Old Chaplains Don’t Die…They Just Redeploy Into Harm’s Way!

Bob 1In the military, it’s common for deploying service members not to be able to disclose their intended destinations.  But when retired US Air Force Chaplain Bob Hicks told me he was heading into a combat zone, I became a bit concerned.  He told me what he could, and then asked me not to say anything until he returned and could write a “sanitized” report.  I was relieved to hear that he was safely home.  Here’s a report he said we could post.

Chaplain Andy,

Last month I was part of a team requested by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to do a seminar for their Chaplains, spouses, and other first responders serving in the “war” with Russian “rebels”.  In attendance was also various Ukrainian officers and those serving the front in other volunteer functions. This war began in April of 2014 when a demonstration was held in the Maidan Square in Kiev. This was a protest against the Russian leaning government which was turning the Independence of Ukraine into a Russian satellite. The result was President Putin occupying the Crimea and Eastern territory of Ukraine. In little over a year of conflict over 5,000 Ukrainians were killed.  One Ukrainian chaplain told me one of his chaplains was killed while posting a Ukrainian flag on the top of one their buildings. The observing chaplain was tasked to pick up his body parts!

For some background: there is no official military chaplaincy in the Ukraine.  Most non-Orthodox pastors have little education and no training in PTSD or war-time stress. As volunteers, they are not paid and have no medical coverage if wounded, injured or killed. Few have full time paid pastorates, so when they go to the front, their churches must provide for their families. The chaplains are used to shuttle supplies for soldiers and other chaplains to the front. (I took over 12 Camelbacks to give to chaplains since they are hard to find there). They also are involved in doing body identifications and facilitating transport back to their homes.

Our seminar took place at the Kiev Theological Seminary, and had about 150 registered participants. Though the original idea for this seminar came from contacts between the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, NATO and EUCOM, the three organizations forming our team were from CRU (Campus Crusade Military Ministry), Branches of Valor, and the International Association of Military Chaplains. The three day conference went day and night with everyone housed in close proximity which facilitated many long evening discussion.  We were well care for by our hosts and the hospitality and appreciation was a sincere blessing.

I taught on Moral Injury, Wartime Stress, and Battlemind versus Homemind. The last one seemed very helpful for the spouses in attendance in helping them to understand how war changes a person. Other seminars dealt with PTSD, Spiritual Healing, and Family & Women’s Issues. CRU’s International director, former AF Academy grad and tanker pilot, LTC Martha Jones, (Ret) was a real hit with the women as she shared her experiences as a female in the military. Each of the presenters was given their own personal translator who shadowed us the whole time. So even during meals and after sessions we could continue discussions.

Chaplain Issues Addressed: We met with a Colonel from the Ministry of Defense who is trying to gain official recognition for a chaplain corps with benefits. He was very interested in how the US chaplaincy was able to do “pluralism”. This was a hot topic since the state Orthodox Church is very powerful and 80% of Ukrainians belong to the Orthodox Church. However, most of the volunteer chaplains who deploy to the front and stay there with the troops are either Protestant, Catholic or Independents. The war has thrown them all together but they have never worked together before. The Orthodox come to do services but then return home afterwards. The Evangelicals and Independents are really carrying the load and doing the daily ministry. Another issue we faced was the issue of Chaplains carrying weapons (and using them). Some were, others not. Many Baptists in Ukraine are pacifists and it was quite a hurdle for many to even serve in the military. So some are there without the consent of their churches. Their Ministry of Defense had never addressed the issue but we referred them to the Geneva Convention since both Ukraine and Russia are signatories.

Final Reflection: When I returned home my wife asked me to describe the event. It took me some time to process my thoughts. My short version is: it is close to being one of the richest ministry experiences in my life. The participants were hungry for anything we had to share. Their spiritual life was incredible even while facing the prospect of death or occupation by Russian soldiers. I considered it one of my greatest of privileges to be there and try to help this struggling country.  In a sense, Ukraine became an independent nation when the Soviet Union collapsed. But now they are having to fight for their independence. It reminded me of our own history as a rag-tag army of volunteers fighting against the premier army of Europe, and English regulars. But I believe faith in God and His providence prevailed for us… hopefully for Ukraine as well.

Prayer: I pray for the Ukrainian chaplains and their families. I pray for their Ministry of Defense to authorize their chaplaincy. I pray there might be a positive peaceful outcome with the Russians who also face many trials and casualties.

Photos: Maidan Square Cathedral (where it all started); Ukrainian/Russian Tanks facing off at War Memorial (Ukrainian in blue & yellow); My Moral Injury Presentation; Group photo of some chaplains & Ukrainian officers.

