NCOs influence Fort Leavenworth chaplain's decision to join Army
March 6, 2009
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - A blinding bolt of lightning came down from heaven and a voice from out of the blue called down to me and said, "Reverend Triplett, I want you to be a chaplain in the U.S. Army!"
It was a still small voice that spoke to me through my dad and my father-in-law, who were both professional noncommissioned officers who served our country in time of war. Over a period of years, their encouraging words and the positive example they set for me influenced me to become an Army chaplain.
My dad was my greatest hero and always will be. He served in the U.S. Army from 1941 until 1962 when he retired as an E7. He was a combat medic in the 361st Infantry Regiment and served in World War II in both North Africa and the European Theater of Operations. He was wounded three times and received two Bronze Star Medals. He died in a tragic automobile accident Aug. 12, 1969, and there has not been a day since that I have not thought about him.
My warm memories of him include our time in Valley Forge, Pa., in the 1950s when he served in Preventive Medicine at Valley Forge Army Hospital. He would come home every day for lunch in his 1953 Oldsmobile 88 with a Rocket V8 engine (he was a car guy). He would pick me up and throw me up in the air with his class B uniform on. I remember all the stripes and hash marks on his sleeve. They did not mean anything to me then, but they sure do now. He never, never failed to catch me on the way down after tossing me high enough in the air to need oxygen.
My father-in-law, retired Maj. Roy Johnson, served for 20 plus years on active duty and in the reserve also having served in World War II. He was a mountain of a man who played on several state championship football teams while attending high school in Charlotte, N.C., in the late 1930s. He started out in the Army Reserve and achieved the rank of sergeant before attending Officer Candidate School. He was captain of Air Defense Artillery on Tinian Island when the Enola Gay took off to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.
Both my dad and my father-in-law were true heroes as part of what Tom Brokaw rightfully describes as "The Greatest Generation."
I had been serving as a pastor in churches in Pennsylvania since I graduated from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 1979, the same year Carol and I got married. It was in the fall of 1984 when Carol and I were visiting her parents, when her father said the words to me that got me started down the road to becoming an Army chaplain.
"Have you ever thought about becoming an Army Chaplain'" he asked.
We talked a long time about his positive experiences with Army chaplains and about how much good Army chaplains can do for the Soldiers they serve. After much thought and prayer I contacted my American Baptist Churches USA denominational endorsing agent and inquired about the possibility of becoming a chaplain in the Army Reserve. The process of getting in took about a year; I took the oath of office in Scranton, Pa., on Oct. 1, 1985.
My first assignment as a first lieutenant chaplain was in the 365th Engineer Battalion (Combat Heavy) headquartered in Schuylkill Haven, Pa. This was a great unit filled with great Soldiers and leaders.
After 20 years active service having served in and observed many different units I would say that the 365th was in the top 10 percent of all units I have served in and observed active and Reserve. I would stack them up against any unit, anywhere.
I enjoyed my service in the 365th immensely and loved serving Soldiers so much in this great unit that I started thinking that I would like to serve full time instead of one weekend a month and two weeks every summer for annual training. My battalion commander and my denomination fully supported me going active duty, so after serving in the Reserve for three years, I went active duty Aug. 24, 1988.
The bottom line of my calling is that both my dad and my father-in-law had a tremendous influence on me becoming an Army Chaplain. Both these men are in heaven now, but their influence and their direction still have a lasting impact on my life, my service to my beloved country, and my faith in God and Jesus Christ. I owe both of these former noncommissioned officers a debt I can only partly repay by serving my country proudly as an Army chaplain.
Editor's note: Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Harlon J. Triplett Jr. is the Battle Command Training Program chaplain.