Chaplain Sean Callahan, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, NC
One of the challenges of military ministry is the fight to stay relevant. For the Chaplain, it becomes necessary to expand our sphere of influence beyond the typical services that accompany religious support. My commander has three big priorities: “Build the Team, Care for the Team, and Develop the Team.” The question, then, is how can I help build and develop the team in ways that are not only spiritually, but culturally relevant to leaders? I pondered and prayed for months, seeking some way to synchronize my gifts and passions with what the needs were around me.
The answer came in January in the form of running. For the 82nd Airborne Division, physical fitness is of the utmost importance. It keeps Paratroopers ready for battle by training the body and mind to operate under intense stress and fatigue. Up to this point I had done well with running with the faster unit ability groups, which in this culture equates to instant credibility. A Chaplain who can hang tough during difficult workouts is accepted. A Chaplain who can push young Paratroopers to go even harder is respected yet more. It struck me: what if I could gather together a team of Paratroopers every week to run, and use that time as an opportunity to share a devotional thought from Scripture?
I sensed this is what God was challenging me to do, so I put together a Physical Training (PT) Plan and gave it to the CSM (Command Sergeant Major). The plan laid out 3 months of weekly runs, all during PT hours in the morning. The idea would be that Paratroopers could come and PT with the Chaplain instead of their units. The training culminated in a half marathon in March. Paratroopers could sign up for the race and run it as a team. The CSM bought into it right away and before we knew it, the Gray Falcon Run Team (we are the “Gray Falcons” of the 2BCT Falcon Brigade) was birthed. Every Friday, or last duty day of the week, we met for distance runs ranging from 6 to 13 miles. The group started small but began to grow.
The Chapel service I am a part of wanted to get involved too. They sponsored run team t-shirts with the Chapel logo on the sleeve and our unit crest on the front. Runners who were committed to the team and trained regularly with us would get a t-shirt to wear as an authorized uniform for PT and races. The t-shirts did more than I expected to solidify our identity as a team. Enthusiasm grew, participation increased, and team members talked about “our” team all the time…and a whole slew of other Paratroopers bemoaned the fact that I wouldn’t give them a cool t-shirt unless they ran.
On March 24th, 5 of the team members signed up to run the All-American Mike to Mike Half Marathon. It was an incredible achievement for them and was something the Command Team highlighted to their superior officers. What I found more amazing is that the runners willingly listened to the devotional words, and we often continued in conversations about the Bible and spirituality throughout the day. To my surprise, Paratroopers began changing personal habits to fit the goals and identity of the team: they started drinking less, changed their diet, began running on their own, and even came out to “fun runs” on the weekend where we would run the river trail, and then grab coffee at Panera to talk about life.
Currently, we have 14 Paratroopers who regularly attend the runs, and it is growing. I have built some very deep relationships with the guys and have had numerous opportunities to share the Gospel message. More encouragingly, the Command sees it as something that adds great value to our Squadron as a whole, as it prepares Paratroopers physically, mentally, and spiritually to lead in their respective units. Sometimes it seems like they are more excited about it than I am! We are now training for a half marathon in June, and our first full marathon in the fall. We will also be representing the Squadron during the 82nd’s All American Week and 10 Mile Team run competition in May.
My prayer is that God continues to grow the team by bringing in Paratroopers who share a passion for running, so that we might be able to build healthy, authentic community and share God’s love with them. Lord-willing through this, many Paratroopers will put their faith in Christ, and the others who already know the Lord will be discipled into a more missional lifestyle.
Pray for Chaplain Callahan as he leads his soldiers to a long-distance relationship with Jesus Christ. Remember Katie as she is due to give birth to their first child the end of May.
For more stories by and about CBAmerica Chaplains go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. For information on endorsement as a chaplain, email Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy at firstname.lastname@example.org.