Segment Synopsis: Nicholas A. Chou was born in 1974 in Lowell, Massachusetts. His family moved to Miamisburg, Ohio when he was very young and he grew up there. In his interview Chou talks about his reasons for joining the National Guard, what he learned during basic training, his time studying engineering at The Ohio State University, and why he transferred to Cedarville College.
Keywords: 1974; Church work.; Engineering; Lowell (Mass.); Miamisburg (Ohio); Military training; Ohio State University; Ohio. National Guard.; Psychology
Subjects: Basic training; Family; Joining the Guard; Military heritage; Ministry; School and college
Map Coordinates: 39.6370724,-84.3495034
Segment Synopsis: Chou explains his personal struggle to find himself and his faith, enrolling in Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, his time in Michigan, and why he decided to reenlist as a candidate for chaplaincy. Chou describes meeting his wife, his desire to work with families, and his work with the National Guard doing post-Katrina support. He details his deployment to Camp Navistar in Kuwait, his work there preparing soldiers for the reality of a combat zone, and helping those who are dealing with loss. He discusses his choice to move from Michigan to Columbus, Ohio for a 1-year chaplaincy, how he worked to support families during the deployment of the 37th Infantry Division in 2007-2008, and the various support initiatives he has worked on since.
Keywords: Camp Navistar; Chaplains; Grand Rapids (Mich. : Township); Kuwait; Seminary; United States. Army. Infantry Division, 37th
Subjects: Chaplanicy; Deployment; Grand Rapids Theological Seminary; Ministering to the Guard
Map Coordinates: 30.074242,47.7211518
Segment Synopsis: Chou will be deploying again to Kuwait and he talks about the new difficulties and responsibilities. He speaks of his current work reaching out to soldiers during training, the importance of suicide prevention, and how he sees his faith tied to his military career.
Keywords: Chaplain Corps; Faith; Kuwait; Suicide--Prevention.
Subjects: Current work; Deploying Again to Kuwait; Intertwining of faith and military service; Military influences; Suicide prevention
TP: Today is November 12, 2015. My name is TP. I'm here speaking with NC abouthis service in the Ohio National Guard. This interview is being taped at the Ohio History Center in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Chou, for the record, will you please say and spell your full name?
NC: Okay. It's Nicholas Alan Chou. That would be N-I-C-H-O-L-A-S, Alan spelledA-L-A-N, and last name is Chou, C-H-O-U.
TP: Mr. Chou, when and where were you born?
NC: Okay. I was born in Lowell, Massachusetts February 10th, 1974.
TP: Where did you end up growing up? Describe your early childhood, your school experience.
NC: Right. I grew up mostly in Miamisburg, Ohio, which is a suburb of Dayton.Really the majority of my childhood was there. I did spend a couple years in New Mexico, two years, when my dad got transferred out there for work.
TP: Okay. At what point did you move to Miamisburg?
NC: When I was one, so really, my entire childhood.
TP: Okay. What type of work did your parents do? You said your father wastransferred, but what did your parents do for work?
NC: Right. My dad was a mechanical engineer, and he worked for a defensecontractor, Monsanto, EG & G, and my mother was stay-at-home.
TP: Any siblings?
NC: Yes, one brother. His name is Ben. Three years older.
TP: Was there a tradition of military service in your family? If so, how did00:02:00that impact you, if it did?
NC: Right. Well, my grandfather served in the Army, but I can't say it reallyimpacted me a whole lot. My grandfather lived in Minnesota while I was growing up. That's where my mother's from. We would have a chance to visit here and there, but really didn't have a strong connection there.
TP: What was your viewpoint? How did you view military service, then? Did youview it at all? Did you have an opinion on it as you were growing up?
NC: Honestly, I really didn't consider it until my senior year in high school.For me, a lot of people join the military for a different reasons, but for me, it was kind of a step of independence. Without going into a lot of detail there, there were some challenges at home, and so I was looking for an opportunity to kind of step out on my own, and the military was kind of a way of doing that.
TP: Okay. When did you enlist?
NC: I enlisted the day after my 18th birthday, which was February 11, 1992,which, honestly, I think there wasn't a coincidence there. I think it was my first act as an adult, was to join the military.
TP: Can you describe your enlistment process? What prompted you to go into thebranch that you did? What were you hoping to get out of the experience? What was your plan with it?
NC: Right. I hadn't put a lot of thought, I guess, into what MOS I would select,and so really, just having that conversation with the recruiter, and one of the MOS's that was offered was a mechanic. I enlisted as a 63 Bravo light wheel 00:04:00vehicle mechanic, and honestly, I thought it was a great way to maybe learn another skill that might be useful in your own personal life as well, working on cars and so forth, yet, being in the Guard, still having an opportunity to pursue my education as well, without much delay after basic training.
TP: You enlisted directly into the Guard.
TP: Then, what were your plans at that time, for the civilian side of your life?
NC: Right. My basic training and my AIT tech school for mechanic was about fiveand a half months, and so, after that, I had applied and was accepted to Ohio State University in their engineering program. That was the plan: move up here to Columbus, and pursue engineering.
TP: Given the timing of your birthday, you would have enlisted while you werestill in high school, correct?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Can you describe a bit of your high school experience, but then also, what'sthe senior year look like? For the last three, four months of the year-
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative), three, four months.
TP: You're kind of set, you know what's happening post-graduation. How did thatfeel for you? Do you have a sense of how maybe your classmates viewed you?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I'll be honest with you, I can't really recall doingmuch in those few months before I graduated. At that time, which was 23 years ago, I think the way that they handled new soldiers was probably different than today. They're much more structured in the way they handle that. If I did go to drill, I didn't really recall that very much. It was just kind of looking toward that ship date for basic training. 00:06:00
TP: Before we get to that, because I definitely want to talk basic training abit, I want to double back and ask about your faith tradition growing up, your religious upbringing.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Did you come from a family with strong tradition of religious leadership?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: At what point did you feel a call to go into the ministry?
NC: Exactly. Well, I grew up in kind of a divided house, where my mom was abeliever, a Christian, and my dad is not. I kind of alluded to the fact that there was a lot of conflict in my home growing up, between my parents, and so at times, I would be confused about who I side with. A lot of times, I sort of took an intellectual way and agreed with my dad, and so I really didn't have a faith of my own growing up. It wasn't until I was 19, 20 years old that I began to really explore, that I really began to consider faith.
Essentially what happened for me was, I had always looked forward to being ableto graduate, kind of start on my own, and that my life would get a lot better after doing so. What I found was, after I had graduated, I began to experience success in my life, going to Ohio State, doing well there, pursuing the things that you're supposed to pursue, I really still felt quite an emptiness, personally. There was a time when I began to really consider faith, and there were some people in my life that were Christians that I kind of saw that they 00:08:00had a sense of purpose, a love for people, that I didn't have.
If I could share one story with you, I think, is a pretty impactful story in myown life, was, I was a sophomore at Ohio State, and it was a weekend night, and some of my friends decided to go out to one of the bars. Okay. We go out there, and it's, like, February. We're out there on High Street, and it's freezing cold. It's, like, freeze-your-nose-hairs kind of cold. Okay. Here we are, standing in line, and believe it or not, there was actually a line of people waiting to get into this bar. We're standing out there on the corner, and there's this young African American male who's just very kindly talking to people there on the street corner. He's essentially passing out literature, Christian literature, and talking about faith and God. Honestly, I don't even remember what we talked about, but the fact that he was there made a huge impact on me, because he didn't need to be there. It was a cold night in the winter, dead of winter. Who's out there talking to people about this? It made a difference in my life because I felt like, "All right, here's a person who has a sense of purpose that I don't have, has a sense of love for his fellow human beings that I didn't have." It started a journey where I began to explore faith in God.
To make a long story short, as I began that journey, it ultimately resulted inme becoming a Christian and starting that journey of faith. 00:10:00
TP: How did your parents view your enlistment? What was their reaction? Yourparents, your family?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. You know, I think ... You know, I'm not reallysure. I think they appreciated my sense of responsibility, and my desire to do something that's my own, but at that time, I can't say that I had a very strong relationship with my parents, at that time.
TP: Let's talk basic training. About when did you go to basic training, and whatwere your expectations going into that experience? Then, how did that experience jive with those expectations?
NC: Okay. Well, you know, I just have always had the personality where I'm thetype of person who's looking for a challenge. I was excited about it. I was always involved in athletics in high school, and so I was in pretty good physical condition. For me, basic training was just a mental game. Having a positive attitude, realizing that you're getting paid to get in shape, essentially. I would find myself, me and my buddies at the time, we would do little things wrong to upset the drill sergeant just so that we could do more pushups, you know what I mean? We didn't want to cross the line and do anything too bad, that you're getting everybody punished for that, but, you know, just a little thing here and there. We kind of created a little game about it. That resilient attitude's kind of carry you through that. 00:12:00
TP: What about ... You said you had some friends in basic.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: What was it like arriving to basic and starting to form friendships?
