For God and for Country
In addition to our weekly blog pieces, Crown & Cross publishes a semesterly print issue, a compilation 9 to 12 pieces based around a singular theme. Since these pieces represent some of our best work, we want to give them greater circulation. So, starting this semester, our blog will post a new piece each Wednesday as individual essays in a thematic series. This semester’s weekly series will be titled “The Great Commission,” the theme of our most recent print issue. Below is the first of ten installments.
Nearly a century has passed since the U.S. Armed Forces established trained chaplains within their ranks. They began in 1918, 1 the final year of history’s bloodiest war to that point, and the nation’s top military minds had observed their soldiers under more duress than ever before. Facing the realities of death yourself is difficult, but seeing the bodies of your friends and neighbors mangled by shrapnel is another thing entirely. The traumas of war can do vicious things to a person’s spiritual makeup, whether that be from combat or from prolonged absence from family and loved ones. While most soldiers have faith in something—it has been said that “there are no atheists in foxholes”—giving them peace and confidence at home and through deployment was (and is) a job for professionals.
My dad, Captain Jerry Troutt, is one of those professionals. He has been in the army for almost 20 years and is currently in the late stages of his first overseas deployment. Seminary-trained and gospel-minded, my dad lives in Kuwait with the soldiers of his division and counsels them in their times of need. The motto of the Army Chaplains is Pro Deo et Patria, or “For God and for country.” Chaplains are called to serve first the Kingdom of God, meaning that they minister to, invest in, care for, and build up men and women in the name of Jesus Christ. The world may not see them as missionaries, but my dad and thousands of other Army Chaplains with him heed the call of the Great Commission and serve their country all at once.
Let me tell you about them.
A lot has changed since the first chaplains got their training in Fort Monroe, Virginia—we built the atomic bomb, for example—but the Army still employs about 3,000 non-combatant clergy who tend to the spiritual and psychological needs of some 480,000 people enlisted in the Army. If that 160-to-1 soldier-to-chaplain ratio seems daunting to you, it is: imagine being the only person tasked with counseling 160 twenty-somethings in a foreign desert, many of whom have left spouses and newborn children at home for months at a time—never mind the fact that radical Islamic terrorists could always be within striking distance. To many, the work may seem like a silly, if not fearsome, way to make a living. To my dad and many of his peers, however, it’s a dream job. Why do they love this demanding, dangerous trade?
In large part, they love it because it means serving their country in a way that dovetails with their gifts and abilities. They incorporate a pastoral role into an Army lifestyle, which means they get to serve the men, women, and families who serve our country. Any chaplain, my dad in particular, could have chosen to serve in a church after graduating from seminary, but chaplains have hearts for our soldiers and for the unique experiences and challenges those men and women face. Serving these people makes the job of a chaplain important. Yes, it is wonderful that they serve our country, but our country is not the primary means by which they are called.
How do the responsibilities of a chaplain play out in the day-to-day operations of a military unit? Typically, chaplains give psychological and spiritual counsel to soldiers, provide opportunities for them to grow daily through meetings or planned retreats, contribute to the local Army chapels by teaching and relationship-building, and generally serve the soldiers in whatever way they see best fits their company. This looks a little different depending on whether a chaplain is deployed. For example, before my dad was deployed to Kuwait, he would wake up around 5:00 AM to go work out in physical training with his company, then would eat breakfast and begin his day. During the week of meetings with other chaplains and their superiors, he would focus on being fully involved with the mission of his company, while also meeting with soldiers individually for counseling. 2 He serves soldiers in their final stages of life as well: my dad has visited hospitalized soldiers, relayed death notices to their families, and conducted their funeral services. Domestic chaplaincy and chaplaincy abroad each have unique job descriptions. When he was stationed in the U.S., my dad would give bi-weekly sermons at the local chapel on base, and build relationships with the soldiers who attended. He would also plan retreats for soldiers, much like something any minister would do, creating opportunities for them to get away from their normal routines to seek and learn about God in a different setting.
Being a deployed chaplain is a little different from pastoring a church. There are similar responsibilities, such as preaching at a church service weekly, but the stakes are higher. Soldiers are more stressed, and there are often more instances of psychological trauma and emotional instability in war than there are in civilian life. Because of their responsibility to the soldiers, some chaplains (my dad included) team up with certain businesses and nonprofits to provide support through gifts and other means. My dad partners with a few different places but the coolest one by far is Holy Joe’s Cafe in Connecticut. This church-sponsored program sends Keurig coffee machines and K-Cups by the thousands to my dad’s unit, and all of this is done out of love in the name of Jesus.
In large part, a chaplain is present to foster spiritual growth and build relationships with soldiers. They must be able to relate to the soldiers, which is why they go through the same combat training as everyone else: they want the soldiers to know that they relate fully to their experiences. For many chaplains, this connection comes with a deep compassion and care for soldiers which, if successfully conveyed, can lead to fruitful pastoral roles for chaplains in the lives of those around them. In order for chaplains to be effective, they have to be fully present in the lives of their soldiers and understand their struggles and pains. My dad’s soldiers can trust that he understands how hard it is to be married and have children you love and be 8,000 miles away from them, because he also lives it. He can relate to them even if they are young and struggling to make it or newly married with an infant or toddler to take care of while not making much money at all, because my dad was also in their position when I was a little girl. They can trust him, because even though he does not always have to be there, he regularly joins the soldiers for early morning runs at 4:30 AM or goes out on a Sunday morning to train in the deserts of New Mexico and pray with them. He invites families and couples who are struggling and considering divorce into our home so that they can ask and learn from my parents, examples of hope and redemption to couples who yearn for those things. My dad is a genuine example of what a chaplain should look like when effectively doing his or her job. He uses his God-given gifts, abilities, and passions in winsome ways to point his soldiers closer to the only source of a full life: Jesus Christ. He works daily to make disciples of those serving our nation, so that they too will be saved. In this way chaplains serve our country: not by simply being in the Army, but also by caring for the souls who make up those forces.
Though largely unknown and unorthodox, my dad and his fellow Army Chaplains are missionaries in the truest sense of the word: traveling into all areas of the world and interacting with people who live there. Chaplains not only disciple soldiers, who are then sent to serve internationally, but they also get to interact with civilians around the globe. My dad recently had the opportunity to talk with some Kuwaiti civilians—many of whom are Muslims who have never heard the gospel—at a local mall when they asked what he was doing there. He also has been responsible for the Army’s interactions with local customs while deployed through contact with local leaders in the area.
As the motto Pro Deo et Patria indicates, service of country is not the most important reason people like my dad do what they do. Serving God comes first in the motto, and it comes first in everything an Army chaplain does. They serve their country by serving the men and women who serve us. In that, they are obedient to what Jesus instructs the disciples to do in Matthew 28. We call this instruction the Great Commission because of the weight with which Jesus gives us the responsibility to go and make disciples of all nations and the authority to baptize and teach them all that He commands. Chaplains are making disciples of those who serve our nation. These soldiers go out into other nations to aid and protect. With a chaplain by their side to help guide them spiritually, they can fulfill this call with intentions that are more likely to be shaped by the love of Jesus Christ, therefore placing God above country and seeking to glorify Him in everything they do as soldiers. I am overjoyed in knowing that my dad has been chosen to do this job, and that he is a faithful and obedient servant for God and for country.
Taylor Troutt (CC ‘18) comes to New York from Houston, Texas, which often leaves her missing her family very much. She starts at second base for Columbia’s softball team, enjoys spending time with her friends, and would honestly be content to drop out of school to go home and craft with her mom.