Participating in an April 9 memorial service with President Obama in attendance is one of many ways military chaplains are ministering in the wake of a shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, that left four dead, including the gunman, with 16 people injured.
“This tragic event highlights the critically important ministry of chaplains,” Doug Carver, executive director for chaplaincy at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), said. “They are able to minister immediately in situations like this, even before churches can respond, because chaplains are there in the military community as soldiers themselves.
“The armed forces don’t see chaplains as pastors in uniform. They see them as members of the family,” Carver said. “The culture in the military is so close-knit that when a soldier is hurt, that means a family member is hurting. Military life is family.”
Carver oversees support of some 1,400 military chaplains who minister in all branches of the military, plus an additional 2,400 chaplains in other settings, including law enforcement, correctional facilities, disaster relief, hospitals and corporations. NAMB’s Chaplain Commission is charged with endorsing chaplains on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Of the approximately 100 military chaplains supporting troops at Fort Hood, 18 are endorsed by the SBC and resourced by NAMB, Carver said.
Responding to the Fort Hood shooting is not the first such experience for Carver, who spent 38 years in the military, retiring as a major general before joining NAMB.
Carver, as then-U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, was on active duty at the Pentagon in 2009 when a Fort Hood Army psychiatrist went on a shooting rampage, killing 13 and wounding 31. Carver accompanied senior Army leadership to Fort Hood and saw firsthand how chaplains effectively applied their ministry skills and combat experience to the wounded and dying at a stateside base where soldiers and their families expect safety.
“It’s so disheartening to the Fort Hood community for another tragedy to occur only five years later,” Carver said. “Soldier-on-soldier shooting is an unthinkable act of violence. Fortunately, our chaplains are there to provide pastoral support in the chaotic aftermath, just as they do on the field of battle. They help to bring order out of chaos – hope and strength. Chaplains are very often the first people military leadership turns to for help in situations like this.”
Carver said chaplains helped triage patients, made hospital visits to the wounded in military and local hospitals, provided words of encouragement to soldiers and families and went on notification-of-death calls to distraught families of the latest Fort Hood victims.
The White House announced Sunday that President and Mrs. Obama would attend the April 9 memorial service.
“Chaplains will participate with prayers, Scripture readings and other aspects of the service to memorialize and honor our fallen soldiers. As our senior leader, the presence of the Commander in Chief will bring tremendous comfort to the Fort Hood community,” Carver said.
The memorial service will “be an important step in the healing process for a deeply grieving community,” he added.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carolyn Curtis is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas.)