NC: You know, for me, one of the biggest things that I learned in basic trainingwasn't about being a soldier. It was ... Actually, the biggest thing I learned was I learned about people, about different types of people. People from all over the country, different backgrounds, different personalities. I guess growing up, I wasn't really an extrovert, and so having an opportunity to meet different people and see how they tick, how they work, and how they work under stress, how you get along with people, I had never experienced anything quite like that.
TP: Cool. After basic, what happens? What's next for you?
NC: Well, started school at Ohio State University in the engineering program,and then just drilling as a traditional guardsman, one weekend a month.
TP: You said basic and AIT were about 11 and a half months.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Okay. What was AIT like? Because, at some point, you said you thought itwould be interesting to learn a skill that would be useful outside.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Given that you were going in for mechanical engineering, you can kind of seea correlation there.
TP: What was AIT like for you?
NC: Well, I didn't have a lot of experience working on automotive, so it was agood experience for me to learn about how cars work and function. Again, I think my biggest leaps in learning were about how people interact, how to get along with people in groups. 00:14:00
TP: What was your ... It seems like we touched on this. What made you choose theNational Guard over-
NC: Active duty?
TP: Active duty, and then ... yeah, I'm just curious. What was, also, yourperception of the Guard at the time? What was your idea of that commitment? Were you thinking long-term, were you thinking do this [inaudible 00:14:23]?
NC: Yeah, the Guard ... You know, I had a lot of goals outside the military, andI didn't want to delay them. I wanted to go to school almost right away, and the Guard would allow me to do that. I really didn't see myself serving past my initial enlistment. At the time, it was a means to an end.
TP: You're going through OSU.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Mechanical engineering. Then, you're doing the one weekend a month thing.How was that balance for you?
NC: The one weekend a month, I don't think it was really that challenging forme. I was a fairly disciplined person academically and physically, working out, always motivated. I don't think it was really a big challenge for me, balancing that.
TP: At some point, you mentioned that you moved up to Michigan to go toseminary. How far ahead? Are we jumping way ahead [crosstalk 00:15:39]?
NC: Oh, that's jumping quite a bit ahead.
TP: That's way ahead? Okay, let's not do that.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Talk about when ... Did you graduate from OSU?
NC: No, I didn't. What happened was, I was pursuing my engineering degree atOhio State, and doing well. I was getting good grades and everything. A lot of people drop out of the engineering program because of academics, but I was doing 00:16:00well. I think two things really happened around when I was 20, 21 years old. For one, the biggest thing was, I became a Christian when I was 20. I started to ask myself, "What does God want for me, and what's my purpose in life?" Asking some of those hard questions. Another thing that occurred was I did an internship, sort of a co-op type of internship through Ohio State and DuPont, and I took a quarter off to work. While I might have had the academic ability there, it wasn't anything that I was really passionate about. I found that what really made me passionate was working with people.
Another thing that I realized was that I was a piece of work. I was reallymaking a lot of poor decisions in my personal life, and in life in general. In many ways, I don't feel like I had the mentoring to be a mature person. I ended up transferring to Cedarville University, Cedarville College, kind of down in the Springfield, Xenia area. It's a Christian, small Christian college. The contrast is, you can't even get more different in the sense that a large public university to a small Christian college out in the cornfields.
It was really what I needed, personally, and I changed from studying mechanicalengineering to psychology: another huge contrast, there. A lot of times, you talk to somebody, you talk to people who go into a psychology program, and I 00:18:00would just meet people and they would say things like, "Okay, you're studying psychology, so are you, like, analyzing me right now?" I'd get a lot of that, and I would kind of turn it on them and say, "No, but it seems like you're analyzing me right now," because the fact of the matter is, is I didn't go into psychology in order to figure everybody else out. I went into psychology in order to figure me out.
TP: Interesting. You mentioned the story about standing outside of the bar, andwith the literature.
TP: Clearly, this process, and, if I'm checking the timeline, this would havebeen something that happened very quickly but maybe had been in the works for a long time, given your family upbringing. I'm curious to know, can you describe this process of you becoming a Christian, and then how that maybe spun a little more into the [use 00:18:53] of other decisions.
NC: Like I said, you know, it had to do with me realizing that all the thingsthat I had sought after that would make me happy wasn't making me happy, and that's what spurred on my initial interest in faith. Then, starting to see other people who had a sense of purpose in their life that I didn't have was a huge part in that as well. At the time, a friend of mine gave me a Bible, and really didn't talk to me about their faith, but just simply gave me a Bible. At the same time, I also took a class at Ohio State on Eastern history. Part of that was a review of different world religions.
At that point in time in my life, I hadn't really put any thought into religion,and so I started to ask questions that I had never asked before: Is there a God? If there is one, what does He want of us? Who is He, and what does He want of us?
I began to explore that in different religions, and I started to read the Bible.00:20:00I would say over a period of about six months, I read the Bible pretty consistently and started to answer some of those questions about who God is and what does He want of us. I would always ask myself, "So, how do I know this is true?" Being a son of an engineer and being a person who was in an engineering program, I was a very analytical type person, and so I would ask some of these tough questions. I remember one night I was reading, and I started to understand what the Bible had to say, but I was always asking, "How do you know it's true?"
Then, one night, I was reading, and I was reading a prophecy about Jesus thatwas written in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah, chapter 53, that was written 700 years before Jesus was born, and it really detailed his life, his death, his resurrection, his ministry, in amazing detail. I remember thinking about that and saying, "How could this possibly have been written a hundred years in advance?" To me, it was truth to me at that moment, and it changed my life.
At that point in time, I started to realize that I needed to make some changesin my life. I didn't really have anybody mentoring me right off the bat. There were a lot of things that I needed to do to change my life. At the time, I was living with a girl, and shortly sometime after realized that that was really not a good thing to do as a person of faith, and had to change some of that. It wasn't just that. It was everything. It was my whole worldview, the way that I see the world and see myself in it.
I remember thinking to myself that I needed to be reparented, and so everything00:22:00that I looked at in life had to do with kind of coming to realizing that I was just a child needing to be retaught all over at the end. I really feel like God blesses that, when you come to Him with a humble attitude. I think God did bless that, started to lead me to different people who were mentors for me, and going to Cedarville was part of that, and it was a great place for me to grow.
Really, my military experience fit really well into that as well, in thatreally, I approached my military experience ... At the beginning, I would say I was very much an insecure follower. I would do everything that everybody else was doing. If you looked at me on the outside, you'd think I was a pretty confident, secure person. I was a team captain on my wrestling team, and things like that, but I think deep down, I was an insecure person and always concerned about what other people thought, and so, I would follow the crowd. Basic training, AIT, if we got pass and if people were going out and getting in a bunch of booze and going to a hotel room and drinking, I would do that.
Really, my faith helped transform me from that insecure follower into aconfident leader, and my military service, I could see kind of that progression there occur. One aspect of that would be annual training. In the Guard, you do two weeks of annual training, and you go out into the field. At the time, Ohio, they were sending a lot of units for annual training up to Grayling, Michigan. Every year, it's sort of like, go up to the woods and do some training out 00:24:00there. It gave you an opportunity to step outside of your normal, everyday life, to interact with people that you don't always interact with. Honestly, going out to the field gives you an opportunity to step away from your busy life and have a clear opportunity to see your life from a different perspective.
Like I said, early on, it was always about, "Hey, what's everybody else doing,"but as I began to grow in my faith, I would use those times to ... I would take my Bible up there, I would maybe take a few books to read for my own personal growth and take time to reflect, and before you knew it, after a few years of that, I would go up to annual training, maybe I'd pull out my Bible and start reading it on my bunk at the end of the day, and some soldier would come by, and they would ask, some would say, "What are you reading," and so we'd start talking about it, and after a while, maybe we would talk about our lives in relation to that, or after a while, sometimes people would just come up to me and say, "Hey, I need to talk about some stuff that's going on in my personal life."
I remember a few years into that experience where I was studying the Bible, andother people were like, "Hey, why don't we do a Bible study," and we started to do that. Before you knew it, here I am as, I think, a specialist at the time, or maybe an E5 sergeant, and I would have some lieutenants coming to the Bible study. Before you knew it, it's like I have an opportunity to make an impact and a difference in other people's lives, too. That's kind of how that grew, that desire to serve others.
Really, the biggest thing for me, as I eventually considered the chaplaincy, wasrecognizing that as a young person, when I was 20, 21 years old, I was trying to 00:26:00figure out life and figure out who I was, and I relate to that. When I eventually considered the chaplaincy, that's kind of where I was coming from: "Look, I've been through that, I want to be able to help other people who might be doing the same thing." A lot of these young soldiers, they join the military, they're still trying to figure out who they are. I just want to be there to support them in the process.
