a varying number of the kids, have lived nearly 10 years overseas.
One hears rumors. Other divers told me you had become a TV preacher, or a missionary in the Amazon. Any truth in that?
Like the best rumors, they’re partially true. As I neared the 10-year active-duty mark, I was gone on diving missions more than I was home, not really beneficial for marriage or family life. That coincided with my beginning to wrestle with a growing sense that God was leading me into full-time ministry as a pastor. I had spent several years as a volunteer, both overseas and in a church in St. Louis, Missouri, and felt that was a good fit. I left the Army in August 1992 and began working full-time in a church in Florissant, Missouri, as a youth pastor, while going to seminary full-time.
That was my “televangelist” time frame. Services at the church were shown on the local cable network, so when I preached, about once a month, I was on TV. Probably six people watched those entire four years. In 1996 I graduated with two Master’s, one in Theology, the other in Counseling.
Somewhere during that time I was approached by the Military Community Youth Ministry to come on staff and work with military youth and families overseas. So, shortly after I graduated from “cemetery,” our family left again, and spent three years in Panama followed by two-and-a-half years in Korea.
You used to make fun of our friend Brian Gibbs for being an adherent to The Way and a “Jesus freak.” So when, how, or why did you go off your nut?
Brian was indeed an adherent to The Way and surely committed to his faith. I wasn’t really smart enough back then to figure out what was wrong with The Way, but I knew something was amiss. When we divers couldn’t understand something, we simply swore at it and made fun of it. Later I learned much more about The Way and where it (as what most would call a cult) deviated from more mainstream Christian views.
Brian did three very important things for me that I’m forever thankful for: His challenges made me evaluate my own faith; he got me to stop cussing by having me do pushups for every swear word; and he became and remains a great friend. These things (well, maybe not the pushups), along with my failed relationship with Holly, brought me to a crisis of faith and self. I had been raised in the church but had never considered faith, let alone my faith, as a relationship. I always had seen it as something you did, or a set of rules to obey, in order to gain the affection and acceptance of a God you couldn’t see. Now I call that “religion.”
About the same time, I had some pretty close calls in diving that made me rethink my priorities. One night in my barracks room, I asked Jesus Christ to change those things about me that I couldn’t change and forgive me for those things I had no power to make right. That marked the beginning of an incredible adventure.
Great, now I’ve got the clergy scoring off me.
The most important thing I can say about my experience with the Christian faith is that it changed in me (and continues to change) what I could not change in myself. For me, the greatest proof of the existence of God is a changed heart—one once motivated by selfish desire now motivated to love others selflessly, albeit imperfectly. I desperately needed forgiveness for my mistakes and needed the ability to forgive others. That is what I found, not in religion, but in a personal relationship with Jesus, who put the call in my heart to serve Him by reaching out to others.
Is the other rumor floating around about you true?
Yes, I do have a picture of me with Saddam Hussein.
No, the one that says you so believe in Christian charity that you told a family in your ministry they could take whatever they needed from your home, and they came in with a U-Haul and cleaned you out.
Also true to a degree. When I worked in the church in St. Louis, I was designated the go-to guy for helping people who might walk in off the street asking for assistance. I eventually became pretty upset with the whole process, because I always felt like I was being taken advantage of. One day I made the decision that I would only help by becoming personally involved with whoever asked for help. If they asked for food or money, I offered to take them to my home, and we would cook them a meal. If they needed gas, I would drive with them to the gas station and pump gas into their car. (Very few took me up on that kind of help.) Some asked for furniture and household goods, so, out of faith that the Lord would provide for our needs as well, I took them to our home and told them they could basically take whatever they needed—not our kids and their toys, but otherwise pretty much fair game. They took a truckload!
I love that story. It’s so…literary.
The next day someone walked in my office to ask if I knew of somebody who could use the kind of stuff we had just given up. It was amazing, and in my view can only be explained by God’s faithfulness. That process repeated itself several times over the next couple of years. Somehow we always ended up with more than we gave away.
The happy ending ruins it for literature.
It’s worked that way for us financially and in other ways as well. “You can’t out-give God” has been my experience.
You (and your family) lived abroad for nearly a decade. What do you want to go proselytizing to other cultures for, when they’ve had their own beliefs for centuries if not millennia?
It’s true we lived abroad for almost eight years straight. In fact, it wasn’t until 2004 that Emily and Renee, our youngest children, lived for any significant period in the States. All that time was in response to living out our faith and to what we felt God had called us to do with that faith—share it by developing relationships with people. At some point in those relationships, people see that something is different in our approach to life and faith, and they ask. At that point, you have earned the right to be heard. If they don’t ask, I don’t tell and use that as the guide to the depth of the relationship.
