Fort Belvoir, Va. – Newly arrived Chaplain Army (Col.) Thomas Brooks took the reins this summer as the Defense Logistics Agency’s ecclesiastical support program manager and religious support provider.
Spiritual observances and religious holidays such as Passover and Easter call for specific items, from Seder kits and kosher meals to palms and ashes, but items like halal meals are needed all year long, Brooks said. He’s working with representatives of DLA Troop Support’s clothing and textiles supply chain and learning more about what goes into procuring and shipping about 500 items.
“Sometimes DLA Troop Support has gone through extraordinary lengths to be able to get supplies in the right hands at the right times,” he said.
Brooks said he’s also looking to develop a monthly series to help uplift the workforce, promote wellness through spirituality and reduce suicide. Studies show that practicing spirituality can help people improve health and happiness, enhance feelings of connection, decrease depression, and lower rates of substance abuse and risk taking, he said.
“One of the things I like people to understand is that we’re all spiritual beings,” Brooks said. “I’m not here to force my faith on anyone, but to help people in the way they want to be helped. I help them realize that we’re better off when we exercise that part of us that is spiritual. Just like we take care of our nutrition, we get exercise, we take care of our mental health, we try to get enough sleep – we’re also better off when we exercise our spirituality.”
Brooks had what he called a “slow start” to becoming a chaplain. He considered joining the military but followed his calling to become a Protestant minister instead. While getting the necessary training and education, Brooks met with a friend who was training to be an Army chaplain. The friend’s positive experience made Brooks reconsider his career choice.
“That was a new concept to me. I could be a minister, but also be in the military,” Brooks said.
He entered the Army in 1999, completed the Chaplain Officer Basic Course and served as a reservist with the 58th Transportation Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
“I really, really loved it because it was the first time I actually did the chaplain job,” Brooks said.
After finishing his active reserve tour with the 312th Field Hospital in North Carolina, he married his wife, Maribel, on Nov. 22, 2002, and reported for active duty three days later as a battalion chaplain at Fort Hood, Texas.
Four months later, Brooks was deployed to Kuwait and then Iraq while his wife was home and pregnant with their son, David. Seventy soldiers from his battalion earned Purple Hearts and two were killed in action, Brooks said.
“It was a very tough year, as I was essentially new to the Army, newly married, and I missed the birth of our son,” he said. “I’m thankful for the sustaining grace of God in the midst of that, as well as the amazing people I served with.”
Before coming to DLA, he served as one of two chaplains at the U.S. Army Cadet Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he helped 30,000 cadets and 4,000 cadre members with their religious and spiritual needs.
His time with the USACC coincided with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cadets usually train in person and thrive on the camaraderie, but the isolation of the pandemic took a toll and his workload increased, Brooks said.
Cadets normally went to Fort Knox for summer training, but due to COVID-19, they met regionally in smaller groups during the summer of 2020, Brooks said.
“We’re not built to live this life completely alone,” he said. “Friends, colleagues, coworkers – those types of connections that can help someone go through a difficult time – the cadets didn’t have that. They didn’t have people who would notice if something was wrong, because when you're at home, only a limited few can see you.”
Chaplains also serve as military religious leaders and staff advisors.
“We advise command and staff on morals, morale, ethical issues and the impact of religion on all aspects of military operations,” he said.