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Recognition for a hard-working chaplain

July 11, 2012

Tags: Chaplains in MMG, Military chaplains

Chaplain Lamar Hunt (Photo by photographer Alan Youngblood)
One of the chaplains in Miracles and Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Military Chaplains was recently honored by the Military Chaplains Association.

Chaplain Lamar Hunt, a retired Army chaplain, received an award for his years of volunteer service in retirement.

His story in my book, "The Whispered Service," is one that many readers comment on. In the story, he tells of leading a silent worship service in a Vietnam jungle surrounded by the enemy. It is a moving story in which Chaplain Hunt reveals that this service is the most memorable service he has ever conducted, whether in a small chapel or in a grand cathedral.

Chaplain Hunt has also been mentioned in a recent book by Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s grandson, “Growing Up Patton” by Benjamin Patton, published this year. Patton is the son of George S. Patton IV and grandson of Gen. George S. Patton Jr. Patton said one of his father’s favorite chaplains was Hunt because they both spent so much time in combat in Vietnam.

I just want to say congratulations, Chaplain Hunt, for your well deserved recognition on many fronts. It has been an honor working with you.

A bit of Romania in Kandahar

June 20, 2012

Tags: More chaplain stories, Chaplains in MMG

Recently, I came across this lovely letter written by Fr David Alexander, one of the chaplains in Miracles and Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Chaplains. Fr Alexander writes of conducting services in a church that was constructed for the Kandahar air base in Afghanistan. The beautiful wooden church is patterned after an Orthodox church in Romania and was designed by a Romanian U.S. Army engineer. It is said to be the only Christian church building in Afghanistan. Chaplain Alexander reports that it is quite a contrast to the Army tents he usually conducts services in!

I have heard from other chaplains who have seen and appreciated the chapel. Chaplain Shawn Found, who is currently deployed to Kandahar with the NJ National Guard (and who lives three doors down from me!), recently had a memorable experience at the chapel. Chaplain Found told his story to me:

"We had a soldier who lost his grandfather a few weeks ago. He wanted to light a candle in remembrance of him, but the other chapels on the base forbid open flame. So I told him, "Let's go to the Romanian Chapel. I'll bet they allow open flame."

Sure enough, they did.

The soldier took a few moments with his candle in front of a beautiful Icon, alone in the sublime Romanian Chapel. This is one of those moments I'll remember from this tour for years to come."

They laughed through their tears

February 16, 2012

Tags: Chaplains in MMG, More chaplain stories

In writing Miracles and Moments of Grace, there was no getting around the fact that many of my chaplains' experiences were of tragedy and sorrow.

Retired Army Chaplain Dick Martin, for example, tells a story of when he was stationed in rural Iowa after serving in Vietnam and was chosen by chance to perform the funeral of a fallen soldier. After arriving at the small Methodist church where he was to conduct the ceremony, he came to realize with a start that he had known the soldier well, a young man who was firm in his faith and proudly serving his country.

Chaplain Martin's was a poignant story about the comfort he could bring to the distraught parents of this young boy. He assured them of their son's strong faith and joyful spirit. He told them stories of their time together. He threw out the scripted funeral he thought he'd be conducting, and in its place, spoke from the heart about the young man he had been privileged to know.

The stories I heard while writing the book tore at my heart. I could have filled a book twice as hefty with stories such as these. But once in a while, I would hear a story that leavened the sorrow with humor for just a moment. These moments are crucial to the morale of deployed soldiers.

In fact, Chaplain Martin recently told an interviewer for an online oral history project, They Remember War, by Robert B. Gentry that in the military "everything is funny."

Chaplain Martin offers this anecdote as his most light-hearted moment of his time in Vietnam:

In Vietnam I would have my services usually after the evening meal, just as it's getting dark. Frequently at night we would get mortared by the Viet Cong. Shells would come flying in and hunker us down in holes our guys had dug. I'd usually have a service not too far from one of those holes.