I’m pretty conservative in my Christian views, but I have no desire to force any idea on someone, no matter how good I think it might be. Being conservative is not a safety net in faith; accuracy and truth are. As a friend of mine once said, “We should spend more talking to God about people (including ourselves and how we relate to others), than we do talking to people about God.”
I believe all humans must eventually deal with three aspects of their humanity—intellect, emotions and will. Said a different way, How do we use our intellects to make sense of what we see and experience in the world? How do we deal with emotions? And, What is our purpose for being here? For me, Christianity best explains these aspects of humanity.
So when did you decide to return to the Army?
After working with youth for more than 10 years, I began to feel a call toward adults/parents. I had already begun looking at being a chaplain in the military, as a way to supplement what I was doing with military youth as a civilian, but had been turned away due to my age.
As the events of 9/11 were happening, Holly and I were in our home in Korea. It was evening, and we had turned off the TV to talk and pray about a final decision with a church in North Carolina, not far from where we are now. The next morning we woke to a new reality. Not too long after that, the chaplain recruiter called to tell me the age requirement had just changed. Two months later, I was in the Chaplain school in the US.
Was it easy to become a chaplain, given that you were a pastor? What was the process?
Not sure if I would say it’s easy. The process includes quite a few steps and can occur only with time. All Chaplains have at least a Master’s degree in Theology and are ordained by the faith groups they represent. You must be endorsed by your faith group for the military chaplaincy.
You present your packet to the Chief of Chaplain’s Office of the branch of service in which you what to be a chaplain. Those packets include the usual tons of paperwork needed by government organizations, but there are also things such as an interview with a current senior chaplain, tapes of sermons, essay answers to questions like, “Why I want to be a chaplain,” etc. You meet, they look over your entire packet, and they decide if you’re a compatible match.
In your mind, how do you reconcile the two words in the phrase “Christian soldier”? That is, to be meek and to be warlike?
Well, one thing to keep in mind is that not all chaplains are Christian. There are Jewish Rabbis, Muslim Imams, etc. We work in a pluralistic environment, and proselytizing is forbidden.
But to get at the heart of your question, chaplains, by regulation, are non-combatants and thus don’t carry weapons, in accordance with the Geneva Convention rules of warfare. For me personally though, I would have no problem carrying a weapon.
As I understand my faith and what the Bible teaches, killing someone is different from murdering someone. Killing is “supposed” to involve the good judgment of a sovereign state in making decisions about when to go war or when someone might be executed for a crime. Murdering someone bypasses any judicial system and is generally seen as taking matters into one’s own hands. We in the military always have rules of engagement—particularly in times of war. Of course, that presumes that all the government players, from the president on down to the lowest private, are ethical and rightly motivated when they make decisions. I will also say there is a great disparity in all this within faith groups, especially Christian faith groups.
Where have you been deployed, and to whom do you minister?
As a chaplain I’ve ministered to soldiers in the Philippines once, Thailand four times, Korea a couple of years, Iraq six times, Afghanistan three times, New Orleans once, Kuwait several times, Qatar a bunch and Bahrain a couple of times when moving in and out of theater. I’ve been gone more than I’ve been home. My focus is always on the soldiers of my unit and anyone else who happens to need or want something I might have to offer.
Mostly, I travel all over to see our small teams and spend two to four days with them. Sometimes it can take days or a week just to get to the location of a single two-man team. It is exhausting, but the satisfaction of being there for soldiers in need is well worth the sacrifice. It would take a book to recount all the times the Lord brought me to a place at just the right time for just one person or an event.
My family is also heavily involved in all this. We have Friday-night dinners at our home each week for the spouses of deployed soldiers. We provide the meal and they just come with their kids. My kids help to watch their kids—giving them a break and some much-needed adult conversation. We also just recently started providing childcare in our home on Saturdays, in order to give moms a break. We mostly focus on those with pre-school children. This goes on whether I’m here at Ft. Bragg or downrange, deployed. It is a family thing, not just my thing.
Is that kind of time away (not to mention the danger) as hard on a family as we who are not in the military might imagine?
It is very difficult on families, including my own. The deployment process for soldiers and families begins months before they leave, since they have to train for the deployment. Then the soldiers leave for however long—from two to fifteen months. When they return they have to try to reintegrate with their family and get back to some kind of “new normal.” For those families whose soldiers are “outside the wire,” actively engaging the enemy, the danger is significant. We’ve all read about it or seen it on the news. The experiences of combat have not only physical consequences but, even more, psychological consequences. Of course, all that is brought back into the family upon return, which is sometimes/often devastating. I spend a lot of time in counseling with soldiers trying to figure out what “in hell” just happened to them and what they need to do now. The family has no clue as to what those in combat have just gone through, and it would be unfair to expect them to understand.
