Chaplain Provides Guidance, Friendship
(October 15, 2009)
Army Chaplain (Maj.) Michael
J. King makes a strawberry soda float, while
Army Maj. Kellard N. Townsend and Army Staff
Sgt. Caroline A. Keller watch at the 17th Fires
Brigade chaplain-sponsored, morale-building
event, “Thunderbolt Floats,” in Iraq, Oct 1,
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, Oct. 9, 2009 – An
Army chaplain deployed to Iraq is determined to provide
spiritual and emotional support to all soldiers under his
“As a civilian pastor, I can't go to your office to check up
on you, but as an Army chaplain, everywhere you go, that's
where I am,” said Army Chaplain (Maj.) Michael J. King, 17th
Fires Brigade, from Vine Grove, Ky.
King's job is to provide soldiers of the 17th Fires Brigade
an open door to talk, spiritual guidance and a friend in
their time of need.
“It all begins with a call to serve God,” said
King as he reminisced on the steps that led him
to become a chaplain. “I was a teenager when I
first gave my life to Christ and I can remember
having this longing to serve
in mission work. I did a
few mission trips and enjoyed them. Early on, I
wanted to be a youth pastor, but ended up
teaching high school instead.”
After three years of teaching biology to high school
students, King entered the seminary, followed by four years
of pastoral work. Still, something was missing: a longing or
need, King said, to serve an even larger audience.
Following the allure to walk in the footsteps of his father,
who retired as an Army chief warrant officer and served
three combat tours in Vietnam, King decided to join the Army
“I spent four years as a reservist before becoming active
duty,” he said. “I initially joined to see if I would like
the military life, but after a while I realized that I was
exactly where I needed to be, and I've been active duty for
13-and-a-half years now.”
King earned a direct commission and chaplain status while
still in the Reserve, meeting the initial requirements of a
master's in divinity and the endorsement of his religious
organization, the North American Mission Board of the
Southern Baptist Convention.
“One of the biggest differences between being a military
chaplain and a civilian pastor is that the chaplain is not a
pastor but a missionary,” King said. “We chaplains have a
broad scope of religions we must cater to. So with that in
mind, I have to be very careful of what I say in public so
that I don't offend anyone.
“The Army says I must ‘perform or provide,'” he continued.
“Meaning, if I can't perform a service, I have to find a way
to provide that service. For example, I'm not Catholic so I
can't perform a Catholic Mass. What I must do is provide the
location and materials for such services to take place and
find someone that can provide those services.”
The Army provides chaplains with an avenue to freely express
their personal beliefs through chapels and churches.
However, King said, the chaplaincy has been taken to court
consistently by those who seek to have them removed from the
military because they feel chaplains are a violation of the
separation of church and state laws.
“The only reason we still exist is because we don't advocate
one religion over another,” King explained. “We support all
soldiers equally. That's part of our First Amendment right
and my main responsibility is to ensure soldiers have their
right to the free exercise of religion.”
Chaplains also serve as counselors for servicemembers.
Army regulations provide chaplains direction on
confidentiality regarding counseling sessions, but King said
for years the regulation has been misunderstood regarding
what chaplains should and should not report.
For a long time, chaplains erred on the safe side and
reported the same things that were required of
state-approved counselors, such as instances where there was
a report of spouse abuse, child endangerment or when a
person confessed to wanting to hurt themselves or someone
As of May 2007, the chief of chaplains released a policy
stating chaplains, their assistants and anybody working with
the chaplains can guarantee complete and absolute
“With the increase of confidentiality, a greater
responsibility has been placed on chaplains to use their
best counseling techniques to help these individuals having
issues reach a place where they feel comfortable to ask for
help and to get that help that they need,” King said.
Chaplains are considered noncombatants and are not
authorized to carry weapons. For this reason, each chaplain
is assigned a chaplain's assistant to provide protection for
them as well as to help minister to soldiers.
“It's a very interesting job being a chaplain's assistant,”
said Army Staff Sgt. Caroline A. Keller, a brigade chaplain
assistant from Saint Salem, Ore. “I know that if the
situation ever arises I would not hesitate to protect the
chaplain by all means.”
Although chaplains don't engage in the fight forcefully,
they play a large role emotionally.
When deployed to a combat environment, one responsibility of
the chaplain is to prepare soldiers emotionally for the
possibility of having to take a life in order to protect
their own, as well as helping soldiers cope with the
difficult circumstance of losing a battle buddy.
“Fortunately, because the 17th Fires Brigade is not kinetic
on this deployment, or immersed in a constant state of
combat, this ministry doesn't have to prepare soldiers for
those types of circumstances regularly,” King said.
Deployments may produce some of the most stressful
conditions soldiers will ever face in their military
careers. The chaplain tries to help soldiers cope with these
stresses by providing different outlets for
“We try to offer a lot of different Bible studies and
worship services that we normally wouldn't offer back in
garrison,” King said. “Here, stresses and anxieties are
elevated to a much higher level with soldiers being away
from their normal source of comfort, and as chaplains it's
our responsibility to provide that source of comfort.
“In some respect, it's easier being deployed, because I
don't have the distractions around to keep me from
soldiers,” King continued. “My family is not here, so I can
devote my time and attention to just the soldiers. I'm no
longer torn between my two loves – my love for my family and
my love for my soldiers.”
By Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway
17th Fires Brigade
U.S. Army photo by Spc. Samantha Ciaramitaro
American Forces Press Service
Forces Press Service / DoD
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