TP: [Fantastic 00:26:30]. It sounds like you were kind of an ad hoc chaplain, ina way, as your annual training progressed. Can you talk about in the [center 00:26:40] place, you made the transition from Ohio State to Cedarville.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: You're studying psychology.
TP: Whereabouts are we on a timeline, and how is life in Cedarville? What didyou find? This was an enormous life change. You said you really kind of changed everything. How was that playing out for you?
NC: Again, I joined the military in '92. I think I transferred to Cedarville in'96. Again, your question was, how is it ...?
TP: You transferred from Ohio State to Cedarville, hoping for this big changeand a chance to, as you even said, reinvent yourself, which I think is very introspective and very commendable. How did that start playing out?
TP: What was Cedarville?
NC: Well, the environment there, I think, was very helpful for me. One of thethings that's unique about Cedarville is that they would have chapel every day. Being able to hear from a lot of very wise spiritual leaders from a lot of different perspectives helped me develop a worldview that could help guide me in life. Then, also, being around the students, of course, I think, and seeing 00:28:00people who were pursuing a greater purpose than what I had seen before. A lot of college life, when you think about it, in popular culture, it's all about, "Hey, having a good time," right? Really, what I saw at Cedarville was something very different, where I saw a large number of people, good percentage of people there, who wanted to serve others, serve their fellow human being. Their education was one step in the process toward that.
We would have opportunities to serve our communities in different ways. Ibelonged to a men's organization that was about serving our community. During my time at Cedarville, I joined some of the cross-cultural mission teams and we did some work in inner-city Chicago with some underprivileged kids in after-school programs. Things like that, I think, provided an opportunity of growth for me, and service.
Another thing, just in my own personal life, being able to be around people who... It wasn't all about themselves. Even in the way I approached relationships. A big part of this for me, in my personal growth, had to do with how, as a young person, before I was a Christian, I was seeking relationships, a romantic relationship, in order to kind of fill a hole in my life. It really had to do with, "How is this relationship going to fill a need for me," and starting to realize that really, my approach to relationships should really be about how we 00:30:00encourage each other to be the person that God wants them to be, and to look at that other person and say, "How can I bless you? How can I help you? If our journeys end up coming together, then great. If not, my focus is to help you be a better person."
Another part of that was, because ... I think I grew up with a sense of ...There was a void, relationally, even with my parents, and I was seeking that in another person. At some point in time, you're almost falling in love with the idea of being in love with another person rather than falling in love with that person for who they are and the unique person that they are. I had to get to a point in time in my life where I was okay with being alone and realizing that, "Look. I need to pursue what God has for me and be content and be faithful and know that there's a plan, and so I don't need to rush it." Fast forward when I eventually met my wife. I was in a much better place personally, where I wasn't trying to fill that void in my life. A lot of those things, I think, began to develop when I was a student at Cedarville.
Like I said, I started out very much a piece of work, and I think these kind ofthings helped me mature.
TP: You had transferred to Cedarville and did psychology. I know you said thatwas a big jump.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: You'd mentioned your motivations for doing so, and I think you said youtransferred in about '96.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Did you end up graduating from Cedarville?
TP: Was it still in psychology?
NC: I graduated in '99 from Cedarville. Really, my senior year, as I started toask myself what's next, honestly, most people know ... When you get an undergrad 00:32:00in psychology, it's really only your ticket to grad school if you really want to do something with it. The only question is, what was I going to do? Was I going to study to be a psychologist? Was I considering ministry? I took a lot of these questions very seriously. My senior year, I started to consider the chaplaincy.
Now, I mentioned, kind of offline, I had mentioned a story about how my storyand Chaplain [Aquino's 00:32:40] story kind of tie together a little bit there. I will say, I can't remember what year it was, but I think it was somewhere around '97, '98, and I went to an annual training out in California. It was at the National Training Center, out there in the middle of the desert. I was still a mechanic at the time. Our chaplain was Chaplain Drew Aquino. Again, this is the time in life when I was growing spiritually. I would go to the Bible study that he offered. I was really impacted by that, and I think it was the first time in my life I started to see what a chaplain does, and I started to maybe consider, "Maybe this is something I want to do." One aspect of that, when I was out in California, my grandfather passed away when I was at annual training. Here I was, sitting down with the chaplain, Chaplain Aquino, and having that conversation about my grandfather's passing. We never really talked about it much, but I remember just being impacted by that. My senior year, as I reflected on that and reflected on how God was using me in the military, it just made 00:34:00sense for me to pursue the chaplaincy.
That's where, after graduating from Cedarville, I eventually moved up toMichigan to go to seminary at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Now, between Cedarville and Grand Rapids, though, I did take a year off, and I stayed here in Ohio. Honestly, my biggest motivation for delaying going up to Michigan was to kind of take an opportunity to spend a little bit more time with my family here in Ohio. I mentioned earlier, I didn't go into a lot of detail, but growing up, there was a lot of conflict between my parents, and my parents had since divorced. Especially with my father, I just felt like I needed to do a little bit more to spend time with him. I stuck around for a year, I worked at a group home for kids there in Xenia, through Green County Children's Services, and stayed in the area so I could try to reconcile some things, I guess, with my family.
After that year, I went ahead and moved up to Michigan to enroll in seminary there.
TP: If my timeline's right, you would have, at some point while you're inCedarville, your time in the Guard, your first-
TP: Enlistment came up.
NC: That's right.
TP: You initially said you were kind of looking at this as a six and done kindof thing, maybe.
TP: It was more about ... You had a lot of goals outside of that.
TP: At that point of reenlistment, what are your thoughts?
NC: At that time, it was all about serving in the military, and realizing that00:36:00God had placed me in the military and was using me. I was having an opportunity to, I guess, serve other soldiers and be helpful to them. It wasn't a hard decision to reenlist.
TP: You stayed with your same MLS at that [crosstalk 00:36:24].
NC: Yeah, I was still a mechanic.
TP: [That's terrific 00:36:25], okay. You said you took your year off, you wentto Michigan for seminary. What made you choose this particular seminary? What was the decision behind that?
NC: I think theologically, it was kind of in line with what I believed. I thinkthat they really stressed the teaching of the scriptures, the authority of the scriptures. I think also, some people that I looked up to were attending there, some fellow students. Then, it was still in the Midwest. I could have gone out to Texas or California or somewhere else, but I still wanted to be within driving distance of Ohio, just to keep that connection with my family.
TP: What was it like going to Michigan?
NC: Okay. Well ... Let's see, what was it like going to Michigan? I think I didpretty well in seminary there. I'm a pretty adaptable person. I think the military teaches you to do that. I think it was pretty seamless going to Michigan and enrolling in seminary there. Seminary was a lot of ... It's no joke. It's a lot of study, a lot of reading, kind of really stepped up on the academics quite a bit.
TP: Okay. Did you feel as though ... It seems like you were fairly definite in00:38:00your decision to do this. I mean, you said there were personal reasons in your own growth that were fueling that, to some extent. Did you feel that you were finding that? Did you feel that you made these choices because what you had been pursuing wasn't fulfilling you? Clearly, this has started to ... What did seminary do for that process?
NC: Right. What did seminary do for that? You know, I'll be honest with you.Seminary, there's some good things and bad things about that. Obviously, you're getting really a deeper understanding of scripture, and it's very academic, but if you're not careful, it becomes too academic, and you get a little disconnected from the practical application of your faith and serving others. I'm not saying that that happened. I still pursued opportunities to serve in my church and at the university. It's so demanding academically that it kind of drains on you, after a while. If you're not careful, even being a lover of scripture, if you study it too much from an academic's perspective, it starts being a study rather than a personal application, you know what I mean?
On the service side, there are a lot of things that I got involved in. I wasinterested in cross-cultural ministry, and so I would do things through my church to engage with international students. Being a person who is biracial myself, I think I have a particular interest there. Then, also, when I was there at Grand Rapids, there was a position open for a cross-cultural ministries director. Essentially, this would be the person in charge of organizing and 00:40:00helping train mission teams here in the States and overseas. I applied and was accepted for that position there, and that was working with the undergrad students there on campus, and so that was a great opportunity to serve as well.
TP: How is your life in the Guard paralleling this, or what's going on in yourGuard life as you're going through some of that?
NC: Well, as soon as I moved up to Michigan, I applied to become a chaplaincandidate. That's when the transition occurred between a mechanic to a chaplain candidate. One I was enrolled full time in seminary, I was able to apply as a candidate, to receive a commission as a second lieutenant, and to begin kind of that process of being mentored to eventually become a chaplain. I was assigned to the 126 Armor Battalion there in Grand Rapids, and I was a traditional Guardsman drilling there. I think for me, the transition from being an enlisted soldier to an officer was a bit challenging, because I think ... They kind of drill you in your head that officers are kind of far off, I guess, they're a little bit untouchable, in a sense, where ... There's a separation between officers and enlisted in the military. There just is. It's almost like they teach you to be a little bit intimidated by officers, to show that respect, because there has to be a structure, a chain of command, authority. I think that's why that's there, and a lot of the customs and courtesies in the military make that separation for good reasons.
