FORT HOOD, Texas (BP) — The last few weeks since Fort Hood’s tragic shooting on April 2 have been difficult for Chaplain Maj. Jim Fisher. His duties included accompanying the family members of Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson, who died in the shooting.
But Fisher is not complaining; he sees it as an “honor” to serve. The night before the funeral, he reported to his command: “Tomorrow will be a day of great emotion — mourning, sadness and bitterness. Yet, amidst the emotional clouds, the sun will shine light upon that which is true, noble and irreplaceable — service to others, at any cost.”
He had prayed with Ferguson’s immediate and extended family in the waiting area of Tampa’s airport to prepare them for when the flag-draped casket was rolled from the plane, a moment he described as “breathtaking.”
“As we gathered around to share stories and thoughts, the jet engines continued to run, reminding us of the call to leave loved ones in service of our beloved nation,” he reported. “I was honored to witness this moment in history.”
He then placed his fellow chaplains and command at the scene of the funeral and burial by describing details: “Army [officers] stood proudly. The Freedom Riders took their post at the church and at the Florida National Cemetery. We were honored to see the casket placed in its final resting spot, after the Dallas Cowboys logo was affixed to the top.”
Fisher added: “It will take all the attendees time to process what we witnessed today. Yet, love for country and the military towered above all. Simply put — we are one family.”
That sense of family has been a central theme in discussions with the 18 chaplains endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention and resourced by the North American Mission Board. They serve among some 100 chaplains at the sprawling post of Fort Hood.
Keith Travis, NAMB’s team leader for chaplaincy, called military chaplains “evangelists, teachers, preachers, counselors who share the love of Christ in peace and war.”
“Soldiers who serve as chaplains are trained in mass casualties,” Doug Carver, executive director of chaplaincy at NAMB and a retired two-star general who served at the Pentagon as U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, said. “They are functioning at a high level of vigilance and response. They are trained in combat. This is what they do, and they do it well.”
SBC chaplains encounter opportunities to interact with those from many other faiths. For example, Chaplain Lt. Col. Stanley Allen, who also served at Fort Hood during the 2009 massacre, is deputy installation chaplain for the post. He coordinated efforts among the various faith groups during this month’s tragedy.
But it was Chaplain Maj. Fisher’s unit in which the April 2 shooting occurred. Another unit also was involved. Of the four lives lost, three were in Fisher’s unit, including the shooter.
On that afternoon, Fisher was carrying out his normal duties in the brigade building when suddenly the voice volume increased. “I knew without a doubt something serious was happening,” Fisher recalled. “I heard ‘active shooter’ and the orders to stay indoors. I realized the shooting was happening in my unit.”
Fisher has spent 28 years in the military, including nine years as an Air Force reserve chaplain and a one-year deployment to Afghanistan. As soon as he learned the outcome of the rampage, he knew the weeks to follow would be intense.
“A chaplain is often thrust into situations — often, crises — devoid of relationships,” Fisher, who has been an active-duty chaplain for seven years, said. “[It] … requires a unique skill set, the ability to walk through the open doors of hurt, pain and tragedy.”
Although he spent time comforting tearful family members, Fisher emphasized that “sitting with, not talking to, can be incredibly powerful.”
Fisher said his goal was to offer support and ensure that those affected “were now safe so that personal ministry could be engaged.”
How does he handle the inevitable questions, such as why did God allow this tragedy?
“I haven’t fielded those questions … not yet,” he answered. “I believe the next few weeks will tell a different story.”
As a military chaplain, he knows his work related to the Fort Hood shooting is far from over.
Carolyn Curtis, an author and editor who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).