How’s your wife deal with it?
It was quite a process for her, and over time she’s learned better ways to cope. Her faith is a huge part of how she deals with deployments and their danger. I think it is both our faiths that allow us to thrive, not just survive deployments. There is a greater good in giving to others.
There is danger in me telling too much or too little about my experiences. Mostly Holly just listens and puts an arm around me. I think it has made her more compassionate toward spouses of the men I see and spend time with in combat.
What’s your week usually look like, both here and abroad?
Physical training is a part of just about every day, wherever you might be. A typical week for me here at Ft. Bragg involves counseling a dozen soldiers or couples, and that occupies the single greatest block of time. I also visit with soldiers, wherever they work or train, to develop the base of a relationship that helps them come in when they do have problems.
The Army doesn’t move without paperwork, so that is always a present “evil.” I’m also involved with retreats for couples and soldiers that focus on building relational skills or values. Lots of soldiers just need a sounding board at times, and as Chaplains we provide a confidential place for that to happen. Of course there are the periodic chaplain/pastor things like weddings, pre-marital counseling, baptisms, worships, etc. The weeks are full and demanding. Normally every battalion has a chaplain. My unit has six battalions but only two chaplains. You can do the math.
Deployments are a whirlwind for me! In two to five months, I normally hit three to four countries and make nearly 1,000 visits. I often move every two to three days to a new location and get very little if any sleep. I go out with the teams on missions, if they are going out. Being shot at, blown up, mortared, etc., gets old quick but has an amazing bonding and relationship-building effect. Even downrange I do a lot of counseling and offer worship, sacraments, etc., as desired. And when I see pictures of naked women on the walls—I ask where they got the picture of my wife.
How do soldiers relate to you? Does it matter your denomination?
|Chaplain Floro, Iraq, 2007.|
I think soldiers relate to me well, since my approach is relational. I seek to go where they go, be it a physical, emotional, or psychological location. The biggest thing that people want is to be understood, so that is always an important part of the relationship. I think that approach has made me effective as a chaplain. That, and taking the time to be asked to enter into their lives, in order to intervene in the situation that brought them in to me in the first place.
If you have a reputation for “being there” for soldiers and their families, commanders and key unit leaders will trust and use you as a chaplain. Sadly, most chaplains I know only sit behind their desk and wait for people to come to them. Worse yet are the chaplains who judge soldiers and expect them to “clean up” before spending any time with them. Soldiers can be some of the most foul-mouthed, porno-oriented people you will ever find, and if you can’t deal with that, you will have no impact on them, because they will never let you in.
I guess what I’m saying, is that if you see Christianity as a religion or a denomination, it will be an issue. If you see your faith as a relationship, you won’t have a problem. Soldiers know if you are there for them or for your own agenda. I have had many great discussions with atheists, Wiccans, agnostics, and others, simply because I was their friend, which I demonstrated by going on combat missions with them or otherwise spending time with them.
The greatest compliment a soldier gives me is when he or she says, “I came to you because I knew I could trust you—you came to see or help me and you didn’t have to.” Don’t get me wrong: I love to share my faith and the difference that my relationship with Jesus Christ has made in my life. It is the single most important truth for me. But I hold onto that until they ask. Building relationships is the key.
So are there atheists in foxholes?
Yes, literally and figuratively, but not too many. Life and death situations make us all think hard about what we believe. When we can’t make sense out of our world, we want help from someone who can. This last deployment, I visited a soldier who told me he would never, ever, talk to a chaplain again, because of how he had been treated previously by a chaplain. My response was, “That’s okay. When are you guys going out on mission next?”
Two nights later I sat and talked with this soldier, a Buddhist, in the middle of the night, in an undisclosed city in Iraq. Mortars, IED’s, and small arms fire were going off all around the compound we were in, and he wanted to talk about faith. His reason was, “Nobody comes out here with us, and certainly not a chaplain. I can trust you.” I don’t say this to draw attention to myself but to the approach that I see demonstrated by Jesus in the Bible.
It must be excruciating to perform your duties for the dead and their families. Can you describe that and its effects on you?
As I write, today is the one-year anniversary of the death of a friend of mine. He was killed by a sniper in Ramadi. His other team members are also pretty good friends of mine, and I have spent a lot of time with them in Iraq and with their spouses here at Ft. Bragg. Two of the spouses came regularly to Friday night meals at our home. One of those team members literally just left my office. He was somber and wanted to know where his Team Leader had been buried, so he could visit the gravesite. I woke up this morning knowing that today was the day Mike was killed, that the lives of his wife, Glory, and their four kids were forever changed. I performed Mike’s memorial ceremony in Iraq, grieved with his many friends in his unit, and still talk regularly with Glory.
