Serving Soldiers from pew to pulpit
August 13, 2009
<b> HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. </B> There are many things that influenced Sgt. Thomas Miller to quit his full-time construction business and part-time ministry at age 33 to become an Army chaplain's assistant. But he said God provided the primary motivation - a desire to support Soldiers.
"I'd see Soldiers out, walk up to them and say, 'thank you, thank you; I appreciate you,'" he said, adding that his eyes would fill with tears during those encounters, embarrassing both he and his wife.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed Sgt. Miller. They made him keenly sensitive to those who put their lives on the line daily to protect the freedom and privileges granted to Americans. For five years, he thought about their service and the part it played in protecting his wife, his four children, and future generations to come. He also thought about joining the Army during those years but was convinced that he was too old. All doubts aside, in 2006 he put away his fears, placed his trust in God and joined the Army.
"I believed God was dealing with me because it was where he wanted me," he said.
As a chaplain's assistant with two masters degrees - one in religious education and the other in divinity - he was well on his way to fulfilling his God-given calling. Recently, he was given active-duty chaplain status - and on Sept. 13, he will report to Fort Jackson for a three-month chaplain officer's basic leadership course before being assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division for his first duty assignment as a chaplain.
But like any Soldier, the pursuit of an Army career has had its cost - even in the religious field.
"The hardest part was balancing my time," he said. "I had to discipline myself to go home and study when I knew that I needed to spend time with the kids and my wife."
"I can't imagine how Sgt. Miller finished two master's degrees during this time," said Chaplain (Col.) Richard Moore, 3rd Infantry Installation Chaplain. "He had the mental toughness to do it and great support from his wife. He never disassociated himself, never lost compassion for Soldiers."
Sergeant Miller met his biggest supporter, his wife Kendra, in Bible college before he joined the Army. As a pastor's wife, she was used to sacrificing time with her husband for the benefit of his ministry and/or career. She knew that those nights studying and working toward a degree would increase the ministry to which her husband was called.
"We knew it was temporary," he said about the time required to study. But, after attaining a dual-sealed master's degree, the Family needed a break. Kendra 'forbids' him to go back to school, at least for a while.
But Kendra is not the only one who gave tough love and support. Others, including his mother, other outstanding chaplains who lead by example, and top-notched noncommissioned Army officers taught him how to perform and to lead.
"There were NCOs who stood out above the rest," he said. "They inspired me to be a role model."
According to Chap. Moore, Sgt. Miller is a role model who demonstrates all the qualities an NCO should have.
"He's the 'go-to' guy who gets things done," said Chap. Moore. "He does that with care- that's just how he is. I'm so proud of him; I need 25 more Sgt. Millers."
Besides Soldiers, Sgt. Miller strives to be a positive influence for his children, who range from ages 4 to 9, despite the fact that he's often away with a demanding career.
"I want them to look at me and say, 'that's what I want to be,' he said. They do that now in their actions when they 'play' Army, he said.
Aside from his Soldier ministry, Sgt. Miller is grateful to have one career, instead of two or three jobs that he had in the civilian sector. His Army career enables him to provide for his wife and children and to give them a positive lifestyle.
"I like the environment; it's very multicultural," he said. "My kids don't know race. We're people. I like that."
Most of all, Sgt. Miller is grateful for his upcoming assignment as a full-fledged chaplain. He looks forward to giving Soldiers religious support and counseling, especially Soldiers in crisis. He also looks forward to preaching, performing weddings and giving Family Members the comfort they need when they lose a loved one.
"It's an honor," he said. "My heart is with the Soldiers. They deserve the recognition that I am receiving today."