Bringing God into the chaos: Chaplain fulfills life goal in caring for soldiers
September 7, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. - Almost 700 people died aboard the USS Dorchester after it was struck by a torpedo Feb. 3, 1943. Four of those killed were military chaplains, who saw there was a shortage of life-jackets and handed their own over to soldiers on board. The chaplains, now known as the "four immortal chaplains," went down with the ship praying while linked arm-in-arm.
When asked if there was anyone that Chaplain (Capt.) Kevin Winemiller admired, he quickly answered that the immortal chaplains showed a strong faith worthy of admiration.
"The ship was going down. It was sinking and they gave up their life-jackets and they interlocked arms; four chaplains, of four different faiths, went down with the ship singing together. They really had some strong belief to do that," said Winemiller, a chaplain with the North Carolina National Guard's 60th Troop Command.
Joining the military was something Winemiller has always known he was called to do. In 1968 he remembers looking up at his cousin's Marine Corps dress uniform just knowing that one day he wanted the prestige that comes with the uniform of a United States Armed Forces service member. At 18, however, Winemiller says he found God when he was sent to live with his grandmother in northern Pennsylvania, who took him to church and made him read the Bible. Winemiller felt the calling from God to become a pastor, which he fulfilled at the age of 18; but his love for the military and the urge to wear a uniform never left.
On Jan. 22, 1999, 38-year-old Winemiller raised his hand and took the oath to join the military, an aspiration finally fulfilled.
Winemiller found a way to fulfill both his calling for the military and to serve God by joining the Chaplain Corps.
"When I went to Fort Jackson's Chaplain School, I felt like I was home," Winemiller said.
Winemiller promotes his "30-minute island" services. Soldiers have 30 minutes for church, he says. The services are condensed so that soldiers are able to attend, without missing vital pieces of their workday, but still able to get away and spend time worshiping with their comrades.
"I call [the 30-minute island] a home away from home. They can forget about rank, forget about the fact that they're in uniform and they're on duty," Winemiller said. "For 30 minutes, let's go to church, let's read the scriptures, let's pray together, let's sing together and let's just have a message from God's word."
As with all things, you have to take the good with the bad. Chaplain Winemiller has fulfilled his life goals and his calling from God: serving the troops through God's word; but with that he, as with all of the soldiers he has served alongside of, has faced hardships.
"The hardest part about being a Chaplain is probably the time away from home, the family time. That is time you don't get back," Winemiller said.
"When you deploy for a year, you're gone. I'm taking care of other people's children, wishing I had more time with my own."
The time away from his wife and children has always been a struggle through his deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan but serving the word of God and the soldiers of the United States Army has made it all worthwhile and a decision he wouldn't change.
"It was the missing link in my life. It was the thing that I needed in my life to really complete me as a person," Winemiller said.