Why I Serve: Selfless service begins with promise
May 20, 2014
FORT IRWIN, Calif. - The frantic pace of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team's training rotation at the National Training Center could not stop Chaplain (Maj.) Michael McDonald, brigade chaplain, 1st ABCT, 1st Infantry Division, from organizing a post-wide Passover celebration for his Soldiers.
Passover, an eight-day festival that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, is the most important time of year for Jewish people, and McDonald said he wanted to make sure it was recognized - even though it fell at the same time as the most important event in the 1st ABCT annual training cycle.
McDonald said he wanted to make sure he did due diligence to provide for the spiritual needs of the brigade's Soldiers. As a protestant chaplain,McDonald did not perform the Passover ceremony; however, after doing some research, he discovered a rabbi, Chaplain (Capt.) Mitch Rocklin, 395th Combat Service Support Battalion from Connecticut, would be at NTC during the same time as the 1st ABCT and was willing to help with the celebration.
"I wanted to provide Soldiers of (every) denomination an opportunity to practice their faith during the NTC rotation," Rocklin said.
Actions like these are not uncommon for McDonald. He is known to go the extra mile to execute his duties as a chaplain and as a Soldier. For him, it's a family tradition.
He was born into a family with a strong military lineage. His father served in the Air Force during the Korean conflict. As a child, McDonald listened to stories about his father's experiences as a veteran, which included being captured and spending some time as a prisoner of war, before escaping with other service members.
McDonald said when he was stationed in South Korea and visited the demilitarized zone, he wondered if it was a place is father had fought, and he instantly said he felt this great pride following in his father and grandfather's footsteps.
In addition to his father, McDonald said he draws inspiration
from those who have served before him.
"Growing up, I hung out a lot in the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall," he said. "The veterans of my father's generation didn't talk about what they went through, but being around them, you could feel the sense of duty, selfless-service and personal courage."
When McDonald was old enough to join the service, he decided to follow in their footsteps.
The native of San Angelo, Texas, enlisted in the Army to be a unit supply specialist in the 1980s. He first served at Fort Stewart, Ga., but then he came down on orders to Korea.
He said the prospect of serving them made him nervous, not so at the prospect of being in physical danger, but for the moral dangers the assignment held.
"I had heard lots of negative stuff about Korea and wanted to remain a man of integrity," McDonald said. "I made a promise to God, that if he allowed me to make it through this time in the military faithfully and make positive contributions, I would return sometime in the future to serve as a chaplain."
After completing three years of active-duty service, he was discharged and returned to college to complete his education.
"I talked to my wife about my decision to return to the military, and her first response was 'Oh no you're not!'" Fortunately, she changed her mind, McDonald said. "She prayed about it, and we agreed that the military would be a good place for us."
Within days of talking to his wife about his decision to return to the military, he received a call from his denomination's endorser, and they asked if I would be interested in becoming a chaplain.
At 36 years old, McDonald entered the Chaplain Officer Candidate School to continue his life of service and to fulfill the promise he made more than 15 years ago while stationed in Korea - to serve in the Army Chaplain's Corps.
As a chaplain, McDonald has served many Soldiers in many capacities, but he said the most awe-inspiring thing he has done is minister to Soldiers in their final moments.
"The most consequential time for a chaplain is when you are holding a Soldier who is about to pass away, and you are able to help him. That is what it is all about," McDonald said." That is why chaplains are here."