For me, to go from an enlisted to an officer, as an enlisted, I was just the guy00:42:00working on the truck, right? Now, I'm talking to the [full blown 00:42:10] colonel battalion commander and majors and so forth. I'm just not used to hanging out with people of rank. Still being a pretty young chaplain candidate, it's like, "All right, here I am in the room with people of many years of experience. What do I have to offer as this young chaplain candidate?" I think eventually I kind of grew into that, but that was probably my biggest challenge.
TP: What did you do to address that? Did you have specific things that you triedto do to bridge that gap or to help yourself make that transition?
NC: That's a good question. I don't know if I've really thought about that, whatdid I do to bridge that? I think the chaplain candidate program, the way it's designed, they pair you up with a mentor, with a chaplain who kind of helps you along in building that confidence. For me, the thing that kept me straight and on track was just recognizing that I felt like I had a calling from God. I mean, how much higher authority can you get from that? "Who cares what this colonel has to say? I'm here, and God has a purpose for me serving here." That helped me get through that, I guess.
TP: Can you describe a little more? You said you're paired with a mentor. Itseems to me that the chaplaincy is structured a little differently than what a normal ... like a CO, commissioned officer, process would be.
TP: Can you describe that process a little bit for us? As you're a chaplaincandidate, what does that mean? What are your duties like, and how does that process play out?
NC: Yeah. Well, you know, there's a balance there, where obviously, learn bywatching, learn by doing. It's the balance between the two. The chaplain candidate program, the way it's designed, is you're there observing, but you're also doing ministry under observation as well and getting that feedback from a 00:44:00mentor, just building relationships with other chaplains, eventually going to your chaplain officer basic training. Things like that are all things that help you grow and develop.
Really, at this point in time, there was a lot of unknown about my future. Itwasn't like, hey, I was a sure thing, I was going to make the military my long-term career. There were other things that I was considering still, at the time. I was considering becoming a missionary. With my interest in cross-cultural missions, that was still there.
Honestly, I think the biggest thing that changed me and helped me to focus inthe direction of making military a long-term, I guess my life of service through the military, was really 9/11, honestly. That focused that. I realized that there's a need for me right here and now for this. Being a person who is very interested in not just ministry, but people, like psychology and family systems, and having my own experience with some of the challenges that I faced growing up in my family, I wanted to be there to serve families. Whereas as a young person, as an enlisted soldier considering the chaplaincy, my initial focus was, "How can I be there for that person during this transition time in their life, figuring out who they are?" Then, really after 9/11, and as I started to see units get called up for deployments and the stresses on family, an additional reason for me to stay in the military was to serve the families, to help strengthen those marriages. That's kind of where I began to really focus and 00:46:00understand, "This is what God has for me."
TP: Let's talk a little bit about that. Can you tell us a bit about 9/11? Wherewere you, and what was your experience of that morning?
NC: Well, I was in class at seminary, and I heard some people talking about it.It didn't really make sense to me at the time, but later on, going back to my apartment and watching the footage and just realizing that our lives are going to change after this. There was a lot of unknown, I guess. I think it wasn't just that day. It was in the year or two following that, that just, I started to realize that "This is where God needs me right now, or where I'm needed right now to serve."
TP: Were there other formative experiences happening either in seminary or inyour chaplain candidacy that impacted you?
NC: Okay. Well, I would say getting married, meeting my wife and gettingmarried. Obviously, when I'm talking about serving families, I've got my own experience getting married and having to balance my military service with my family life. I met my wife there at Grand Rapids. Her mother was working there in student development. She was working as a nurse in the area, and so she would go and have lunch with her mother. She was actually there the day I interviewed 00:48:00for the job, so that's how we first met, and then eventually, her mom kind of played matchmaker with us.
There we are, we're young. It only took us a year to get married, from afterfirst dating there. I would say for us, the prospects of me getting deployed for her was especially very challenging for her. That was one of the biggest fears that she had, would be having to be separated for that time, and just a lot of the unknowns. As we spent time with other military couples who were going through a deployment, and she observed how these families were doing, she started to build her own confidence and realizing that she could do this. That was formative, I guess, as we worked through that.
I did get called up during ... Now, I might be fast forwarding a little bit, buteventually I did graduate from seminary, okay, and it didn't take long after I graduated that I got called up to mobilize for Hurricane Katrina. Really, that was just a short thing. It was only, like, a month going down there. That was my first official mobilization as a full-fledged chaplain after I graduated from seminary. Just that time of having to respond quickly to something like that ... I think I got the call-up in the morning and then by that evening, we had reported, and I think within the next day, we were on our way down to Louisiana. 00:50:00When you think about the impact it has on your family ... My wife was pregnant at the time. It's a lot of unknowns there for the family.
TP: There's a couple things in there I want to double back on, but while we'reon the subject of Katrina, you get this call to go down there. What's that like? I know you said that your wife had been very hesitant, starting to get a little more confident about this idea of being separated. She's pregnant at the time. You're getting sent down to, I mean, by all intents and purposes, a disaster zone.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: I'm interested to know, what was your role? What work were you doing on theground, and then also, what's your back-and-forth like with home during that time?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, you know, as a chaplain, my primary role was thewell-being of the soldiers. I, along with everybody else, had just gotten called up on 24 hours' notice, and you can imagine what everybody else is going through, and the things that they're experiencing back home, and the challenges. I think there was even one of the soldiers who had to delay his wedding day, because he went down to Katrina. It's like, there's a lot going on there.
We were stationed there in ... I'm forgetting the name of it right now, but itwas in the north side of Louisiana. Monroe. We weren't down there where the flooding and everything else had happened there. We were more at an evacuee center, the largest one in Louisiana. What they were trying to really do was trying to prevent another Superdome-type situation from occurring. They were 00:52:00trying to be preventative and to kind of plus up the local police forces there. I went down with the MP unit. It really wasn't very challenging, the mobilization on that sense, where I was seeing a lot of destruction and everything, but it was just the soldier support.
TP: How was your communication back home?
NC: It was pretty good. I mean, we're still stateside here, same time zone, thatsort of thing.
TP: You guys made it.
NC: Yeah. No problem.
TP: What did it feel like for you ... I mean, you'd been doing work before that.What did it feel like for you, having this month of, that was it? It wasn't a balance, it wasn't seminary and chaplain candidacy. I mean, you were there doing. What's that feel like?
NC: You know, I think I just felt ... I guess I felt this is what God had calledme to do. I was there to be an encouraging, a sense of hope and relief to people. A lot of what you do is a chaplain is what they call ministry of presence, so it's just going around and visiting people, checking in to see how everybody's doing, and for the most part, we really didn't have major issues. I can't say it was a really overly stressful mobilization there.
TP: You mentioned this term "ministry of presence."
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: I think that's interesting. Can you talk a bit about that, where, I think,in civilian life, people think a lot of times of church or religion or faith as you go there on Sunday or you go on Saturday, not that it necessarily comes to you on a regular basis. Can you describe this ministry of presence, and what 00:54:00your approach was to that?
NC: Yeah. Ministry of presence is a key philosophy of the Chaplain Corps, inthat we go to where the soldiers are, and we're seeking to develop relationships with them, so that in the event that things do occur in that soldier's life, there's already that rapport established. You're just being there alongside them, with them. Sometimes you get your hands dirty and you do the work that they're doing, just to kind of build that rapport.
TP: You deployed to Katrina.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Then you're back home. Had you graduated from seminary yet [crosstalk 00:54:53]?
NC: I had. In 2004, I graduated from seminary. Actually, between then andKatrina, I actually did a short stint as a chaplain recruiter, just kind of ... There were several states that I would go and visit seminaries and follow up on leads and things like that. It was a short thing. It was just a summer thing.
TP: You're back from Katrina, and how is life at that point? You're not a fulltime chaplain at this point.
NC: Still in transition for me. I had graduated from seminary, and I was lookingfor, "Hey, what's next?" My denomination is a pretty unstructured denomination. Some denominations, your church governing body places you in a church, and really, my endorser, which is the Evangelical Church Alliance, they're much more unstructured. You've kind of got to seek out opportunities on your own. I was 00:56:00looking for that. I really hadn't found anything. I was working some odd jobs here and there, and eventually, actually, I even got a job as an emergency dispatcher at a 911 call center at a sheriff's department there in Michigan. I knew that's not what I wanted to do long-term, it was just something in the meantime, until I figured out what was next.
It didn't take long. I think I worked there for less than six to nine monthsbefore I actually ended up getting deployed to Kuwait with the Michigan Guard.
TP: At some point in here, did you guys have a kid?
