One day a fellow chaplain at Fort Lewis, Jeff Van Ness, received an unexpected and after-hours call. The Soldier Readiness Center was on the other end. “Chaplain Van Ness, we have a family member here who is in distress. Please come! This is an emergency!”
Now I suppose protocol might dictate that Chaplain Van Ness respond thusly, “I’m sorry, but it’s after duty hours. You need to call the JBLM Command Center and they will contact the On-Call Duty Chaplain for you.” But Chaplain Van Ness got dressed, returned to Lewis and met with the distressed family member.
As it turned out, the family member was the husband of a Soldier who had a command sponsored tour in South Korea. Because of some family issues the husband was issued an “Early Return of Dependents” by his wife’s commander. He flew into SeaTac Airport and rode the bus to the Waller Hall Welcome Center. He arrived with no family, no friends, no lodging, no ties to anyone at Fort Lewis, no way to get home to Atlanta, and with just a few dollars in his pocket.
What do you do for such a person? He was a dependent family member, but his wife belonged to 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, not to Fort Lewis.
Well, that night Chaplain Van Ness bought him a meal and put him up in a hotel. And over the next day and a half brought him to every helping agency available: ACS, AER, Reassignments, IG, etc. He bought him breakfast, lunch, and dinner. By Friday Chaplain Van Ness was able to get him a bus ticket to Atlanta, GA. Then, after buying him some food for the long ride home, Chaplain Van Ness brought him to the bus station and helped him carry his luggage onto the bus.
But just as he saw the man off, he noticed another Soldier who had just stepped off a bus and was looking quite lost.
“Soldier, can I help you?” Chaplain Van Ness asked him.
“Sir, I just got here and I’m supposed to report to Lewis by tonight.” Needless to say, the two hopped into Chaplain Van Ness’ car. Together, they drove to the Welcome Center where the soldier was signed in and in-processed.
Now I am sure that Chaplain Van Ness had other things to do with his time during the second half of last week. I know personally that he’s heavily engaged in organizing and facilitating Modular Zero, Two, and Eight of I Corps’ reintegration program. He regularly conducts mobilization/demobilization briefs to the steady flow of Soldiers going to and returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. And he also briefs all the Soldiers processing through the Soldier Readiness Center. He is, also, the OIC for the JBLM Main Chapel. Further, Chaplain Van Ness is pastor of the Protestant Liturgical Congregation. Additionally, he’s also project officer for a dozen projects at any given time. And Chaplain Van Ness also has a family and, like most other chaplains, has to fight for time to spend with them.
Why then did he sacrifice so much of his energy and time to help a transient family member, plus another Soldier who happened to cross his path? Was he ordered to do so by his commander or his chaplain supervisor? Were his actions in response to the demands of the Army Family Covenant or some other Army program? No.
Chaplain Van Ness goes the extra mile every day because of a Higher Authority and a higher calling. He helped Soldiers and family members because he has a heart for helping people. God gave him that pastor’s heart and gave him his marching orders as well. That’s what motivated him to help.
Of course, the CLS and COLS metrics will not record Chaplain Van Ness’ actions. His actions were from the heart. His actions join the thousands of other good deeds by hundreds of other military chaplains. These chaplains are motivated by the God who calls chaplains to minister to servicemembers and their families. Data collectors will never tally the vast majority of their good works. Nor will the “right people” notice those actions. But they are having a profound positive effect upon the military community all the same.
This should be an encouragement to commanders and leaders. Chaplains are passionate about helping their servicemembers and do not need a taskmaster to make them do their job. Chaplains only need their commanders’ support. God will give them all the energy and motivation they need to do the work He’s called them to do. The apostle Paul explained his own drive for doing God’s work in these terms: “For this purpose I labor, striving according to His power which so mightily works within me” (Colossians 1:29).
Dear Father in heaven, please bless our chaplains. Please raise up godly men and women to be Your ministers to our Armed Forces. Help them, empower them, guide and direct them, and use them to bring servicemembers to God and God to servicemembers. Please encourage them when they take an emotional beating and renew their strength to do Your holy will. Amen.