I went through a whole series of evenings when, just as we would get going on the service, here would come the mortars, so we would jump down in the holes.

After several of those episodes, one guy said, "Chaplain, I think we ought to change the benediction. It ought to be 'In the name of the Father and the Son and in the hole we go!'"

Save the whales

February 15, 2012

Tags: More chaplain stories, Chaplains in MMG

Stan Giles, my chaplain who is in Antarctica right now, sent one last missive from McMurdo Station. It's no surprise that in this incredible place, Chaplain Giles is waxing poetic about creation:

"While this continent is one vast white wilderness (1.5 times the size of the 48 states), punctuated only by a scenic range of mountains separating West from East Antarctica, along the coast, where I’m at, there is some variety including the ocean which supports a few species of seabirds and penguins, a seal population (but no polar bears) and, now that the ice has opened up somewhat, some whales. Orca whales (the kind at SeaWorld) do range here, but the most common are minke whales – a smaller, thinner breed that seems to lope along the ice edge like a foraging land animal in absolutely no hurry.

A few days ago I traveled a short distance to a nearby research station operated by New Zealand. In that location the ice had opened up closer to shore and about a hundred yards out there was a hole about the size of a SeaWorld tank. In that natural enclosure were two whales, swimming around, enjoying the bright summer sun and the warm temperatures (it was about 25 F).

I took a few pictures but not wanting to spend that moment staring through a viewfinder, I slipped my camera in my pocket and just watched for the better part of ten minutes. Had I the eyes of Superman there likely would have been hundreds more, but these two were in my view, oblivious that I was staring at them as they glided along diving for a minute or so before returning to the surface, expelling a cold mist through their blowhole. It was like being at SeaWorld – only colder!

Then I had one of those rare, National Geographic moments as one of the whales stood up, so to speak, on a fin and looked over the ice for what seemed like a long time, but was certainly only second or so. I’m told they occasionally do that looking for a sleeping seal or a misguided penguin that they might snatch for a snack.

And in that moment I came face to face with what has to be one of the most gorgeous of God’s creatures. I was reminded of a song by Matt Redman, taken from Psalm 150, that has the refrain 'let everything that has breath praise the Lord' and I have that moment frozen in my brain.

That moment with those two whales is a gift that I’ll always be able to pull out of my experience bag and mentally replay and treasure.

It’s not rare to find some people who mock those committed to preserving the environment, including those who would 'save the whales,' relegating them to the extremist range. No doubt there are some like that, but my belief has always been that we are stewards of God’s creation as it speaks and even shouts of His glory. I call it the theology of ecology. Plus, does anyone really want to live in a dirty world?

Antarctica is unique because this is one part of the creation that cannot sustain life and therefore has remained quite literally pure. There is no other place where the entire ecosystem - air, water and land - has been almost entirely untouched by human hands.

As a result, here you are breathing the purest air on earth, with no pollution and no humidity – part of why the mountain range in front of me stands out with such clarity. While 43 miles in the distant, it seems so close. Divers tell me that the ocean here is the cleanest in the world with 400–500 feet of visibility.

Thus it is a wonderful laboratory for research. The Antarctica Treaty calls for the removal of all human debris and so quite literally all human trash and waste (and I mean all!) is packaged up and shipped back for disposal in the U.S. They are serious they are about preserving the environment.

While here I was able to attend some science lectures and engage with a number of scientists whose research brings them here. My background in such is minimal and so I could only understand them around the edges, but I am more and more convinced of a Creator God whose handiwork is intricately woven together on both a large and a small scale. Those two whales that I watched, in some way, speak of the Creator God – of which mankind stands as the pinnacle of His creation."

You can certainly see why Chaplain Giles had a story to share for Miracles and Moments of Grace . His story, A Single Death, is a moving tribute to his wife's brother, a Marine who died in Vietnam.