NC: Yes, we did. I got deployed in May of 2006, and so, my wife and I, we hadgotten married in January of 2003. Again, I graduated seminary in 2004. In March of 2006, basically two months before I deployed, my wife and I had our first child. Obviously, that adds another whole dynamic there, because here we are, a young military family going through a deployment with a young child. I can relate, along with everybody else, what kind of family stress that places, and the sacrifices that you make.
TP: Was your wife working at this time, too? I think you had said she was a nurse?
NC: Yes. My wife Sarah, she was working as a nurse there at, I think it wasMetropolitan Hospital, there in Grand Rapids. 00:58:00
TP: You get the call for Kuwait.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Describe this process of mobilization and deployment and the timeline,because at this point, we're several years into what was even the [mean 00:58:19] term the "Global War on Terror."
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: I know that, in speaking with other members who served in the Guard, thatbeing deployed in 2003 was a little different than in '06 or '07.
TP: Can you describe this process of notification of deployment and how thatwent for you? What was happening? Where'd you go?
NC: I think it was somewhere around January of 2006, I got notified that I wasgoing to deploy. I was going to deploy with the 107th Quartermaster, and we were going to deploy to Kuwait. Essentially, we would mobilize in May, we would go to a [mob 00:59:07] station down in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for about two or three months, and then we would go to Kuwait and spend a year there in Kuwait, there in the arid desert.
Essentially, our unit was assigned at Camp Navistar, which was the bordercrossing there in Kuwait, just about a half-mile from the border. It's kind of the world's largest truck stop, at the time. You get all the shipments, the shipping, from the Gulf, and they'd drop it off there at the port, and then they would throw it on trucks and run it up through Kuwait, and then they would stop there right at the border and link up with our convoy security, and then the convoy security would go all throughout Kuwait and escort these convoys.
TP: What was it like at home preparing to deploy?01:00:00
NC: Well, breaking the news to my wife was probably one of the hardest things Ihad ever done. I felt really guilty, I guess, for leaving her. I knew that I was going to miss a lot, with the first year of our son's life. My wife has always been very supportive of our military service. Interestingly, I just said "our military service," did you notice that? I actually do feel that way. I feel like the families are serving their country just as much as the soldiers, just in a different way, because I can't do what I'm doing unless my family's there to support me. You know, I think my wife really took it really well, and she really made it a point to stay well-connected. I think we have more video ... We definitely have more video of my son's first year than any of our other children. We have three children now. It's because she would take these videos and send them to me just to help me to stay connected with what's going on back home.
TP: You said you went to a mob site in Mississippi.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: What does mobilization look like for a chaplain?
NC: Yeah. You mean the mob site?
TP: Yeah, and just, what type of training are you receiving? What kind ofpredeployment training are you receiving?
NC: I would say a good 85% of it is the same [inaudible 01:01:43] training thateverybody else gets. Of course, as chaplains, we're noncombatants, so we're not actually firing weapons and things like that, but then that 15% is where they would do the chaplain-specific type training on things like suicide intervention 01:02:00... I'll be honest with you, I can't even remember. It was kind of a bit of a blur down there. A lot of the mob training, they do a lot of the medical and convoy security type stuff. It's kind of like being in basic training again, a little bit.
TP: Without making yourself do extra pushups.
TP: What's it like arriving in Kuwait? What was your primary mission, and thenhow did you see that in the larger ... I guess I should preclude that. To what extent did you have a sense of the larger mission?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Stepping off the plane in Kuwait, I felt like therewas a hairdryer blowing, like, ten hairdryers, just blowing in my face. I remember getting off the plane, it was, like, 11:00 at night, and I said, "What's going on? Are we getting a blast of hot air from the plane or something like that? The engine?" No, it was Kuwait. It was ridiculous. I think we got there in July, and the summers there in Kuwait are just ridiculous. Seriously. During the day, we would have a thermometer outside, and it would read 140 degrees, and at night, it would get down to 100. Just the shock of the heat ... Now, it was a dry heat, and people could take some solace there, but it was hot. It was arid, desert, all sand, brown, see very little green for a year. That's pretty much Kuwait.
My role, obviously, as a chaplain, the camp there at Navistar was about 1,00001:04:00people there, stationed there, between contractors and military and so forth. Basically, it's just being like the pastor of a small town, essentially.
My role, and I was deployed with another chaplain from Wisconsin, because therewas a unit from Wisconsin that was assigned there the year that I was there, our role was just basically to provide ministry support to the soldiers, to kind of run the chapels and offer chapel services, Bible study, visit soldiers, deal with a lot of counseling based on things going on at home. Obviously, that's the biggest thing, right? The biggest thing tends to be the challenges between the soldier deployed and the family back home: Breakdown of relationships, just stressed out because maybe your family's not doing well back home, maybe there's an illness or something, and you feel a lot of stress because you can't do anything about it. Sometimes, it has to do with interpersonal conflicts, work conflicts and so forth, where you're not getting along with somebody. Obviously, having the spiritual conversations with soldiers, talking to soldiers who, this is their last stop before they cross the border, and then you've got IEDs all over the place. You never know when your number's going to get called, and so it's like, "All right," wanting to make sure you're on good relations between you and your Maker. I've had some of those conversations too, just providing that religious support. 01:06:00
TP: What does it feel like doing this work in a situation where this person maycross over into Iraq and run across an IED, they may run across small arms fire? Can you talk about what that's like for you, what you're trying to provide, how you approach that? Then, also, I think, does that impact you?
NC: Yeah. Well, I can't really think of, I'm trying to think about ... Yourquestion is ... Can you rephrase the question a little bit?
TP: Yeah. You've been doing this work in different ways and means always in thecivilian world, to some extent, in the military capacity, but you're stateside. It's not during a war.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: But now, you very much are.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Maybe I shouldn't preclude that it is different, but you mentioned talkingto people who are trying to find some kind of solace because they're walking across, figuratively, walking across that border into combat.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Does that change how you approach these conversations, this rapport, this ministry?
TP: Then also, again, how do you approach that, knowing what they're walkinginto, and does that impact you in return?
NC: Okay. Well, you know, I think it just really comes down to making sure thatpeople are really sure on their fundamentals of their faith. I think ... I can't say that we really specifically talk about the specific fears and concerns, because I think a lot of soldiers don't really like to think about that ahead of time. In fact, they want to kind of block it out of their minds so that they can do their job. It's more reactive, honestly -- if there was something that 01:08:00occurred, responding to that. There were instances where there was IEDs and contact, or soldiers dealing with the fact that they had to fire shots in anger at another human being, and how to process that with their worldview and their faith. I think those touch on some pretty key foundational belief systems, I think, and so without going into a lot of depth there, I think it's just on a case-by-case basis, based on what that soldier is dealing with.
There were some losses. The unit from Wisconsin had experienced two casualties.Being there for those soldiers during time of loss. It really just comes down to being there with them, because what can you really say? In fact, actually, sometimes the best thing to do is not to say anything, just to be there for them and to offer that support. I think that was a big part of that.
How does it affect me? You know, honestly, the majority of that deployment, wedidn't experience a lot of losses, a lot of trauma, because let's face it, we were in Kuwait. You know what I mean? People were doing their missions and then coming back. The day and day, fortunately, we weren't getting IEDed or mortared and stuff like that. That was happening across the border. I think it was relatively safe for us. I think, for me, the biggest type of ministry that I was offering was more so that counseling pertaining to their families back home, and 01:10:00a lot of interpersonal conflict. There's some dysfunction at times, let's face it, in any type of organization. You've got leaders who are more respectful than others, and more understanding than others, and so that sometimes can make the deployment better or worse. We'll just leave it at that.
TP: I'm interested to know a couple things out of that, and I think one is, howdo you approach these soldiers who, in your case, I know you guys have deployed. It's a little bit of time, but still fairly quick, I mean, five to six months. How do you approach these soldiers that are having ... Trying to help them keep what's back home, whether it's keeping it together or feeling they're connected, or those sorts of things?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: What are the challenges in that? How did you approach that?
NC: Right. Well, you know, some of it has to do with coaching them along withbetter communication skills with their family back home, because, let's say, for example, dealing with conflict, dealing with misinterpretations ... Because when you only communicate so much, sometimes you fill in the blank of the unknown, or what you don't know in the midst of that conversation, with the worst-case scenario. It's just kind of basic communication skills with your family back home. That would be part of it. Other times, hey, things are really going bad, and it's just offering that comfort and being there for them. There was quite a few who were experiencing different types of relationship breakdown, an 01:12:00impending divorce, or something to that effect. Just being supportive to them as a human being and trying not to make things all better, but just being supportive of them. I don't know.
Does that help a little bit? I mean, it's ... Yeah, you want to help them dealwith the situation, but sometimes it's just, to make it better, but sometimes you can't solve it and it's just a matter of being there for that person and maybe help them to put it into perspective. Yeah.