Chaplain, Colonel Robert HIcks, USAF (Ret)

Bob 3 Bob 2

Hail and Farewell

Over the past several months, CBAmerica Chaplaincy said “Farewell,” and thank you to several faithful servants of Christ completing long-term ministries.  Chaplain Jan Michael Nace retired back to local church ministry in New York State after 30 years of fruitful prison ministry in Canada and the USA.  Chaplain, Lt Col, David Beseler retired September 1, after 26 years in the Army Reserve and Air National Guard in Washington State, and an equal number of productive parallel ministry years with the Washington State Department of Corrections.  Chaplain (LTC) Bradley West retired from Active Duty Army the end of August with over 20 years of service.  His ceremony was held in the White Sands Missile Range Protestant Chapel, after which he moved to Central Oregon where he is pursuing further ministry in the local church.  I had the honor of attending the June 4 ceremony.  Chaplain Pat Kreitler completed 18 years of industrial and hospital chaplaincy in the NW.  She decided to retire and return to Maine following a lengthy and difficult recovery from an auto accident.  Pat wanted to depart in stealth, but I think it fitting to honor her service and invite your prayers for her further recovery and transition.  Let us give thanks for their 97 years of combined service!

In the same period, we said “Hail!” to five new individuals of our chaplaincy family.  Chaplain Beverly Hartz, is the new CPE Supervisor at the Puget Sound VA Medical Center in Seattle.  Rev. Mike Eubanks of Denver was endorsed for hospice/hospital ministry, Rev. Mike Lones of Illinois for hospital ministry, Rev. Kevin Brown for industrial chaplaincy in the NW, and Chaplain, 1st Lt Dan Wilton was commissioned into the Illinois Air National Guard.  Pray for these as they seek, begin, or continue ministry in their desired specialty and location.

Christian Life in an Equal Marriage World

That was the topic of a workshop led by Dr. Gerry Breshears, professor of theology (Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon) at the NWCB Men’s Roundup at Camp Tadmor, Oregon Sep. 11-13. Gerry urged attendees; pastors, chaplains, elders, and laymen, to use positive statements when discussing marriage in today’s world; because negative statements only inspire defensiveness which prevents meaningful dialogue. His definition: “Marriage: The publicly pledged, permanent, exclusive, covenantal union of one man and one woman.” (Genesis 1:27-31) More information on this topic and related issues can be found at www.breshears.net and http://1drv.ms/ZaJaCs. Dr. Breshears’ workshop was one of several that I and other CB chaplains attended during this action-packed weekend.

Winning in the Court of Public Opinion: Same-sex Marriage (What to Say and How to Say it: Public Affairs 101 for Military Chaplains)

As the dust settles on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) 26 June 2015 decision on OBERGEFELL v. HODGES, legalizing same sex marriage, many military chaplains are asking questions on how this landmark (earthshattering?) case impacts their ministry. Following is a summary of positive statements, supporting facts, and frequently asked questions (FAQs) that are based on the First Amendment, current DOD regulations, and recent Constitutional protections added under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 (NDAA’14), and previously affirmed by the 1986 case of Katcoff v. Marsh (Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit). Review these statements and keep this sheet handy when asked your opinion in public or in private. Remember: It is more effective to state your position in posit­ive terms, than what you are against. Negative statements tend to evoke a defensive response and shut down meaningful dialogue, preventing effective communication. Now, more than ever, a positive Christian voice needs to be heard. Be sure to clear all public media interviews with your Public Affairs Office prior to granting interviews as a military chaplain.

  1. Central Issue: No one should be required to deny their faith in order to serve in the Armed Forces. A.    Supporting Statements:
  1. No American, especially those serving in the armed forces, should be forced to abandon their religious beliefs.
  2. Chaplains and service members shouldn’t be denied the very constitutional freedoms they have volunteered to defend and are willing to die for.
  3. Military policy should center on what best protects our nation and the freedoms that service members volunteer to defend…and are willing to die for…to preserve these freedoms for all Americans.
  4. Supporting Facts:
  5. The First Amendment guarantees religious freedom for every American – including military chaplains.