A homily from waaaay down under

February 2, 2012

Tags: Chaplains in MMG, More chaplain stories

One of the chaplains in Miracles and Moments of Grace is posted to Antarctica at the famous McMurdo Station for two months. Chaplain Stan Giles, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, is sending dispatches (otherwise known as e-mails!) home from the icy south. I thought you might like his latest missive, a homily, really.

"We all need to feel appreciated! I was reminded of that by a conversation I had a few days ago.

Each year fuel is brought in here on a vessel (with a huge ‘No Smoking’ sign!). There is a narrow window of time in which the sea ice melts sufficiently for an icebreaker to chop a path for two ships to safely traverse – a fuel ship and a later cargo ship. While the cost of doing business here is enormous, it would be even greater if everything had to be flown in versus a shipped in.

Anyway, the fuel ship docked and the chief engineer attended worship and invited a few of us for a tour. It was a fascinating tour and afterward the captain invited us to join them for dinner. This was a U.S. flagged ship (apparently a requirement when moving government goods) and it had a traditional captain’s dining room. The food was excellent.

The next evening I came to the chapel and there was a man sitting quietly in reflection. I didn’t bother him, but I wanted him to know I was around. A few minutes later he introduced himself as one of the two cooks on the ship. After he mentioned it, I recognized him. He lives full time in Florida, travels in 60-day increments and rarely gets to attend church. Surprised to see a chapel here at the bottom of the world, he took advantage of it for some private reflection.

I visited with him for a bit about his family, his faith, etc. and then he began telling me about his job and how he came to travel the Seven Seas cooking. He took great pride in his work – but it was work that demanded long hours and obviously long durations away from home. When we were finished I asked him a question – 'Do you feel appreciated by the Captain and crew?'

He admitted that it was a question he’d never been asked, and he paused to think of the right response. I was expecting a ‘no’ answer and was formulating a response when he picked his head up out of his worn hands, smiled and said, 'Actually I do. Almost everyone always says thank you!'

I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s writings, which tell of the importance of everyone in the church and, by extension, of any large complex organization. In watching this very complex organization work together to provide scientists a platform for research, I see daily the absolute importance of everyone – drivers, cooks, dishwashers, maintenance people, heavy equipment operators, cargo handlers, finance people, janitors – everyone here contributes in some way and absent any one of those groups, among others, things would soon grind to a halt and there would be no research.

I was reminded of just how powerful those two words are: "Thank you." Or as the Kiwis would say, 'Thanks, mate!'"

Corporal William Seo on Fox News

July 2, 2011

Tags: Chaplains in MMG, Humanitarian missions

One of the stories in Miracles and Moments of Grace comes from Chaplain Steve Satterfield and Corporal William Seo. It's a very fun story of how CPL Seo convinced the actor Gary Sinise to come to Afghanistan to hand out school supplies with him to local schoolchildren.

Sinise has long been known for his dedication to our troops and the countries in which they are deployed. He and author Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit, Unbroken) co-founded a nonprofit, Operation International Children, and he entertains troops with his Lt. Dan Band.

Yesterday, Fox News ran a segment on Sinise's new organization, The Gary Sinise Foundation, that will focus on military families and veterans in particular. In part of the segment, you can see Corporal Seo with Sinise, side by side.

For his part, CPL Seo started a nonprofit of his own, first called Project Help Afghanistan and now It is geared toward providing housing, education, medical and employment assistance to communities like those CPL Seo saw in Afganistan -- communities of poor families with no hope of supporting themselves. CPL Seo and his colleagues provide literacy classes, sewing machines and many other means of assistance to help people improve their lives.

Stop over at CPL Seo's website and see what you might want to do to help him out!

Chaplain Mariya in the news

May 27, 2011

Tags: Chaplains in MMG

Retired Navy Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) Chaplain Deborah Luethje Mariya is enjoying not only the sun in California, but her current moment in the sun.

Chaplain Mariya got a write-up in her local paper in Coronado, California, of her story in Miracles and Moments of Grace titled "A Marine's Prayer."