TP: You had mentioned your own personal faith denomination, and one thing thatstruck me through our conversation so far is this. You said you have an interest in cross-cultural ministry or these types of things. In the Guard, when you're over in Kuwait, not everyone has subscribed to your specific denomination.
NC: Right, of course.
TP: There are a lot of different faith traditions.
TP: How did you approach that?
NC: Well, that's not unique to me, that's pretty much a standard when it comesto the chaplaincy. There's two key terms that I think guide what we do, and that's perform and provide. What we mean by that is that, as a chaplain, we're obligated to provide religious support for every soldier, regardless of their belief system or faith tradition. We only perform religious support according to our own unique faith background. Providing religious support could be essentially providing transportation to religious services. It's not like I'm going to do a Catholic Mass, because I'm not Catholic, but I'm going to help my Catholic soldiers get to that Catholic Mass or to coordinate a Catholic priest 01:14:00to come to our camp to provide services and things like that. Yeah. There are other ... We had a few people of the Jewish faith tradition there, providing services for them, or coordinating that.
I think it's really not as hard as you think, just understanding that ourobligation as a chaplain is to ensure everybody's religious freedom. I think some people don't quite get that, when they think about the chaplaincy, but when it comes down to it, it has to do with protecting our First Amendment rights. There have been times even within the history of the Chaplain Corps where the chaplaincy has been litigated in court, where they feel like the chaplaincy is promoting the establishment of certain religion. Our fallback is recognizing that we're there to provide for all, but then we only perform according to our specific faith tradition.
Granted, I think in the military, you have, within the Christian faith, a lot ofdifferent denominations of course, right? I just happen to be a nondenominational Christian evangelical chaplain, but we have other chaplains who are Lutherans and Baptists, Presybterian, whatever. One of the unique things about serving in the chaplaincy in the military is that we're able to serve soldiers who come from many different denominations, yet still Christian, yet be able to interact and encourage each other in our faith despite some differences. 01:16:00I really actually like that a lot. I think that's a model for the rest of the church. I think if we did more of that, I think we'd be in a better place.
TP: You mentioned a bit as we were talking before the interview this idea of ...We're talking First Amendment rights, and how you see the chaplaincy as a bit of an example of that larger goal of the military. Can you speak a little to that, about First Amendment rights, as you as a chaplain, as the chaplaincy, and then also as the larger military presence?
NC: Okay. Well, I think that if we're not protecting our First Amendment rights,our Bill of Rights, then what are we really here for? We're just another military. I think that what makes us unique here in America is that we protect those freedoms. There are democracies around the world that don't have a Bill of Rights. You understand? What is democracy? Democracy is the rule of the majority or rule of the people. A pure democracy is just rule of the majority, when you think about it. It's the Bill of Rights that protects the minorities. It protects our personal freedoms, even if the majority disagrees with us. That's when it comes down to our First Amendment rights: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and things like that. Saying things that the majority ... Your freedom of speech allows you the opportunity to be able to speak your mind, even if it's not popular. I don't think you see that in every country around the world, or, if you do see that, I feel like, in America, we're the ones who set the example for the world in that.
I think as a chaplain, supporting and defending First Amendment rights not just01:18:00for myself but for all soldiers, that's really why we're here. I don't know if that answers that a little bit, there.
TP: What was the culture on base like, and what did you do when you weren't on duty?
NC: Okay. What was the culture like? Okay. The culture was like being in a smalltown, because we were a very, very small camp. It was basically walk around everywhere. Everything was very tightly knit there. You could actually see all the relevant places, just in eyesight, whether it's the dining facility or the gym or the chapel. They would have a PX where you could buy different items there, and post office. It was all centered around a basketball court, literally. It was such a small camp. It was like being in a small town.
The culture, I guess, in any small town, it's like people know people, peopleget to know people fairly well. We did have an interesting mix there, because we had a unit from Wisconsin, we had another company from ... We had a full battalion from Wisconsin doing convoy security, but we had actually a company from Alaska doing our security around the base. When you think about Alaskans in Kuwait, I mean, how ridiculous is that? "Snow and cold, let's just throw them out there in the desert, see how they do." They did fine. It was a little bit funny, though. They have an interesting culture there, and so getting to know 01:20:00those soldiers and their unique culture and allowing them to share their experiences, because some of those guys, I'll tell you what. They live off the land, they talk about hunting whales and stuff. I'm like, "I didn't even know that was allowed still," but apparently they're doing it. Truly living off the land, and interesting foods that they would get home in their care packages.
TP: You also mentioned, too, there were a lot of contractors on this base as well.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Was that part of your duty, to [crosstalk 01:20:40] for them?
NC: Provide support for them?
NC: Not directly, but we would support them when things arose. If there's adeath in the family, things like that, being supportive of them. A lot of them were truck drivers or facilities, helping with the facilities.
TP: With you personally, what were you doing when you weren't on duty?
NC: Oh. Calling home a lot. Doing the webcam, trying to keep up with everylittle update from home and my son, TPler. Working out. It was pretty standard day-to-day, call home.
TP: How was communicating back home? How was that relationship going, as you'rehelping other people work through this?
NC: It was pretty good. I had the luxury of having a phone in my office. Noteverybody had that, so I did have a chance to call back home quite a bit.
TP: How was your wife handling the deployment?01:22:00
NC: She handled it well. She had her mother there living at home, and that wasvery supportive for her, obviously, with a young child. She did very well.
TP: Were there any moments or experiences during that deployment that you feelembodied your service to the country? Were there any formative experiences that happened while you were there?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I'm trying to see. Any experiences that embodiedmy service to the country. You know, I think it's just everything that I've said already, as far as supporting the soldiers, especially when they had conflicts occurring back home. A soldier, maybe, whose mother passed away, we had two of those. Just being supportive of them. I think that probably was the focus of my ministry, uniquely.
TP: One thing we've been asking people too, as part of this, is, were you awareof the political climate around the world, around your deployment and your mission? Were you aware of that? Is that anything that impacted you? How did you become aware of that, that sort of thing?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative), okay. I think ... Wasn't the surge in 2007-'08? Ithink that's when it was. Obviously, I was fully aware of the debate about the Iraq War, but honestly, my focus wasn't so much on what people were thinking 01:24:00about back home, as much as what needed to be done there and supporting the soldiers there. I didn't really ... At least when I was deployed, I didn't get very concerned in that.
TP: At some point in this process, you start preparing to come back home.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: How did that process go, and what did it feel like in the days leading up toyour return to the States?
NC: Okay. I need to give you a little backstory right now. I mentioned ChaplainAquino as being a person who had really influenced me quite a bit, and early on, when I was an enlisted soldier, probably in the mid-'90s. When I got this notice that I was going to deploy in 2006, one of the things that you do is you correspond with your counterpart with the person who's currently stationed there, so that you can ask questions and find out what to expect there. Through my S1 channel, I was asking for that person is, so I can communicate with them. It ended up being Chaplain Aquino, amazingly, because he ended up deploying with a Wisconsin unit who didn't have a chaplain, and going to the Camp Navistar in Kuwait for a year. We actually saw each other there in the desert for a few days when he's ending his deployment and I was beginning mine. When you think about that, there's probably almost 1,000 chaplains in the Army, and for that to be ... For me to run across him was just an amazing ... Not coincidence, but definitely a God thing.
As my deployment progressed, once in a while, we would communicate, and with a01:26:00couple weeks left in the deployment, we started talking a little bit more, and he mentioned to me that "Hey, Hey Nick, there's this chaplain position here in Ohio," because I was living in Michigan at the time, "That is a rear detachment chaplain to support a brigade that's deploying, to support those families back home. We don't have any chaplain in Ohio who's able to fill that. Would you be interested?" Here with just a couple weeks in the deployment, having been gone for now 15 months, here I am now having a conversation with my wife on the phone, saying, "Hey, Honey, you know about my plan just to come home and relax for a while, and learn how to be a dad and all that? What do you think, as soon as I get home, we up and move to Ohio? How would you feel about that?" Well, I have to say, she was very supportive. We ended up moving here to Columbus, Ohio, within about two months after I returned. It was just a whirlwind, that transition.
For me, it wasn't as much of a transition, obviously, because I was from Ohio. Imoved up to Michigan to go to seminary, and at the time and now, my brother and my mom live here in Columbus, so there was an easy connection for me. The big thing for her was leaving her family. It wasn't just hard for her, it was hard for her mom, because her mom had basically lived in our house while I was deployed taking care of our new son. Obviously, she's got a connection there with Tyler. It was hard for her. I remember my wife asking me as we were talking about it, as we were trying to decide what to her, I mentioned to her that, "I 01:28:00feel like if I don't do this, I feel like I'll regret it, because I feel like this is not a coincidence. There's too much going on here, obviously, with Chaplain Aquino involved," and so I really just felt like the stars were aligning. This is what I really wanted to do, because if it wasn't this, I'd go back to the sheriff's department as a dispatcher until I found something else.