  1. Our government was formed to be freedom’s greatest defender, not its greatest threat. Military chaplains don’t surrender their constitutionally protected First Amendment rights and abandon their religious beliefs:
  • When they join the military
  • When the Judicial Branch of Government “creates” a new constitutional right (same-sex marriage)
  • When the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government create policies in response to partisan demands from a vocal minority
  1. When chaplains are muzzled and prevented from sharing the full counsel of their faith, the spiritual health and well-being of service members will suffer.
  2. Forcing military chaplains to abandon their religious beliefs threatens the spiritual support they provide to Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and Airmen, and defeats the purpose of the chaplaincy.
  3. Military chaplains are called upon to perform or provide, (provide or provide for, i.e. facilitate) for every service member regardless of their faith background or orientation.
  4. The military chaplaincy is mandated by the US Constitution, as confirmed by the 1986 case of Katcoff v. Marsh heard by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
  5. Moving “Forward on Marriage:”

When asked your opinion on the 26 June 2015 decision on OBERGEFELL v. HODGES, legalizing same sex marriage, you may consider the following response:

The news from the Supreme Court was bad. Even so, this decision doesn’t end society’s discussion about the future of marriage and laws affecting the family. The Court’s decision demands that we:

  • Continue to promote a view of marriage that prioritizes children’s needs over adults’ desires,
  • Affirm the right of every child to know and be raised by both their mother and father,
  • Promote a legal framework that values lifelong marriages and discourages divorce, and
  • Promote the truth that the union of a man and a woman is the only objective definition of marriage that produces human flourishing.
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and Proposed Responses:Question: Now that the SCOTUS has ruled there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, will you perform same-sex ceremonies for gay service members?Answer: This question comes up frequently when people don’t have all the information about established law and policy.Here’s what you need to know:


  • Chaplains aren’t required to officiate at any ceremony that is counter to their religious or personal beliefs. This is consistent with established law and policy.
  • Chaplains provide for religious support to help service members find someone who can meet his or her spiritual needs, and they provide religious support.
  • In this case, I can’t perform a same-sex wedding ceremony, but I will direct them to someone who can.

Question: Now that SCOTUS has ruled there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, will you provide premarital and marital counseling to gay service members? Marriage retreats?

Answer: Approaches to counseling vary, case by case, but there’s never a case where a homosexual service member’s requests are ignored.

  • It’s important to remember that Chaplains provide for religious support and will help a service member find someone who can meet his or her spiritual needs.
  • Some chaplains will provide counseling to homosexual partners but make it clear at the outset that their counseling and pastoral care are based on a certain biblical and doctrinal perspective. Other chaplains will refer homosexual individuals to someone who can help with their specific needs.
  • The bottom line is that chaplains provide and provide for religious support.

Question: Now that SCOUTUS has ruled there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, is there a conflict between your oath of office (to support and defend the Constitution) and your religious beliefs?

Answer: No, not at all.

  • The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion for all Americans, including Chaplains.
  • Chaplains shouldn’t be denied the very constitutional freedoms they have volunteered to defend and are willing to die for.
  • The Supreme Court reiterated this guarantee in its recent marriage decision. “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection…” This includes Chaplains.

Building Disciples: Essential in a Small Church and a Large Church

Building DisciplesMeet two churches different in many ways: First Baptist Church of Tuba City, a little over a hundred in average attendance, mainly Native Americans ministering to Native Americans and Palm Valley Church (two campuses in Goodyear and Buckeye), about 4,000 in attendance, primarily younger and a somewhat racially diverse generation ministering to a primarily younger and diverse generation.

Despite their differences, these churches share a common passion for discipleship. When Mike Hudson, the new pastor of First Baptist Church, was asked how he sees discipleship, he views it as intentionally partnering with another believer to help that person grow in relationship with the Lord so that he or she can help others do the same. When Ryan Nunez, lead pastor of Palm Valley Church, was asked the same question, he responded that Christian discipleship is when a mature believer goes life on life with a less mature believer and helps that person grow towards becoming a reproducing disciple of Jesus Christ.

Do you see something in common here? Relationship and reproduction! No matter what the size of the church, these two elements form the backbone of the discipleship process. Paul conveys these ideas to Timothy when he says, “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses (that’s relationship) entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (that’s reproduction).” (2Tim 2:2)

Both pastors see discipleship as a growing process of counting the cost and following Jesus Christ. When asked what this process looked like in his church, Ryan says that at Palm Valley they first set forth a clear definition that a disciple is someone who trusts Jesus Christ for forgiveness, is being changed by Christ every day, and who is committed to the mission of Christ. Also, and very importantly, he or she reproduces by making more disciples. A mature disciple is a reproducing one. Therefore, at Palm Valley every mature follower of Jesus is trained to combine intentional shepherding in a relational environment using a reproducible process to make disciples who make disciples.

Mike, when asked the same question, pointed out that though he has been at this church for only a short time, he is already focusing on building relationships. He believes discipleship, which he too defines as disciples who are making disciples, must begin with relationship building. In order for this to happen, consistent time with other believers in the word and everyday life is essential.

Two different types of churches, different sizes, different target groups, but committed to same purpose: developing disciples through relationship and reproduction.

By Dwight Hunt, SWCC Church Health and Placement Consultant