Her story is a touching one concerning a young Marine and the healing power of prayer. Chaplain Mariya has seen miracles up close and she has this advice to share: "Never doubt the power of prayer!"

Book chat

April 28, 2011

Tags: Book events, Chaplains in MMG

The library at the U.S. Army War College has graciously invited me to talk about Miracles and Moments of Grace at 11:45 a.m., on Monday, May 2.

The War College library is located on Carlisle Barracks in Root Hall, Building 122, lower level. For GPS purposes, the address is 122 Forbes Avenue. You can get directions to the library here.

I have the privilege of sharing the book event with Chaplain (Col.) Barbara Sherer, whose story "Out of the Ashes" appears in MMG. Chaplain Sherer is currently studying at the college. And my dear friend from college, Lawrie, is hosting me at her home.

I'm looking forward to the event. Hope to see you there!

Wedding on a golf course

March 25, 2011

Tags: More chaplain stories, Chaplains in MMG

Chaplain (Capt.) Jack Stanley, foreground
Many of the chaplains I interviewed for Miracles and Moments of Grace had so many good stories to tell that it was hard to choose just one.

That was the case with Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Jack Stanley, who kept a journal during his deployment and linked me to hundreds of pages! Still, this week I found yet another story that I wish he'd told me for the book.

It's a story of a bride and a groom and an impromptu wedding on a golf course!

Chaplain Stanley was participating in a golf tournament at Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, Calif., to celebrate the retirement of a friend from the military.

Enter Blair and Jessica, a couple who were slated to be married in June -- church, white dress, flowers and all. But Blair's deployment orders to Iraq came, and suddenly the wedding was off and time was short.

The distressed couple tried to arrange a marriage at the local justice of the peace, but the lines there were too long. Blair had just a few hours left in the country.

So, they tracked down the chaplain.

Chaplain Stanley maintains strict rules for marrying couples but he believed Blair and Jessica had all the elements of a successful marriage covered. "I could see they were absolutely sincere in their hearts," Chaplain Stanley says.

"I said, 'If you can get here, I will marry you. I don't know what hole I will be on, but you can jump on a cart and come find me,'" Chaplain Stanley remembers.

Chaplain Stanley alerted the staff at the golf course, and the wedding plans were announced over a loudspeaker. Players gathered around the putting green. A wedding photographer -- a person with a disposable camera -- stepped up.

So, there on the golf course, Jessica in jeans and a sleeveless top, Blair in his desert camouflage uniform, Chaplain Stanley in golf shirt and slacks, a wedding ceremony began.

Chaplain Stanley asked his friend who was retiring, the vice commander of a military hospital, to start the ceremony.

"Well folks," his friend said, "We've got a couple here whose wedding has just been taken from them. It is only right that we give them something to remember."

"I saw tears well up in the couple's eyes, and at that moment I felt at peace," Chaplain Stanley recalls. "Not knowing when they would be reunited, Jessica and Blair needed the bond of marriage."

The day was a true blessing for everyone involved, Chaplain Stanley says. For him, it was one of many events that have confirmed his calling as a chaplain.

Chaplain Rojas finds fame

March 18, 2011

Tags: Chaplains in MMG

One of the chaplains in Miracles and Moments of Grace, Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Richard Rojas, got his name in print again!

Check out the story of his adventure in a Honduran jungle here on the website of Dover Air Force Base.

Thank you, Airman 1st Class Samuel Taylor, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, for featuring Chaplain Rojas!

The Four Chaplains Memorial

February 4, 2011

Tags: Book events, Chaplains in MMG

Air Force Chaplain Capt. Christopher Reeder (l) and Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, Captain, Chaplain Corps, USN, Retired (r)
Yesterday, I had the great privilege of attending a memorial event sponsored by the Library of Congress History Project and the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The event commemorated the four interfaith chaplains who went down with the USAT Dorchester in WWII, after it was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The chaplains -- two Protestant, one Jewish and one Catholic -- selflessly helped others into the too-few life boats and when life jackets ran out, they took theirs off and handed them to those in need. They were among the 672 men who lost their lives that night.