I also talk with Tiffany Lutz, whose husband, Tony, was killed in Fallujah on 29 December 2005. Tiffany cares for Anthony (age three) and Eva (one), their two children. I also talk with George Lutz, Tony’s father, who comments on how Anthony, his grandson, reminds him of Tony.
A couple of weeks ago I talked with Doris Kent, the mother of Jon Santos, who was killed on 15 October 2004 in Iraq. Jon’s team leader was SSG Mike Owen, who was also killed in the same incident. Mike’s wife, Crystal, and I talk regularly as she struggles to move forward following the loss of her husband. Just last week Crystal brought me news of a non-profit group that was having a fishing day for the children of soldiers who have been killed in action.
Matt Drake, the only person who survived that suicide vehicle attack, is currently in rehab in Iowa, struggling to regain the ability to one day live again on his own. Matt is from Sylvania, Ohio, which is near my own hometown. I talk often with him and his mom and see them when I go home. The last time we were home, my dad and I went to get Matt and brought him to my home church, where he spoke briefly and thanked them for their prayers. We went to my mom and dad’s house for lunch, drove around, and later went to a movie ( The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, I believe). Following the movie, my wife and three oldest kids took him home. His mom doesn’t get many days off from caring for Matt, because she (Lisa) has been by Matt’s side since he reached Germany days after the attack.
A friend of mine, Steve Reich, was killed when the Chinook 47E he piloted was shot and crashed in Afghanistan. Many others died that day with Steve.
Humanly, selfishly, this all weighs on me, and my family, as they have been directly involved with these families too. Yet I know this is the very thing God has gifted me to do, and I’ve never lost my calling to come alongside those who are hurting. I say that not as a testimony of my willpower or strength, but, rather, as a testimony to the faithfulness and provision of God in my life and in the lives of others—particularly to those families who live with the daily reality of ultimate sacrifice. It is an honor and privilege to be involved in the lives of these people, even the most intimate, painful moments of their lives, and I consider it a life-long commitment to walk with them through their losses.
I bet you’re good at therapy or counseling. How much time do you spend doing it?
A fair amount. Therapy might not be the best word to describe what I do, as that hints at something long-term, intensive, and possibly Freudian. While that does happen at times, my usual method is short-term, solution-focused counseling. Whether I’m good at it or not is hard to say. Most people come back, but I’m not sure that’s the correct measure of effectiveness. I do believe that big problems are generally the result of living out small things—anger, forgiveness, appreciation, love, etc.—poorly. I’ve found my ability to impact the small things flows from my relationship with Christ.
What’s the current mood of the troops—special operations or otherwise?
In my opinion, the mood and morale are generally good. Without a doubt this war is having a huge impact on the military family. My unit is particular has been deployed non-stop since 9/11. We are tired but unbowed. Soldiers like to complete the mission, and this mission as yet is incomplete. I believe this is a long war and one we must see through to completion. But I honestly am not sure what that completion will look like.
I believe that as a country we have lost our way with our wealth. We have so much and yet give so little to those in need. With great blessing comes great responsibility to be gracious, giving and sacrificial—individually and nationally. In many ways the American soldier exemplifies what is good about our country, what made it strong and a beacon to the world—sacrifice, service, duty, commitment, and honor.
What’s next for you?
In several years I could retire but don’t have a sense of that right now. This January I leave for a six-month school, then on to my next assignment. I’m not sure where that might be. My choice would be to stay in the special operations realm, no matter where I go. I do need a break from deployments, and there are plenty of chaplains who haven’t deployed at all. They’re the ones sitting behind desks, waiting for people to come into their presence.
And you are getting pretty old.
Looked in the mirror lately?
Thanks very much, Chris. It’s been great to talk to you again. How about leaving all of us in higher education with a blessing? (Some of us could use one more than others, no doubt.)
I would be privileged to do so.
As I write this, I’m reminded that we all come from different faith backgrounds. So, as I often say before praying, I invite you to join me in your tradition as I pray in mine.
Lord, I thank you for this opportunity to share with others the goodness and grace you have demonstrated to me. I thank you for those who work in higher education, seeking to instill knowledge, truth and wisdom into the minds of young and old. As they do so, may we all be reminded of the awesome responsibility to selflessly use our gifts and talents. Be with the sons and daughters of America who have chosen to serve in our military, many of who have or will seek education through our institutions of higher learning. Protect them and their families until they are safely reunited. And, God, may you continue to bless our country. In Jesus’s name, I pray.
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