Feature

The Greybeards

Military chaplains serve God and country

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“We don’t fix blame; we fix problems.”

Around the room commanders nodded as my husband, Chaplain (LTC) Robert (“Bob”) Wido, gave a thought for the day on grace in leadership at a weekly briefing of senior commanders, fondly nicknamed “greybeards.”

With a broad range of assignments around the world under their belts, these commanders have seen policies and trends come and go. Promoted to leadership to solve problems, only their families know how often they burn the midnight oil. They have perspective. They have earned respect.

Senior chaplains, greybeards in their own right, have a unique opportunity to minister among them. Bob, a lieutenant colonel, is currently the highest ranking U.S. Air Force chaplain endorsed by The Alliance. He is the installation chaplain at Joint Base San Antonio–Randolph (formerly Randolph Air Force Base) in Texas.

A military chaplain serves God and country. An individual cannot become a military chaplain without proper endorsement by a recognized endorsing body, normally a denomination. They must meet all the requirements for that endorsing body as well as for the military. Opportunities abound for a C&MA chaplain to preach God’s Word and lead Bible studies in the protestant chapel on military installations. Alliance military chaplains pray for the sick and those in distress. People find Jesus and get baptized. Discipleship takes place. However, a military chaplain’s role differs from that of a pastor of a local church.

All military chaplains, while fully retaining their personal convictions and the uniqueness of their endorsing religious body, represent the right to freedom of religion guaranteed to every member of the U.S. armed forces. For example, during deployment in the Middle East at Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims, Bob recommended against a mandatory 10-kilometer run in temperatures topping 100 degrees. Stationed in Europe, our wing commander consulted with my husband when the full staff and their family members at a Middle Eastern embassy were expected to evacuate to the U.S. base there. Since Muslims were likely to be in that group, a suitable prayer location was made available. At Yom Kippur and Passover, Bob informs the commanders that Jewish troops should leave work in time to be home by sunset.

Warrior care is an air force chaplain’s highest directive from the Chief of Chaplains Office. This is ministry away from the chapel building, directed to airmen at the flight line, an office or elsewhere at work. U.S. Air Force military members, no matter their religion (or lack of it), have complete confidentiality with a chaplain. Because military chaplains do so much counseling, they are a good barometer of the morale of the troops. Chaplain Wido will tell a commander when the unit has a lot of discouraged people or that a certain policy is taking a heavy emotional toll.

Chaplains often present seminars or send out information about a morale concern. Suicide rates in the military have been alarming, and commanders have begun providing resiliency training, involving chaplain expertise.

To be a chaplain to a commander or a general is a humble, honored calling. A senior chaplain serves a military commander as an advisor about religious customs and policies, especially concerning military mission impact; a barometer of the spiritual needs of the troops; and a comforter and a provider of spiritual care for the commander.

Military commanders carry a heavy burden. They are responsible for the well-being of their troops but can share their personal concerns with a select few so as to not worry those under their command or cloud confidence in leadership. Senior military leaders need a listening ear, moral support and pastoral care. The senior military chaplain is often in a unique position to meet those needs.

A senior chaplain should unapologetically ask his commander in private, “How are you doing, sir?” A general told me of being at the Pentagon charged with a daunting task. Seeing a chaplain he had been stationed with, he rushed over and confided, “Please pray for me, brother. I am in over my head right now and need wisdom from above.” The chaplain put his hand on the general’s shoulder and prayed. The general sensed immediate peace and support.

A couple of years ago a first sergeant called my husband to come that day to a “Porch Call.” (In San Antonio, it is warm enough year-round for a commander to speak from a porch to the company assembled outside). Bob occasionally was called there for spiritual needs but to be summoned at short notice with no further explanation was unusual.

The general told nearly two thousand people gathered in the yard that he just learned he had a golf ball–sized brain tumor that required surgery the next day. The prognosis was uncertain. All were stunned, since he was a vibrant, fit man. He called Chaplain Wido to come forward. Bob laid a hand on him and prayed for skilled hands in surgery and strong recovery but, more importantly, for healing from the One who is our Creator and for the peace that comes from Him. Staying for prayer was optional, but it appeared that the entire company remained. Many agreed in prayer, saying “Yes, Lord” and “Amen,” some with a lifted hand and others with tears brimming over as the respected leader was brought before God.

A month after successful surgery, the general returned to the office, often sharing lessons he was learning through the journey. Two years later, Bob gave the prayer of invocation at his retirement. Bob mentioned the day he had prayed for the general’s healing and reminded the crowd of what God had done. A retirement ceremony celebrates years of faithful service, but this day was also a celebration of life.

Military commanders live in challenging times. Today’s military bears budget constraints and manpower restrictions. Decisions are made daily to work harder and smarter. In a vacillating political climate, commanders require discretion in all they do and say. A greybeard commander is blessed with a greybeard chaplain to advise him or her on military religious concerns and needs and to bring comfort. Giving pastoral care to these great leaders is an incredible privilege.

We Also Serve

Walking in my neighborhood recently, I was deep in prayer for my husband. The stress that recent cuts in budget and staff was having on him and his ministry had driven me to the Lord. Oblivious, I heard my name called, twice. It was Janelle Ginsburg, another Alliance chaplain’s wife, on her morning walk.

Janelle and I live in the same neighborhood and are leaders of Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) at Joint Base San Antonio–Randolph. Janelle’s husband, Chaplain (CPT) Robert Ginsburg, serves the army at San Antonio Military Medical Center.

Since the world of active-duty Alliance chaplaincy is small, it is unusual for several to live so close to one another. In fact, of the 19 active-duty military chaplains currently endorsed by The Alliance, five serve in San Antonio. Our endorser, Chaplain (LTC) Bob Collins (U.S. Army retired), and his wife, Denise, also live in Texas.

A plaque I received from a spouses’ club states, “We also serve.” Truly, chaplain spouses serve the Lord and military people alongside our husbands. We are listeners and prayer warriors and provide other support. We’ve talked to our spouses when they were covered in desert sand on deployment. We can move a household on a month’s notice. We feel at ease in a liturgical service or swaying to a gospel praise chorus.

We roam the world in the chaplaincy, at times feeling far from Alliance fellowship. These kindred co-laborers encourage us in this vital ministry. This is a unique season of blessing as we also serve in San Antonio.

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