You can read Dan Kurzman's terrific account of that act of heroism, a book titled The Four Immortal Chaplains. There were many eyewitnesses to the events of that night who all agreed on the basic facts of the chaplains' actions.

The event yesterday marking the 68th anniversary of the tragic event featured Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff as keynote speaker. Chaplain Resnicoff is one of the fifty-five chaplains I interviewed for Miracles and Moments of Grace. He told me his harrowing story of being present at the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.

It was a pleasure to spend the afternoon with Chaplain Resnicoff, and with another one of my chaplains, U.S. Air Force Chaplain Christopher Reeder, and his wife Jennifer. Chaplain Reeder told me the wonderful story of meeting Jennifer while he was deployed to Afghanistan.

For more photos from the event, head on over to my new Miracles and Moments of Grace facebook page.

What military folks do in their down times

October 27, 2010

Tags: Chaplains in MMG, Humanitarian missions

SPC William Seo of Project Help Afghanistan flanked by colleagues
In a recent column, Nicholas Kristof makes a case for decreasing troop size in Afghanistan in favor of increasing educational and development initiatives. In this debate, I would hate for the humanitarian efforts of our military to go unnoticed.

Over the past year, as I interviewed military chaplains for my forthcoming book, Miracles and Moments of Grace, (Leafwood, March 2011), I began sending boxes of goodies to my chaplains to share with their troops. On more than one occasion, the chaplain asked that I instead send boxes of school supplies to distribute to impoverished local schools and orphanages.

One young medic, SPC William Seo, was so disturbed by the poverty he saw around him that he started a charity, Project Help Afghanistan, that not only distributes boxes of school supplies, but also offers literacy classes and skills training for women so they can support themselves.

In their down times, our deployed military personnel are doing what they can to assist those in need. Their natural compassion is channeled into the kinds of activities that Kristof would like to see. Of course, I want to see every American serviceman and woman home safely and home soon. But while deployed, these men and women are building bridges of peace and future prosperity.

Suicides in the military

October 1, 2010

Tags: Chaplains in MMG

It was sad to read this article on the increasing rate of suicides among military personnel. Much of the increase is attributed to the increasingly long time military personnel are actively serving in war zones.

After speaking with military chaplains for my forthcoming book Miracles and Moments of Grace, I know without a doubt that the rate of suicides would be higher still without the presence of these spiritual advisors among our troops.

Several of my stories came from chaplains who were faced with the task of counseling troops who were intent on taking their own lives. One chaplain tells of talking down an armed soldier in a standoff that lasted over five hours. Another kept a seaman from throwing himself overboard into the screws of a moving ship.

It astounded me that these chaplains -- some of whom had no training in negotiating peaceful outcomes to suicidal situations -- were able to talk these despairing souls out of their drastic actions, sometimes even physically preventing them. Even though military personnel are moved around all the time, these chaplains all told me they made it a point to follow up and track the progress of these disturbed and battle-weary men and women. It made me realize, once again, the incredible role chaplains play in our nation's military.

Ministry in times of tragedy

September 23, 2010

Tags: Chaplains in MMG, Military chaplaincy

It was sad news this week to read of the crash of a helicopter in Afghanistan that killed nine U.S. troops.

In my forthcoming book, Miracles and Moments of Grace, I interview a chaplain who counseled the crew of a Chinook helicopter flying in tandem with a second helicopter that was shot down in Iraq. The crew helped extricate their buddies from the wreckage and treat the survivors until help arrived.

Later that night, one medic in particular needed to talk about what he'd seen and experienced that day. Everything about the incident haunted him -- the sights, the sounds, the smells. The chaplain credits this medic with saving the lives of perhaps a dozen servicemen. Yet he was traumatized by the task and he was in need himself.

This chaplain gave the medic room to mourn and prayed with him using the ancient and comforting Jewish prayer: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.

