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National Guard chaplain wants pastors to join ranks

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–The Army National Guard needs more people like LTC Bill Morgan of the 62nd Troop Command in Montgomery, Ala. Specifically, the Army National Guard is in need of accredited ministers of divinity, at least 38 years old who meet the Army weight standards and can pass its physical fitness and medical exams.

“We have a desperate need for chaplains in the Army National Guard,” Morgan said.

Chaplains minister to soldiers and their families, conduct worship services in armories as well as in the field and provide pastoral care to soldiers in crisis situations.

It’s a job that Morgan has had for the past 30 years, even longer than his 24 years in the pastorate or the three years he has been serving as director of missions for the 29 churches in the Autauga Baptist Association.

It’s been enough time for Morgan to be on active war duty — he served seven months in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm — and more than enough time to learn the fine art of what Morgan characterizes as the essence of chaplaincy, “the ministry of presence.”

“A chaplain,” explained Morgan, “is a calming influence, even in storms, because of his anchor in Christ.”

In his current chaplaincy position, Morgan oversees nine other chaplains, including a group chaplain, brigade chaplain and battalion chaplains. Morgan compares the battalion chaplains to pastors who minister to local churches.

“I like being long-term,” Morgan said, “relating with people who many times don’t have good relationships with their churches because they’re gone so much.”

Chaplains establish relationships with soldiers in their units during monthly drills and annual training. During his latest drill, Morgan visited with a soldier stricken with cancer.

Because Morgan’s unit is a command unit, the current war does not directly affect his ministry, but whenever a unit is mobilized, a chaplain normally goes along with his unit. As ministers, chaplains do not carry weapons or engage in combat but serve to help other soldiers cope with any fear.

Chaplains also serve on their commander’s staff to insure the constitutional right of free expression of religion for all soldiers and to advise the commander on matters of ethics, morale or other spiritual matters facing the unit.

During the Gulf War, Morgan and other chaplains helped advise commanders on the Muslim religion.

As units are mobilized, chaplains’ ministries become extended, Morgan noted. “Then you’re not just responsible for soldiers in your unit but those around you, too.”

During war, military personnel operate with a heightened sense of life and death, Morgan said, but chaplains, by nature of their role, are already accustomed to it.

“I think that’s one thing about a chaplain; they deal with life-and-death situations routinely,” Morgan said.

Interest in spiritual matters always heightens during crises, Morgan said. But chaplains also minister to soldiers during high-risk training exercises such as ones conducted at Fort Benning, Ga. Morgan was there this summer to minister to soldiers in the absence of an assigned chaplain. The exercises, like so many military maneuvers, are inherently dangerous, and soldiers are aware of it.

“Safety has to be in everyone’s minds because people could get hurt very quickly,” he said.

Morgan said there are some common misconceptions about a National Guard chaplain’s ministry, including the idea that chaplains are restricted in their messages.

“You’re not,” Morgan said, noting he has preached the same sermons to church congregations and, during drills, he has shared the FAITH gospel presentation that is popular among churches.

The National Guard does not require a chaplain to leave the pulpit on Sundays during monthly drills if they are pastors of a local church. Therefore, Morgan encourages pastors who meet the requirements to enter the chaplaincy.

The need for chaplains, he said, is great, particularly because as many as 1,000 World War II veterans die daily. Chaplains conduct funeral services, counsel families of soldiers and minister to the soldiers themselves as they deal with the pressures of daily life and, at times like these, the threats of war.

They become what Morgan characterizes in military terms: “a force multiplier. They add value to the troops.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CALL FOR CHAPLAINS.

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  • Kima Jude