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Southeastern students train for military chaplaincy

FT. JACKSON, S.C. (BP)–Five Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary students spent 82 days this summer away from their families, enduring 17-hour days full of push-ups, crawling, walking, running, hiking, marching, climbing, rappelling, spit-shining their boots and making their beds with geometric precision just to earn the right to minister in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then there were the classes on military etiquette, pastoral care and counseling, including the proper way to notify families of military casualties, and how to lead a worship service non-offensive to people of various faiths.
So why were these students doing this when none of their efforts went toward seminary credit? Call it the U.S. Army’s way of confirming God’s call to be a military chaplain.
Second Lt. Ken LeBon, a second-year master of divinity student at Southeastern and member of the Army Reserves, was one of the students training for the military chaplaincy this summer at an Army base in Ft. Jackson, S.C. The training regime ran from June 2 through Aug. 22.
LeBon, who was an enlisted soldier in the Army for 11 years before enrolling at Southeastern in Wake Forest, N.C., said the military chaplaincy school is an essential accent to seminary training because it helps the future chaplain relate to the soldier.
LeBon said he hopes his military experience will open doors for ministry that other chaplains entering the military for the first time might find closed.
“I’m always going to remember that I’m a soldier,” he said. “I’m always going to be a soldier. I am going to be with the soldiers, be visible to them, be where they are, doing what they’re doing, so I earn credibility and approachability. I am going to be as Christlike as I possibly can.”
LeBon, who served his country in the Persian Gulf War, said he hopes to active duty in the Army as a chaplain to show soldiers their faith is not to be compartmentalized to a Sunday ritual outside of the stressful environment of the military.
“You get people who are frequently put at the end of their rope,” he said. “We just try to make sure when people see us, they see Christ and know there’s something different about us that makes them ask, ‘Why?'”
Four other Southeastern students training for the military chaplaincy in Ft. Jackson, S.C., were members of the Army Reserves. Second Lt. David Trogdon served eight years in the Army before enrolling at Southeastern; Capt. Alan Pomaville, nine years in the Army; and Capt. Jeff Cartee, 11 years in the Army. Second Lt. Josiah Mazzell, meanwhile, got his first taste of military life this summer.
Two other students currently enrolled at Southeastern are training for military chaplaincy posts with the Navy and Air Force. Second Lt. Jason Botts, a second-year student in the master of divinity program, is a member of the Air Force Reserves. And Lt. Junior Grade Ted Williams, a member of the Navy Reserves, graduated in May from Southeastern with a master of divinity degree and is now pursuing a degree in counseling at the seminary.
The chaplaincy commission of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Home Mission Board, now called the North American Mission Board, has been endorsing qualified chaplains since the brink of World War II in 1941. Currently more than 2,500 endorsed Southern Baptist chaplains serve in all 50 states and U.S. territories and in more than 25 countries. Of that number, 246 chaplains received their biblical and theological training at Southeastern, according to the seminary’s count.
In addition to the military, Southern Baptist-endorsed chaplains minister in other agencies including health care facilities, correctional institutions and other housing facilities as well as business-industrial sectors.

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  • Lee Weeks