It was a huge step of faith, because we were comfortable there in Michigan. Wehad a nice home, we both had jobs that were paying the bills, and we were all right. I really felt like this was maybe what God was calling me to do, because I started in Ohio as this young enlisted soldier, and now here's an opportunity to serve the Ohio Guard again and to come home.
There were a lot of things that were done during that time that weresignificant. One was, we really stepped out in faith. I did things that I would never advise any soldier to do. For example, we came down here to Columbus to look for houses, and I wanted it to be a smooth transition. I didn't want to come down here to Columbus and get an apartment and then have to move again. I wanted one full swoop. "Look, we had a year of deployment, let's not make it any harder." In order to do that, we needed to time it well, buying a house and stuff like that. Finding a house, we basically found a house in one day and made an offer in a very short amount of time. The thing that I did that I wouldn't recommend other soldiers to do was we bought this house before I even got orders, official orders, to come to Ohio. Basically, it was on Chaplain Aquino's word, because he said, "We'll make it happen, the funds are there," and so forth.
The other thing, we bought the house before the state of Michigan, before theMichigan Guard, released me, because they have to give approval for that. It was like, "All right." Also, this job down here wasn't a long-term thing. It was only a one-year assignment with the potential of renewing, but it wasn't a long-term thing. In many ways, it was a huge step of faith for us to come down here, but a lot of things made it easier. One of those things was obviously just feeling like God was in this, this is not a coincidence how this was working out. I really trusted Chaplain Aquino, also, and his word there. 01:30:00
The other thing I really appreciate about how this all worked out was ... Ididn't really go into it a whole lot, but during my deployment in Kuwait, I didn't really have a very good relationship with my commander. A chaplain works directly for the commander. I won't name names or anything like that. I will say I think Ohio does it better. It was a commander from Michigan Guard for this unit, and we just didn't click. It wasn't just me, there was other issues, too. The bottom line was that he didn't really believe in me. He kind of had ... I don't know. I won't go into detail, but he just didn't believe in me as a person. He felt like I was too young and didn't really have anything to offer.
Going from that to working for Chaplain Aquino, who really has all the faith inthe world in me and believes that I'm a capable person who has a lot to offer, 01:32:00was just a huge blessing for me. It was a rough year, in that sense, working in that environment there, but when it came through, I think that it helps me to appreciate all the more what I have here now, where I feel like I'm, in the last eight years now, serving in Ohio Guard, now that I've returned, in a full-time way, I feel like I've had a lot of opportunities to serve and to do what God's called me to do working for a person who really believes and trusts in me, I guess. I just really appreciate that.
TP: Huge. That makes all the difference in the world.
TP: Other than up and moving your entire life right when you got back, what wasit like coming back home? You've said, you had mentioned this idea that you're learning to become a father. Let's back up a little bit. How was your return home? What was it like coming back? Then, maybe talk about how that [crosstalk 01:33:10] played out.
NC: It was just a whirlwind, because basically what we had to do is we needed toprepare our house there in Michigan to either rent or sell, and we needed to pack things up and move down here, finding a place. All that transition added stress. Learning how to share my wife with another human being took me some time, because I kind of missed my wife. Then you have a child there who's very needy and needs a lot of attention. I even remember coming home and my son Tyler, because she let Tyler sleep in the bed there with her. I come home, and Tyler's like one year old at the time. He's like, "What are you doing in my bed?" It's kind of like that. You really have to kind of adjust there.
To this day ... I can't blame this solely on the deployment, because I think01:34:00it's just the personality of my wife, our kids are very attached to her. That's good and bad. Learning how to share my wife with another human being took some time. That was a big stress.
You know, I think also the stress of helping my wife through this transitionwith her family up there in Michigan, because that's a challenge, too. That's the first time she'd really been separated by a distance from her family. There was some conflict there, no doubt. I have to admit, my wife and I, we had some knock-down-drag-outs, just anecdotally. Just saying, not literally. We had some arguments and some stressful time there in trying to figure that out.
TP: You get a house bought.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Then you get official orders that you're going to have the job that youbought the house for.
TP: You move down here. Then, this is full-time position for a year. You saidfull-time assignment?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: What's that work like now? You're chaplain for rear detachment, so a lot offamily work. You went from being deployed and working predominantly with the soldiers, and then now, is that flipped a bit?
NC: Okay, I'm sorry ... Okay, working with the families, you mean? It did,during that time. Now, I'm trying to remember. The 37th IBCT, if I'm getting my numbers right, I've got to figure that they probably had somewhere around 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers deployed during that brigade's deployment, with maybe 20-some 01:36:00units all around the state of Ohio, geographically dispersed, families everywhere. 37th has had some big deployments here in Ohio, and so in '07 to '08, that was one of them, there in Iraq. As you can imagine, there's a lot going on with supporting their families and just being ... Connecting with them, letting them know that you're there to support, visiting them at different meetings and so forth. I would do things to kind of help spur on that communication between the soldier deployed and the family back home, and sharing from my own personal experience about things that worked and didn't, and learning from them as well, and just facilitating that conversation in order to improve those bonds there.
That was my primary responsibility at that time.
TP: How did you like that work, or that aspect of the work?
NC: I mean, I loved it. Again, working for Chaplain Aquino, he's the opposite ofa micromanager. He really gave me the freedom to do what I felt was best in visiting those units and interacting with those families. I feel like I was able to provide a ministry there, for sure.
Then, also, at that time, starting to get more engaged in things like suicideintervention, things like Strong Bonds training, which is essentially relationship education for families. We started to ... I started to get smart on some of those curriculums, and where we would offer events for those soldiers and families, mostly after deployments, after they came home, because the 01:38:00support isn't just during the deployment, but it's also when they return, as well ... And, if you're really good, before they deploy, and getting ahead of the issue and trying to strengthen those bonds before they deploy.
TP: Was that something that was changing? Did the Guard always have that? Wasthat something that was being instituted?
NC: I don't think they've always had that. I think the funding for that ... Icould be off by a year or two, but basically after 9/11, some of the funding started to grow in that program with Strong Bonds. I remember even dong a Strong Bonds event when I was in Michigan, so I know it was back then in 2004, '03, '04, '05, something like that. It's kind of grown and developed throughout the years.
TP: Interesting. Having questions specifically about the chaplaincy, you saidthat you also at one point served as a bit of a recruiter?
TP: I know that's back in the day a little bit.
NC: It was a short thing. That was only, like, three months. It was a quickstint, so I can't say it was really instrumental in any way.
TP: Okay. Are there other things that ... you mentioned that there's some ofthese things like the family support and you said that that program, even though it existed, seemed like it was maybe growing a little bit.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Are there other things that have happened, either in the military or on thecivilian side, that have impacted your chaplaincy and how you do that work?
NC: Is there anything that happens? Well. Can you say, is there-
TP: I know we had a couple different things that we're going on, you mentioned.Obviously, 9/11 was a huge formative experience in your work. I was interested to know, has the repeal of the Defense of Marriage had any impact on your work? 01:40:00
NC: Okay. That has had an impact, too, and honestly, if I could list a fewthings, and maybe we could talk about some of them in whatever particular order. I think Defense of Marriage ... I'd be happy to talk about that, but I think that's a little bit further along down the line chronologically. I will say this, though. When I came down here as a rear det chaplain for the 37th, like I said, it was only, like, a year long or two. I came into it in 2007 in the fall. Then, we had the election in 2008, and then in 2009, my job basically was phased out and that transitioned into a different job on the full-time side, where I was doing more work with behavior health, I guess. There was a problem called Ohio Cares that really worked on developing a network of ... Insuring that soldiers got access to behavioral health care. Obviously, as a chaplain, that's not my primary responsibility. I'm more on the faith side of things. But, at the time, I think they just put a chaplain in there because there's a lot of overlap there.
I kind of facilitated that program for a while, and then, I think it was about ayear later, then I transitioned into basically what I'm doing now, which is just basically working in the chaplain's office and overseeing the training, the mentoring, the support of all of our chaplains across the state of Ohio. My role now isn't as much direct support as much as now it's related to helping other chaplains and chaplain candidates be successful in their ministries. I'm not saying that I don't do direct support, I definitely do, but my primary responsibility is supporting him. To me, that's the ... If I were to answer your question about anything that made a big impact, the biggest impact was the 01:42:00transitioning of my roles. I could talk more about some of those things.
