FORT BRAGG — At times, Jennifer Mitchell wishes her husband
would stay in his office, but the feeling passes when she remembers why her
husband, Army Chaplain (CPT) Jeff Mitchell, voluntarily puts himself in harm’s
Deployed to eastern Afghanistan with the 27th Engineer
Battalion from Fort Bragg, N.C., Mitchell works among soldiers who locate and
neutralize Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), accompanying them during 14- to
20-hour missions in a reinforced Humvee’s close quarters rolling along Afghan
“Selfishly I wish he could stay back,” Jennifer said. “Their
whole mission is to go out looking for stuff that’s going to blow up. But I
realize this is what he’s called to. And it’s what we’re called to as a
“When I go out on these missions with the guys, we’re
together for 14, 15, 20 hours,” Mitchell explains. “That’s when these guys
really start to open up.
“Over the past 11 months of deployment, my battalion has had
13 paratroopers killed in action in Afghanistan. I consider many of these who
were killed in action to be close friends,” Mitchell said. “It’s very difficult
to provide spiritual counseling to those who are grieving from a traumatic
event while I’ve also lost someone who was a friend.
“But also during this deployment I’ve had the opportunity to
lead many soldiers into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” Mitchell
said. “I’ve had the privilege of making disciples as I go about my daily
routine here in Afghanistan.”
Across all branches of service, more than 1,400 Southern
Baptists serve as chaplains. As their endorsing entity, the North American
Mission Board is able to provide special training, resources and connection to
Back at Fort Bragg with their four kids, Jennifer Mitchell
has lived nearly a year on base and fulfills her own assignment of caring for
their kids, teaching them to trust God with the daily uncertainty they face and
building friendships with other military families.
“(The kids) have gotten closer to each other,” Jennifer
says. “I’ve seen them really taking care of each other, watching out for each
other. They know Jeff’s not in a safe place, but they also know God is still in
control. If Jeff comes home and even if he doesn’t come home, my kids believe
God’s in control.”
God’s providence gives chaplains and chaplain families their
security, and the belief that God cares about the details of a soldier’s life
is what fuels a chaplain’s work.
“Spiritual hope was all but absent in Vietnam,” said Army
Chaplain (COL) Roger Criner, who notes that chaplaincy work was not as highly regarded
or well-known back then.
Now Criner serves at Fort Knox in Kentucky, his 18th and
final assignment. Enlisted at age 19, his early years as a medic in Vietnam
opened his eyes to the horrors of battle. His last 20 years serving at places
all over the world have opened his eyes to the opportunities for representing
Christ in difficult moments.
“I never thought I’d be going to airborne school at age 43,”
the 60-year-old Criner said. “But I go where the soldiers go. If you don’t have
the badge they have, then you can’t relate to them because you haven’t walked
where they walked.”
Criner has a number of “badges,” including one called Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting from multiple combat zone
“It was early in the morning Easter Sunday,” Criner said in
recounting a mortar attack in his years as a medic.
“I was looking forward to leaving Vietnam. Early that
morning I can remember hearing a loud boom followed by multiple other booms.
The whole compound was shaken to the core. Sirens went off. … It was chaotic.
The wounded were everywhere. There was metal scattered all over the flight
“It was devastation. That’s all I can say. I can still smell
the smells, hear the sounds; 30 years later I still have nightmares,” he said.
“People think you can be healed of PTSD but you can’t. You just learn to walk
with it like living with a limp.”
As Criner has learned to live with PTSD, he’s helped others
over the years do the same.
Following his stint in Vietnam, Criner was discharged from the
service, attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, pastored a church
for 10 years and then returned to the Army as a chaplain.
“I always had a drive to return to the Army to provide
ministry to soldiers,” he reflects. “I didn’t believe I was being utilized in
my gifts and talents. A chaplain does more ministry in their first initial
assignment than some pastors do in a lifetime because they are exposed to so
Criner recently served at Walter Reed Medical Center,
ministering to troops transported from battle zones with traumatic brain
injuries and other wounds.
“That was the most challenging and rewarding assignment I
ever had,” he said.
“We had airvacs three evenings a week. We had ministry teams
in the lobby with gurneys lined up against the wall to receive them as they
came off the bus. Sometimes the family was there before they arrived. We had
an opportunity to minister to soldiers and their families and to provide hope
when they were in greatest need of it.”
Chaplain (CPT) David Burris, 1st 108 Calvary Squadron of the
Georgia National Guard, returned in March from a tour in Afghanistan where he
spent many months traveling between the 20 or more operating bases where his
men were stationed.
“After 9/11 I felt God call me back into ministry,” Burris
said. “I did some research and realized there weren’t a lot of chaplains in the
military and I heard about so many soldiers coming back spiritually and
In Jalalabad and surrounding provinces in Afghanistan, four
soldiers from Burris’ battalion were killed within the first five months. In
the last few months of their deployment, he was able to process what they’d all
“It was a time for guys to really reflect on what they had
experienced the first five months we were there,” he says.
“To really come to terms with some of that before they went
home to their wives and children.”
Now serving as a pastor for counseling at First Baptist
Church in Woodstock, Ga., Burris is providing for critical needs on the home
front, where soldiers continue to fight the battle to return to normalcy in
“There are no unwounded service members in war,” said Keith
Travis, NAMB’s team leader for chaplaincy. “This is includes the soldiers and
the chaplains who ride out with them. This includes everybody who puts on the
uniform. It’s essential for our churches to maintain contact with our chaplains
and our soldiers, because the church is really the central focal point for our
Travis encourages churches to pray for chaplains and other
service members — for safety, for peace for their families and for
opportunities for service members to hear the gospel.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Miller is a writer for the North American
Mission Board. For information on Southern Baptist chaplains from your
area, e-mail [email protected].)
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