LIHUE, Hawaii (BP) – Talk to Army Chaplain (Col.) Brent Causey long enough and you’ll learn his ultimate hero is not Gen. David Petraeus, retired commander of forces in Afghanistan, now CIA director and his boss for three years as they both served in the war-torn country – although Causey brims with admiration and respect for the four-star general.
Causey’s real hero is Susan, his wife of 28 years, the mother of his two grown sons – both college graduates – and until recently, the woman the war separated him from for the past 13 months. When their first son was only six months old, Brent was deployed to Honduras. When his second son was six months old, Brent was serving in the Gulf War.
“When Brent’s gone, I have to figure out what to do with my life,” says Susan. “You have to keep going because you have responsibilities. I had my sons to take care of.”
Causey, 54, who just returned from Afghanistan to take a new assignment with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C., was one of a few dozen military chaplains who recently attended the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) annual Southern Baptist Pacific Chaplains Conference in Lihue, Hawaii. (SBC Chaplains, wives ‘recharge’ at conference.)
“I try to go to one of these NAMB conferences each year because it’s so important for us to stay connected with our denomination,” said Causey. “The conference is important for chaplains because of the collegiality among the chaplains. They know they have someone to go and talk to and get encouragement. There’s a trust factor. Otherwise, you can be isolated out there on an island, which is detrimental to your ministry.”
U.S. Army and Southern Baptist chaplain (Col.) Brent Causey, left, and an unidentified fellow officer travel via helicopter to visit Regional Command North troops in Afghanistan.
Over his 13 months in Afghanistan – serving as top chaplain to Gen. Petraeus – Causey also supervised 186 chaplains throughout the Afghanistan war theater. He also was Petraeus’ “point man” for diversity, responsible for religious leader engagement in the Islamic nation. During Causey’s time there, weekly U.S. Army soldier deaths averaged in the double digits.
“It’s our chaplains on the front lines who, with their faith, bring spirituality and emotional stability to our troops so they can do their mission,” Causey said. “It’s amazing to see the impact our evangelical Christian chaplains – especially the Southern Baptist chaplains – are having on our service people. That’s because they have the answers to the questions most of our soldiers are searching for – questions like ‘Why are we fighting?’ and ‘What’s the purpose of all this death?’
“In answering these questions, chaplains get the opportunity to give the real message of who Jesus Christ is, explain the empowerment Jesus can give, and how He can sustain them through each day’s events.”
Causey declined to discuss the 58-year-old Petraeus’ faith. “But I can tell you that Gen. Petraeus played a leadership role in stressing the importance of spirituality,” said Causey. “He was very supportive of chaplaincy in Afghanistan.
“It was incredible to see the growth of Bible studies and the growth of conversions among our own service people – not just battlefield conversions but the maturity of faith and development of mentorship at all levels. We started out with four of us in Bible study and when I left, 85 percent of our leadership were active in dynamic Bible study – 18 out of 22 of Petraeus’ directorates (direct reports). It’s always an impact when anyone comes to Jesus Christ as Savior, but I saw guys aged 45 and above making first-time commitments to Christ, and at least 40 percent of service people were attending chapel.
“It was a reflection of Petraeus and his leadership in placing importance on spirituality. Gen. Petraeus focused on everyone’s spirituality, not just Christianity. He understood the impact of Islam on the nation and Afghan people and how to go into that environment and meet people where they are without being hostile toward their faith.
“That should be the message of Christianity anyway,” Causey said, adding that this approach caused troops to treat Muslims in a Christian manner. “If you understand Christianity in its fullness, our message is a message of love and forgiveness. You go in with the example of what Christ did in your life and show them grace. You win the world through the love you have through God toward others.”
Causey says having a supportive wife who understands God’s calling on his life has made it easier for him to be effective in his ministry. During their marriage, Brent and Susan have moved 15 times since he joined the Army in 1983. Now they live near Washington, D.C., where Brent’s new post is command chaplain for the nine regions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Susan has a great walk with God so if I don’t get the message from God, she will get it! She has been such a great support to me. When I was named command chaplain in Afghanistan, Susan said ‘God has a purpose for this.’ She has seen the purpose of our 10 deployments, often when sometimes I didn’t.”
Susan Causey, a high school English teacher in the north Washington, D.C. area, calls it a “profound privilege to be the wife of an Army chaplain.
“But we wives are always fighting the battle between trust in God and fear. You watch the news, you see the soldiers coming back maimed or dead. You dread coming home at times for fear of seeing a military car parked in front of your house.
“But yet, you know that God has specifically called your husband and that he is just as safe in God’s hands in Iraq or Afghanistan as he is in D.C. or Kansas. And if injury or death comes, you just trust God to give you the grace to deal with it,” said Susan.
“There is a raw vulnerability when you see your little boys having to say goodbye to daddy as he leaves on a deployment or when, years later, you have to drop your sons off at college as freshmen – realizing not only that your husband missed another milestone because of a deployment, but also because you must return to an empty house.
“God is always faithful – I’ve seen that over and over in so many ways throughout our years in the military. It’s a privilege to serve both my country and God by supporting my husband. I have prayed over the years – through each deployment – that God would redeem Brent’s time in ministry and that there would be souls eternally touched. I believe He has done that.”