Chaplain Corps reflects on storied past
July 27, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - The Chaplain Corps has long been the protectors of the Soldiers’ spirit. As the Army Chaplain Corps celebrates its 236th birthday, many chaplains on Fort Stewart have taken the time to reflect on their time in service, and what the history of the Corps means to them.
“My job is satisfying,” said Capt. Michael Barnette, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Special Troops Battalion chaplain, “And I still love what I’m doing. Some days it will hit me all of a sudden-I’m being paid to do this.”
Soldiers come from a varied cultural and denominational background, and chaplains are no different. However, most would say that having a wide range of experiences and history better prepares the Corps for whatever challenge they may face.
“It’s amazing to gain exposure to so many traditions,” said Capt. Ric Thompson, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment al Brigade chaplain. “There are so many views and faith traditions, but we all manage to come together regardless of background.”
Chaplain Barnette, who has been in the Corps since 2009, had a long journey leading up to his chaplaincy.
““It began back in 1999 at Fundamentalist Baptist Bible College. I was newly married, had one kid and one on the way when I started investigating the Chaplain Corps. I realized that out of all the requirements I only met two-I had the physical capability and the desire to do it.
“After I finished my bachelor’s I went into missions for eight years. I was part of Rock of Ages Prison Ministry, and visited youthful offender prisons, where ages ranged from 19-25. Working with that age group definitely prepared me for my Army career. In 2007, God said it was time; I had to put it on the back burners. I finished my graduates and joined the Chaplain Corps.”
Chaplain Thompson found himself on a different path to the Corps.
“I was a pastor at a church in Idaho, and I was tired of sitting at a desk all day long. I wanted something more adventurous, and I love the outdoors. So I joined the Chaplains Corps. It comes down to a calling; I felt certain God wanted me.”
Major George Wallace, 1HBCT chaplain, was a military police platoon leader before he eventually joined the Corps.
“I joined the National Guard after high school then went to college and joined ROTC,” Chap. Wallace said. “I was commissioned as an MP and was an active duty lieutenant in 10th Mountain. I deployed with them to Somalia and Haiti as a platoon leader. In 1995 I got off active duty and went to college as a reservist. Then in 2006 I was back on active duty as a chaplain. It was a calling; it’s what I’m supposed to do. I have a passion for the Army and its Soldiers.”
Tasked with maintaining the spiritual welfare of Soldiers, chaplains also provide Soldiers someone to talk to.
“Soldiers see us as someone safe to talk to,” said Thompson, “And our position greatly contributes to being able to console people. I love being with Soldiers and taking care of their needs. I also hope to impart some wisdom to help them.”
For chaplains, having a religion isn’t required in order to give advice.
“Not all Soldiers are people of faith or like faith,” said Barnette, “But that does not exclude them- they still have a soul. Our number one priority is spiritual fitness.”
One story that exemplifies the spirit of the Chaplains Corps is that of the Four Chaplains. In February 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was carrying around 900 servicemen and Civilians. The Dorchester was a luxury cruise line converted Army transport ship, and was part of a three-ship convoy crossing the Atlantic. In the dead of night, a U-223 German submarine struck the Dorchester with torpedoes on the starboard side.
Four Army chaplains, who were from different denominations, sprung into action and began to assist the Soldiers, tending to the wounded and guiding the lost. The four also distributed life jackets until none were left.
An eyewitness report from Engineer Grady Clark said that after the life jackets ran out the chaplains did something astonishing. The chaplains took their own life jackets off and handed them to four Soldiers without them.
With nothing but the icy waters of the Atlantic to greet the four chaplains, survivors in overfull life rafts saw them link arms and begin to sing and pray as the ship went down. Of the 900 men that were on board, 670 perished.
“The Four Chaplains epitomized selflessness,” said Barnette. “They were from four different denominations, and while we are all different, we can still have a common cause. As an entire corps, we haven’t lost that spirit of selflessness that every Soldier should embrace.”