Chaplain duo reaches soldiers in an unusual way
March 8, 2011
Sitting on a toilet isn't a place one would normally expect to think about God. But the two-man chaplain team at Spin Boldak wants Soldiers to do just that.
Appleton, Wis., native Chaplain (Capt.) Jason Hohnberger of 1st Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, and his assistant, Sgt. David A. Cavazos, a Victoria, Texas native are using new and creative ways to reach out to Soldiers.
Holy Crap: Chaplain's Thought of the Week, where Bible verses and inspirational messages are posted on the doors of bathroom stalls, is just one of the many creative programs run by this holy team.
To get the word out about what they offer, Hohnberger and Cavazos use a fun and effective advertising campaign. Folded paper "table tents" with humorous quotes like "Chuck Norris' beard wants you to go to the chapel" are placed on tables at the dining facility. Flyers featuring Hohnberger's head on a muscular body advertise an "insane workout with the chaplain." The campaign's intent is to make the chaplain and his serves more approachable and less intimidating.
"The hard part about this job is we don't deal in real tangible results," said Hohnberger. "We see growth in various areas, we see increased attendance in holy smokes, we see growth in Bible services, I hope the campaign helps, but I hope making fun of me demonstrates that I am approachable."
Another program offered is "Holy Smokes" in which the chaplain conducts a Bible study by fireside next to a smokers' hut. Free cigars are offered, though anyone may attend, not just smokers.
"Smokers are too often given the message that they're not welcome at chapel," said Hohnberger. "My philosophy of ministry is to try to go to where people will be, so I thought about focusing a Bible study on hanging out in the most popular smoking area of wherever we are."
Hohnberger said the study focuses on King David, to appeal to the masses. The intent is if you're not religious, you can come for the history, or to hear tales about the greatest warrior king ever.
"It's not for some people, I'm not promoting smoking, but smoking cigars is more for celebratory use than anything else," he said. "I try to downplay the smoking aspect and just promote the time together."
If campfire chats aren't your thing and you prefer a more physical approach to life, you can join the chaplain every morning (except Sunday) for the latest insane video-workout craze.
The chaplain offers a short devotional before starting and then acts as a motivator for the rest of the group.
"I pick one verse or two that will set a positive tone for the day - it's fitting because by the time you're halfway through the exercise, you're crying out for Jesus for extra strength," said Hohnberger.
"I believe genuine transformation happens in people's lives as life is shared with people. Real people change people."
The program is well received by attendees, cheering each other on and not allowing themselves to quit on the group.
"I saw the flyers around. The chaplain makes very motivating posters," said Sgt. 1st Class Centoria Young, a Multifunctional Team platoon sergeant with 319th Military Intelligence battalion from Opp, Ala. Young had just finished a session of exercise with the chaplain. "It's a good program, come out and enjoy it."
Running a myriad of programs and having to attend to the day-to-day spiritual needs of Soldiers would be very taxing to a man. Fortunately, every good chaplain is backed by a great assistant.
"I'm the one who's up front and really get too much of the credit. The bottom line is I have a great NCO who gets everything done," said Hohnberger. "He's probably the busiest chaplains assistant in RC South."
The assistant's job is to make sure everything behind the scenes is set up to facilitate the chaplain's duties.
On top of that, Cavazos has taken a large role in the advertising campaign and making sure the word is spread as widely as possible.
"My ideas aren't just put out there and not heard, I make a suggestion and it's actually appreciated," said Cavazos. "It makes the team work well."
The team of Hohnberger and Cavazos has been working together for about a year.
"With any new relationship there is a gap for growth, but I'd say it's definitely been a collaborative effort," added Cavazos.
Cavazos rarely takes credit for all his hard work.
"It doesn't really bother me, the end result is being accomplished," said Cavazos. "I don't mind that no one notices who puts out the advertisements, it's kind of a surprise to people when they find the table tents."
Cavazos said he intends to serve 20 years in the military, but doesn't necessarily know if he'll serve his entire career as a chaplains assistant.
"I don't counsel Soldiers, that's not what I'm here for, but I will lend an ear and my recommendation is usually to tell them to see the chaplain," Cavazos said. "I don't have the heart to be a chaplain; I'll be the first to admit that."
With all of the programs and support offered by this highly motivated team, the Soldiers of Spin Boldak can rest assured that their spiritual needs will be met.
"I'm never more happy than when my boots are muddy," said Hohnberger. "I take any opportunity to be with my guys, riding out on convoys with them or going to the border."
Hohnberger hopes that by his presence on missions, Soldiers will be more confident in their job.
"There's something that is really unique when someone says I have so much confidence in your abilities and our team and the providence of God, that I'm willing to take the same risks you are but without a weapon," Hohnberger said. "Whether or not they articulate it like that, based on their religious beliefs, they know there's something different about that and I hope it brings extra confidence to people."