Soldier's sacrifice leads chaplain back to Army service
November 9, 2011
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Nov. 9, 2011 -- After about eight years as a medic in the Army Reserves, Todd Cheney traded his Battle Dress Uniform for a minister's robe in 1997.
Cheney joined the Army in September 1989 with a friend, hoping to get some help paying for college.
"We were bored and not going anywhere, so we thought, 'Let's do something worthwhile,'" Cheney said.
Throughout his time in the U.S. Army Reserve, Cheney served within the ministry. He taught a bible study, worked with the youth ministry, and held various other positions. But in 1995, he committed wholeheartedly to the church.
Cheney attended bible college at Masters College in southern California, and in 1998 he completed seminary through Masters.
His path led him to northern California, where he began serving in a Baptist church. There, he met Adam Kinser, a high school senior in Rio Vista. Cheney served as the senior pastor and youth minister at the church, and he worked with Adam's father, John.
In June 2001, Adam joined the Army after he graduated. He continued to stay in touch with Cheney, even receiving pre-marital counseling from the pastor after deciding to get married. Then, in 2002, Adam came down on deployment orders. He and his fianceé, Tiffany, decided to have a small, private ceremony before he deployed, and they planned to have a larger, more formal ceremony after the deployment.
As fate would have it, Tiffany became pregnant before Adam's deployment in June 2003. Sadly, Adam only saw his son once -- in an ultrasound while he was on leave from Afghanistan during Thanksgiving.
"I got the phone call shortly after midnight. 'Pastor Todd, come quickly; we've lost Adam,'" Cheney recalled. It was January 29, 2004, and John had called him for support. The whole family had gathered, pulling together to digest the tragic news. Cheney and his family were quickly enveloped in the situation.
"I've never seen anyone grieve like that," he said. "It was palpable."
When Adam's flag-draped casket returned to its final resting place, the entire 6,000-person town lined the streets, waving American flags as the funeral procession passed.
"I was so touched by this young man's service," Cheney said. Adam was one of the first California Reservists killed in action since Vietnam.
This was when Cheney first began to contemplate a life in camouflaged cloth.
Military chaplains were assigned to coordinate the memorial services and to help the family as they grieved. During a rehearsal, one of the Reserve chaplains approached Cheney and asked him to consider joining the military as a chaplain.
"I was out of shape," he said, and he wasn't so sure about coming back in the military.
A year later, he was reminded by an active-duty chaplain that he was still young, but he had 12 years of ministry experience to offer Soldiers. He and his wife, Kristin, began discussing the idea in earnest.
At first the idea was that he would do Reserve, Kristin said.
"I thought, 'OK, once in a while he will be gone for a weekend; I can handle that,'" she said. "When we did more investigating we found out that Reserve chaplains are deployed just as much as active."
After more research and a lot of prayer, the couple decided together that active was the way to go. In June 2006, Cheney went to Fort Jackson, S.C., for school.
"I already knew what it was like," Cheney said.
For his family though, it would be an adjustment.
Kristin said she excited about starting a new "life" as an Army family, and Cheney said she has thrown herself into the role of a chaplain's wife. In fact, they often work together to serve the unit.
Today, Cheney is a captain and the chaplain for Task Force Attack (3rd Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment), serving at Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan.
"It's been a real blessing to help Soldiers or families work through the challenges (of deployment)," he said.
He's deployed before, to Iraq, which presented its own challenges as he learned to work with people who had a different approach to things.
"I've learned so much about my ability to adapt," Cheney said.
Meanwhile, Kristin has learned ways to stay strong for her family and the families that rely on her during deployment, knowing full well the risks associated with deployment.
"I don't ever want to live in fear, so I choose to be hopeful that he will return home to the kids and (me)," she said.
She also runs a monthly luncheon back at Fort Campbell for the spouses of the deployed Soldiers, while managing the family.
"Not having Daddy home makes me a single mom for a while," Kristin said. "Todd is greatly missed, especially (during) play time with the kids -- nothing can fill that void."
But the two look for ways to keep the family connected, depending on their faith and each other to make it through. With three children ranging in age from 4 to 12, this presents its own obstacles.
"(We) face challenges with scripture that can help guide us through," Kristin said. "We pray with each other and share honestly what is happening in our lives."
They also hold strong to their belief in the greater good of their sacrifices.
"Whenever I'm kicking back in my wheelchair, I'm going to remember there's a cost, but free people are willing to sacrifice," Cheney said.