Chaplain nominee notes combat's heaviness
WASHINGTON (BP)--For the first time since President Eisenhower and the Korean War, a Southern Baptist has been nominated to command the U.S. Army's 5,000 commissioned chaplains.
Based at the Pentagon, Brig. Gen. Douglas L. Carver, 55, has been tapped as the Army's next Chief of Chaplains. If his nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and the full Senate as expected, Carver will be promoted to major general and awarded his second star during July ceremonies at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia.
Why has God chosen Carver? And why now, during Iraq and Afghanistan, the longest wars America has fought in the 20th and 21st centuries -– longer than World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam?
"The Scripture talks about how God is the One who raises up leadership," Carver said in an interview. "For such a time as this, it has appeared that God has raised me up as a Southern Baptist chaplain to provide spiritual leadership for our chaplains in the Army."
With a force of 1 million men and women worldwide, the Army's goal is to have a chaplain deployed for every battalion of 500-700 soldiers. Most are stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.
"Our ministry is basically the same whether in war or peace," Carver said. "But obviously, the challenges are much greater in times of war. We're there to sustain the living, care for the wounded and bring honor to those who have lost their lives in conflict.
"In time of war, these activities obviously increase. The desire for spiritual truth, the desire for hope in the midst of chaos and the desire for comfort in times of war's destruction are greatly heightened. Our soldiers are so desperate to reach out for faith, encouragement and hope in times of war."
Although the Army has chaplains in 120-130 nations, Carver is concerned about a current shortage of chaplains. In the active National Guard and Army Reserves, 500 chaplain vacancies exist. For the active regular military, he could use another 100 chaplains.
The soon-to-be two-star general said chaplains must have a ministry of presence with the soldiers and their family members. While not exactly a pastor of a church or an evangelist, they have pastoral and evangelistic roles. It's not an eight-hour-a-day job for the squeamish. It's a 24-hour-a-day job, always on call.
"We live with our flock. We go to war with them. We jump out of planes with them. We're there to help birth their children and to bury their loved ones. Everywhere soldiers go, a chaplain is nearby to give them peace and comfort and remind them that God is present, whether it's in Baghdad or back in their barracks."
Carver said wartime chaplains are advised to position themselves in combat zones where they can best minister to their soldiers. So when soldiers go out on reconnaissance along Iraq's roadsides often booby-trapped with bombs, a chaplain is there. When a patrol scales the treacherous mountains of Afghanistan, a chaplain is nearby. As 4,000 soldiers recently raked Baghdad's infamous "Triangle of Death" like a fine-tooth comb searching for three men thought to be captured by Al Qaida, several chaplains were there.
Miraculously, not one U.S. Army chaplain has been lost in Iraq or Afghanistan thus far, Carver said.
"I give God the glory that because of His marvelous grace, we have not had a chaplain killed in action since the war began," Carver said. "We have one, a Catholic priest, who is recovering from severe wounds. We've had others wounded. In fact, numerous chaplains have received Purple Hearts. Some have received Bronze Stars."
Originally deployed for 12 months, chaplains endure the same training as their troops and are deployed together. Like other combat soldiers, chaplains' deployment has swelled to 15 months, after which they are reunited with their families, re-trained and re-focused on their ministries.
"Our chaplains are tired, and their ministry is a very demanding job," Carver said. "I challenge our chaplains to make sure they have a mentor. I have a saying that 'all chaplains need a chaplain.' We remind them that they need a minister in their lives -– a battle buddy, a spiritual accountability partner -- to whom they can share their personal concerns, grief, angers and other emotions common to us all."
Carver, who accepted Christ at age 11 at Dykes Creek Baptist Church in his native Rome, Ga., and was baptized, discipled and licensed to preach in a SBC church, said he's thankful for his Baptist heritage.
"I have a dear relationship with my church. I was equipped to be a pastor and a chaplain as a result of the work of many godly Baptist Sunday School teachers, worship leaders, preachers and prayer warriors.
"I thank Southern Baptists for continuing to produce such outstanding young pastors, who are being called as chaplains to do such extraordinary ministry in such a difficult time in the history of our country. I just ask that Baptists continue to pray for our chaplains and to keep sending out chaplains. The work is so tremendous but the laborers are so few."
Carver said there is a great hunger for spiritual truth among American soldiers, evidenced on this past Easter Sunday at an unnamed Army base where 400 soldiers accepted Christ during a large outdoor service.
"From generals to privates, we're seeing lives changed and transformed," he said.
Carver and Sunny, his wife of 35 years -- who have moved 25 times during their marriage -- have two grown daughters, two grandchildren with a third on the way. His 83-year-old mother Evelyn still lives in Rome and is, as Carver put it, "a tremendous woman of faith and a prayer warrior who raised me, my brother and sister in the church."
A graduate of the University of Tennessee with a B.A. degree in religious studies, Carver also earned an M. Div. degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and an M.S. degree in strategic studies at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. An ordained Southern Baptist minister, he has pastored churches in Kentucky, Colorado and Virginia.
Carver pleads with Southern Baptist and all churches to "take care of your chaplains.
"Please support them with prayer. Send them notes of encouragement. They need more than candy and cookies. Welcome them home and give them the opportunity to share their experiences and their stories of preaching Christ and ministering to soldiers.
"Reach out and minister to them, because their lives will never be the same as a result of their combat experience. They've seen a lot of grief and brokenness. They need time for healing and restoration. They paid a price when they went in harm's way to the deserts of the Middle East."
Carver, as a chaplain, is endorsed by the North American Mission Board, the endorsing agency for the 1,000-plus Southern Baptist chaplains serving in the U.S. military. In addition to the military, 2,000 more SBC-endorsed chaplains also work in prisons, corporations, law enforcement and the health industry.