IET chaplains’ mission unique
June 30, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Each Friday night, the 187th Ordnance Battalion classroom is filled with coffee, cookies, Bibles and smiling Soldiers. This weekly Fortress Coffeehouse service is one of the many ways that chaplains appeal to the needs of Soldiers-in-training at Fort Jackson.
“I could try to have a traditional Sunday afternoon service here, but I would not have nearly as many Soldiers that I see on Friday nights cooking burgers and getting the spiritual food at the same time,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Jerry Wagner of the 187th Ordnance Battalion.
Pvt. Joshua Soiffer, Company A, 187th Ordnance Battalion, said that coffeehouse time is a comforting way to end a hard week.
“This is my fourth week here and I come to get away from life in the barracks, to spend time with fellow Soldiers and folks who love Jesus.”
Wagner said the coffeehouse is a combined effort between volunteers and the unit leadership that gives Soldiers a safe and positive place to have fun.
“We work together as a unit ministry team with Cadence International and local volunteers to make this an engaging time for the Soldiers,” he said. “I think this generation really wants to be involved so we blend a spiritual element into all of our activities. We don’t want this to be another hangout or club.”
The training environment is a unique situation for chaplains and students alike, said Chaplain (Col.) Bart Physioc, installation chaplain.
“These Soldiers are at a special time in their lives, they are young, they are just beginning their military experience and the chaplains only have them for 10 weeks. You don’t find those conditions anywhere else in the Army,” he said. “The chaplains are really church planters. They build a church and then they start all over from scratch for the next cycle.”
Chaplain (Capt.) Hyun Ha, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, said the role of chaplains in the initial entry training environment is different than that in the operational Army.
“In my unit at Fort Bragg, Soldiers had access to family members, civilian churches and other religious resources so they had other options in times of trouble.
“For the BCT Soldiers, the chaplain is the only option. That is a big responsibility and an honor,” he said.
Ha said he enjoys providing a spiritual outlet for Soldiers each training cycle. “This is pure ministry and there is nothing like it. This is the perfect time for Soldiers looking for a spiritual relationship to completely turn their lives around,” he said.
At Ha’s service each Sunday, he has 15 ushers and a 45-member choir that is accompanied by a pianist, guitarist and drummer. When he stands to give his sermon, he addresses his 300-member congregation, which is fully executed and attended by the battalion’s BCT Soldiers.
“The Soldiers are looking for the chance to participate and I love to see them motivate and encourage each other,” Ha said.
Ha said the service is a way for Soldiers to have their voices heard.
“Sometimes after service, I have a line of 30 Soldiers outside of my office. I share my experience with them, how I felt humiliated in training, and they share their issues with me,” he said. “I haven’t been exactly where they are, but as people, we are all the same and I want them to know they are doing a good thing for themselves and their country.”
Physioc said that the effort of chaplains like Ha and Wagner show how chaplains have a special role in training Soldiers at Fort Jackson.
“A paycheck is just a paycheck, but changing lives is what it is really about. If you want to be effective in combat, you’ve got to be spiritually squared away, and that’s what we do.”