Rear detachment chaplain plans retirement, looks forward to worshipping from the pews with Family
February 2, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - A died-in-the-wool chaplain with 32 years of military service and 30 years of ministering to Soldiers and Families is retiring.
Chaplain (Col.) William H. Ralston, 3rd Infantry Division rear detachment chaplain, who has been a chaplain at Fort Stewart for just over five years, officially retires Feb 28.
He joined the Army in 1974, and after a brief couple of years as Infantry officer, Chap. Ralston left the Army to follow a dream to becoming an ordained minister.
"I spent two years on active duty as an Infantry officer in the 70s, then separated from the service and went to seminary at the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.," said Chap. Ralston.
Having the desire to serve not only God, Chap. Ralston rejoined the Army as a reservist and chaplain in 1983, where he remained for more than a decade until being tapped for active duty in 2003. Before entering on active duty, Chap. Ralston lived in Charlotte, N.C., where he was pastor of a civilian congregation for 14 years.
"(The Army) needed a chaplain and they found my name and sent me to Germany for four months," Chap. Ralston said. "Then, they sent me to Iraq with the 1/94 Field Artillery, 1st Armored Division, for eight months."
After returning to Germany from deployment, Chap. Ralston served at U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt for a year before he was released from active duty.
But when he returned to civilian life, he said he felt like something was missing.
"I missed putting on the uniform," he said. "So I made some phone calls and asked who needed me."
With determination and support from his wife, Beth, Chap. Ralston volunteered for mobilization orders and returned to active duty.
Initially, Chap. Ralston's orders were for a one-year activation.
"Half way through [that year] they said they needed me for another year, and Beth and I made that decision as a Family," said the chaplain. "Then, it was another year and another year and so on."
Chaplain Ralston's long record of service has earned him many admirers.
"Chaplain Ralston is an extremely articulate communicator, compassionate pastor and dedicated professional," said Chap. (Col.) Warren E. Kirby, Jr., Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Air Field Senior Chaplain. "His eminent retirement will leave an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of those in the religious community. He will be sorely missed by the entire religious community and especially by all our chaplains, and me personally. "
The fond accolades and the decision to remain on active duty did not come without a price. Beth remained at home for several years as Chap. Ralston served.
"My wife is a school teacher in Charlotte, N.C., so it's been great that I am close enough that she can come down on weekends and all summer," Chap. Ralston said. "She really has been the hero of this whole thing; she's made the drive every weekend to support me and the congregation."
Upon his retirement, Chap. Ralston will return the support to the one who has supported him the most over the years.
"I am going to take some time off - I will be in church, I will be serving God, but I want to sit next to my wife and worship for a while," Chap. Ralston said. "I know that in the next chapter of my life, that God will give me some great things to do."
An official farewell luncheon for Chap. Ralston is scheduled for Club Stewart, Feb. 10.