From Tanker to Chaplain
November 2, 2009
- Chaplain Barnett's teen years were full of poor choices
- The Army and Gulf war experience changed Chaplain Barnett
- Now Barnett combines high energy preaching with contemporary music in his worship
BAGHDAD, Iraq-Soldiers stomp their boots on the marble floor, raise their voices and make some noise.
This is how Chaplain (Capt.) Paul Barnett, from Wareham, Mass., 101st Engineer Battalion, 225th Engineer Brigade, likes to start his Sunday worship services at the Engineer Chapel, here, on Camp Liberty.
As a 17 year old who was pushing his luck, making some very risky and costly choices, a judge gave Barnett a choice.
"Jail or the Army, son," Barnett clearly recalled.
Barnett took the opportunity to change his life. The judge encouraged Barnett to show the world that he was a productive member of society and that he was worth something so much more. In 1989 he left his home for basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas.
"I looked at the opportunity to gain some structure, discipline, self worth, and belonging to something greater than the streets," Barnett remembered.
"Be all you can be," the Army motto at the time was what got Barnett training. Every time he would slack, his drill instructors would press him, and Barnett pushed himself harder and harder in all areas of his life.
Barnett said he started to become a better man; working harder, striving for the best.
Driving a tank during Operation Desert Storm, in 1991, he was affected by what he saw during his tour and started soul searching.
"During a convoy I saw a young girl about seven years old holding a very small baby; she was giving the sign for food," he said. "I could see the hunger pains in the child's eyes; my own heart changed. I physically felt hunger pains."
After Barnett's tour he returned home and decided college was where he was supposed to be. He was accepted into the University of Massachusetts, located in Dartmouth, Mass.
No longer a Soldier, Barnett said he started to slip back into his high schools ways. Finding he was making bad choices, he was close to being in front a different judge again, one who might not give him another chance. Feeling he needed to balance his life, Barnett joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 1995.
"I wasn't being all I could be," sighed Barnett. "I needed the structure, the discipline, the Army values back".
Just like his drill sergeants used to tell him to do his best, he felt that God, being his spiritual drill sergeant, was telling him the same thing.
"I wanted to follow God's [standard operating procedures] and using the Bible as His [Army Regulations]," Barnett explained.
Barnett met Kenneth Walsh, of New Bedford, Mass., in Oct. 1995, and the seed of friendship was planted.
The two friends, along with others, named themselves the B.A.C., otherwise known as the Born Again Christians. Barnett and Walsh started experimenting with rhyming spiritual rap over secular music and they wrote a few songs during the next few years of college.
In the summer of 1996, they finished recording a three song demo at a local recording studio. As word got out on the UMass campus, churches started to invite them to play at various events.
In August 2000, the group released their first full length album that opened the doors to the world of mainstream Christian music. They were even invited to be the opening acts for Christian artists such as Rebecca St. James, Sonic Flood, and Nicole C. Mullen.
Becoming a chaplain candidate in 2002 allowed him to help feed the spiritual hunger pains of Soldiers. Like the young girl he encountered during his Desert Storm tour, Barnett has helped to feed the hungry, minister to the sick, and pray with the wounded.
Barnett deployed to Iraq with the 101st Engineer Battalion as the battalion chaplain in June 2009. His chapel services started with very few people attending. As word got out about his preaching style and music, his has congregation grown. Whether out of pure curiosity or word of mouth, Barnett now ministers to a full house.