That's what our military chaplains do. They stand by, they listen, they offer a comforting arm, they weep with those who weep. It's not what you read about in the news, but the military chaplain brings grace and peace to the tragic incidents we do read about. You can be sure a chaplain was on the ground to minister to those in need after the crash of the helicopter this week.

Stories and more stories

September 8, 2010

Tags: Chaplains in MMG, Military chaplaincy

For the past year, I've immersed myself in stories told by military chaplains. My goal was to collect 50 stories for my upcoming book Miracles and Moments of Grace.

The stories my chaplains told were heartbreaking, touching and inspiring, and some even funny. Each time I interviewed a chaplain, I thought, "This is my favorite story!" The minute I hung up the phone or arrived back at home, I couldn't wait to start writing.

Well, my deadline finally came and I had to stop writing. But still, I continue to come across incredible stories of courage, bravery, steadfastness and godliness on the part of our military's chaplains. Just this morning, I stumbled on this page of stories on the Coalition of Spirit-filled Churches website. Especially riveting is Chaplain David Sivret's account of the bombing of the dining facility in Mosul, Iraq, on December 21, 2004, an attack that I heard of from another chaplain who was there that day.

The death of an Army chaplain

September 3, 2010

Tags: Military chaplaincy, Chaplains in MMG

This morning, I read the very sad news of the Army chaplain who was killed in Afghanistan. You can read it here.

Chaplain Dale Goetz was the first Army chaplain killed in action since 1970, during the Vietnam War. The Air Force has not suffered a chaplain's death since then, and the Navy may not have either.

While writing my upcoming book, Miracles and Moments of Grace, I spoke with military chaplains from all branches of the service. Several of them told me that military personnel often view them as something of a rabbit's foot, that if they have "the Chap" with them, all will be well. Even more than that, there's an unspoken belief that chaplains themselves are exempt from harm, because they have "an in" with God.

But it doesn't always work that way. One of my chaplains tells a story of riding in a convoy in which two soldiers were killed. He grieves their loss, and is grateful his life was spared. But he told me emphatically that he doesn't believe God protects him any more than anyone else, that his life is no more precious to God than anyone else's.

The last year that I have spent speaking with military chaplains has been the most exciting and the most rewarding year of my career. I have loved telling the stories of these chaplains who are charged with the spiritual well-being of our nation's military. Though I did not know Captain Goetz, I have come to know many of his fellow chaplains. I am sorry for the Goetz family's loss.

Stories from the hooch

July 10, 2010

Tags: Chaplains in MMG, Book release

"Ma’am, Thanks for contacting me. I’m currently sitting here in my hooch in Baghdad. It is nice to know someone wants to tell our stories."

These words of gratitude came to me from an Air Force chaplain deployed in Iraq last year. He had gotten word that I was writing a book of stories told by military chaplains, and he had one he wanted to tell me.

This chaplain's story is one of about 50 stories I'm telling in my book Miracles and Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Military Chaplains. My editor and I are working feverishly so my publisher, Leafwood Publishers, can meet the launch date of March 2011.

I've heard so many wonderful stories -- touching stories, heart-breaking stories, even funny stories. One chaplain talked down an armed homicidal soldier, and another composed a dying soldier's last letter to his family. One told me of how a simple Christmas card helped him overcome his homesickness in Korea. Another chaplain led a "whispered service" surrounded by the enemy in a Vietnamese jungle. One chaplain tells of being tracked down by the NCIS at the request of the woman who later became his wife!

Our military's chaplains are eyewitnesses to amazing displays of divine intervention, whether in small moments of grace or through events experienced as miraculous. It is these moments that I want to bring to life, so that these spiritual advisors and mentors to our nation's three million active and reserve duty military personnel can be recognized and celebrated.

I'll be blogging about my chaplains and their stories in the months to come. I'll also share some well-known and some lesser-known stories of chaplains whose brave and selfless actions landed them in the history books. I've never enjoyed writing anything as much as I have these stories. I can't wait for you to read them!