It’s quiet. It’s early. My coffee is hot. The sky is black. The world is yet asleep. The day is coming, but the dawn is hours off. The calm of solitude in my morning drive will be replaced by the pounding feet of soldiers on a race to morning chow. They know they must run miles before they eat. In the air rings the familiar cadence, the unforgettable sound of the dedicated drill sergeant. The refuge of the early morning will be invaded by the yet-untold problems and crises of the soldiers of the 1st BN 34th Infantry Basic Combat Training. For the next 12 hours I will be exposed to every conceivable problem and issue known to fallen man. But I must always be fresh and ready with an encouraging word that comes from my own personal relationship with God—for I am the chaplain.
A U. S. Army unit is my flock and congregation. Our mission is to train initial entry soldiers in Basic Combat Training. These soldiers come from every walk of life and every corner of America. It is our job to mold and develop within them the spirit of a soldier, an individual prepared to meet the challenges of the mission of the Army today. My mission is simple: to bring God to the soldier and the soldier to God—for I am the chaplain.
I am the chief adviser and confidant for my commander. He looks to me to advise him in all areas concerning religion, morals, morale, and spiritual fitness. I also help him to have a sense of the command climate, quality of life, and safety issues in the unit. I must be his eyes and ears in the unit, helping him to be more effective as a commander. Therefore, I must look to the Lord for His wisdom and direction as I fulfill this role—for I am the chaplain.
I must be physically fit to be where the soldiers are, engaging myself with them as they train, participating in the training when possible. I crawl when they crawl, I walk when they walk, I run when they run—for I am the chaplain.
I am a staff officer. I must be able to work with other staff heads in order to get the work of the Unit Ministry Team done. I must maintain my military bearing and be the best example of a military officer. Others may be able to slip, but not me—for I am the chaplain.
Finally, I am a soldier. I must be able to perform and conduct myself as a soldier. I must be a leader for those to whom I minister. I must follow in the finest tradition of those who have gone before me. For my wife and me, this is our mission field. We are compelled to go. The challenges are ever present: drug problems, alcoholism, racial confrontations, sexism, financial problems, changing morals, social upheaval, an ever-changing Army. This is my ministry; this is what I do—for I am the chaplain.
Maj. Gary Fisher is a chaplain endorsed by the FBFI and is currently serving as Senior Chaplain Trainer/Mentor, Operations Group, Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana. At the time of original publication, then Capt. Fisher served at Fort Jackson, Columbia, SC.
(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)