Another thing to keep in mind, a lot of what I'm talking about right now is myfull time work, whereas throughout the last eight years, I've also been assigned to units that drill on a traditional one weekend a month, and that sort of thing. When I first came down here to Ohio, I was assigned to a chemical battalion. One weekend a month and for annual training, I would go and do work with them. I think I did that until about 2010, I think, or '11. Essentially, what that work related to was something like what we would call now defense support of civilian authorities. That is, if a major disaster or terrorist attack occurred, our unit would get called up to support civilian local police, fire, in their efforts to mitigate the effects of some of these disasters. As a chemical battalion, obviously our role in that was decontamination in the event of some kind of chemical, biological attack, and so we worked with other elements that did things like search and extraction teams, like if you had a 9/11, you had a building collapse, so we would help. You would have engineers go out there and help dig through rubble piles, being able to even operate in a contaminated environment with full suits and everything. Then, there would be a medical triage that would provide support as well for casualties. 01:44:00
That's kind of my role on the drill side, and then, I think it was in 2010, Itransitioned over to the state headquarters and provided support for a lot of our full time force around the state. In that ministry, I was pretty shorthanded in the sense that there was a lot of responsibility, a lot of units I was responsible to support, to include our state headquarters, our training sites, we had a medical detachment. One of them that really stood out was the recruiting and retention battalion. The recruiting and retention battalion is quite large, and includes not only our recruiters, but new soldiers. These are the new soldiers that drill at their units before they go to basic training, sometimes between basic and their AIT, because sometimes there's a time there, and then before they get assigned to their unit that they will eventually be with.
Some of these new recruits, some of them would even go and go to basic trainingbetween their junior and senior year, and then they'd do their senior year of high school, and then they'd go do their tech school. You're really working with young kids sometimes 17, 18, in their early 20s. As a chaplain, it's like, what I call it, is that it's like being a basic training chaplain. What I mean by that is that, when you go to basic training, everybody comes to chapel. I don't know what it is. I remember when I was in basic training, it was like either that or the drill sergeant makes you clean the barracks or something, I don't know. Most people go to chapel during basic training, that's what I remember. Obviously, it's an optional thing, nobody's forced to do it, but the drill 01:46:00sergeants make it a priority, and the recruiters in the same way.
Going to these units and visiting these young soldiers was just an amazingopportunity to really start things out on a good note for them, as far as encouraging them in the faith, helping them to understand what the Chaplain Corps can offer them. Honestly, a lot of times, I would have the opportunity just to share my own personal story to relate with them, because I've been there too. I've been there as a young enlisted soldier trying to figure out who I am, and what's my path in life. It's just been an amazing experience there, where I've ... A lot of times, I would go to a unit, and after interacting with them, maybe offering a chapel service, which most of them attend, it wouldn't be unusual to have 25%, 30% of them want to talk to me personally. I'd go and visit a unit in Cleveland, one of our larger ones, maybe 150 soldiers, it wouldn't be unusual to have 30 soldiers want to talk one on one with me ... Which is just an amazing thing, because when you have these conversations with these young soldiers, it's all about what's going on in their life, and dealing with a lot of family issues sometimes, helping them to process through relationship issues, anything that you would expect a young person to be dealing with.
Sometimes people look at the military as their family, the stable family thatthey never had. You see that a lot. Honestly, I relate to that, too, where I had a lot of family strife growing up. I feel like God used that as an opportunity for me to really connect with these young soldiers, and so that's been very instrumental.
You asked one question and I've been talking this whole time.01:48:00
Of late, I got reassigned this past summer, just for a short stint, and it'skind of doing a little bit more defense support, the civilian authorities type work, with the 73rd Troop Command. Even then, interestingly, I'm going to get reassigned here in a few months, because there's a good chance that I will end up getting deployed again in 2017. I'm going to get assigned to a unit that's scheduled to deploy to Kuwait. Kuwait again, back to the desert.
TP: Camp Navistar?
NC: No, Navistar's gone. Navistar, we actually, at the end of our deployment, weactually helped disassemble that camp and move the border over a little bit.
TP: I guess, since you brought that up, let's talk about that. How does it feelknowing that you'll be deploying again to Kuwait? Now you're ... Your first time, you had a three month old son.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now we've got a nine, six, and two year old. Two boys,and then the little girl. It's, honestly, pretty intimidating. I think, looking back, it was definitely a lot easier to deploy with a young child for our family. Part of that is because, honestly, my son doesn't remember it, and so you don't really know what you've missed ... But now, obviously with my wife handling three kids, that's hard to do. She'll have a harder time than me, for sure. Just that concern for her and her well-being. 01:50:00
TP: How do you feel? Do you have a sense of how your kids view this, or yourwife's, for that matter?
NC: I think they ... No. Here's the secret, though. They don't know that I mightdeploy. We haven't had that conversation yet, because we are waiting until it becomes a more sure thing, because, you know, things could change politically. We may not be there, or they might have us doing something else. A lot of times, soldiers don't tell their whole family until they're more sure of it. We haven't really processed through that just yet. But, believe me, my wheels are spinning a little bit and ensuring that my wife is going to be set up for success when I'm gone.
We've gotten through a lot of this. Being in the military, it's not just aboutmobilizations and deployments. It's about trainings and so forth. I have to be away from home for this training or that training several weeks of the year quite often, and so really, my family, let alone the drill weekends and so forth. My family has become much more adaptable and used to that, to the extent that really, my wife has expressed confidence, saying that she'll be fine. She knows that she can do it. That's great to hear, because I think the number one thing for a soldier with a family is for them, their concerns for them.
TP: Now you, in talking about some of those, you said a lot of your roletransitions had to do with what you ... were kind of a bit of a defining moment 01:52:00in your service. You mentioned that, in some capacity, you were overseeing behavioral health.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Behavioral health programs, and that sort of thing.
TP: We've had conversations previously about how there's a bit of a -- And, youeven mentioned -- this delineation, that the chaplain is there for spiritual support.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: Once it goes into this other, and there is, obviously, some gray area,there's some crossover. Once it goes over, there's some time that you have to say, "Okay, we need to ... This is not spiritual, this is now either behavioral or psychological."
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: How is it on the other side of that? How did that work?
NC: What was my piece?
NC: Well, in my role with Ohio Cares, it wasn't so much as me the one providingthe support as that ensuring that we were addressing any gaps in services. We would actually work with members of the governor's cabinet and state agencies and charitable organizations, just trying to collaborate to ensure that we're addressing this issue of the behavior health needs of our service members and their families and veterans in the way that they need it. We would be in the same room with the VA and everybody else collaborating, ensuring that we're meeting the needs.
Because there are gaps, sometimes. For example, you normally think of the VAproviding support for service members, correct? But really, not every soldier is eligible for VA benefits. Being in the National Guard, you only obtain that eligibility if you've been deployed. You take a soldier who hasn't been deployed yet, let's say, but then experiences some traumatic things, well, they can't go to the VA for support. They have to go elsewhere. Then, other issues such as 01:54:00availability of providers and things like that, encouraging providers to take, like, TriCare, which is one of the primary insurance for service members out there. It's encouraging those providers to accept that. Things like that.
Another aspect of that is just having an easy way where soldiers can have aplace to reach out for assistance, to work through the stigma and to even do so in a confidential way. Another aspect of that is ensuring that leaders make the right decisions about getting soldiers to help, because a lot of these soldiers and leaders, they don't necessarily know what's right. We wanted to kind of advertise and brand an easily accessible way that soldiers can cut through all the red tape, leaders can cut through the red tape, and figure out where to get their soldiers some help. There still is a hotline through Ohio Cares that we get calls from to direct soldiers to assistance.
TP: How did you feel about that work? Because that's still very much a service,but not necessarily directly fulfilling the spiritual needs. It sounds like that was starting ... In the timeline of your career, that was starting to transition you out of this role of you [doing the 01:55:43] doing, and into this role of making sure that the doing happened.
NC: I think that I felt a little bit overwhelmed in the sense that that wasn'tthe only job that I was doing, either. At the time, when I was involved with 01:56:00Ohio Cares, I was also involved very much in our state suicide prevention program, and ensuring that soldiers are being trained to be able to identify signs of suicide ideation, thoughts, and get people to help. That was another aspect of that, plus me in my role of a chaplain.
I was wearing a lot of hats, and honestly, the one area that was least relatedto my call to ministry, essentially, was the behavior health side of things. I did experience some frustration, because it's like, "Look. This isn't what I'm specifically called to do." Not to say that it's not valuable, I totally agree that it's valuable, but you don't necessarily need a chaplain to do it. It could be anybody else. It could be ... Ideally, you want it to be a behavior health officer who's doing it, not a chaplain, and today, that's what they have right now. I think at the time, they really didn't have that. In fact, actually, the role of behavior health officers in the National Guard is a fairly recent thing, too, within the last several years, I think maybe five years, or something like that. They're becoming more prominent and finding ways to serve, and obviously that fits.
That seems to happen a lot, because in the Chaplain Corps, historically,chaplains are asked oftentimes to do things outside of the specific realm of religion quite a bit. Even in the state of Ohio here, even before there was a built-up Family Programs office, which we have a very strong Family Programs office in Ohio, early on, it was sort of a chaplain doing it. I don't know, I'm guessing a chaplain and a couple other people, or something. Now, it's like a much larger program. It's like, these human-related issues that relate to the 01:58:00well-being of soldiers, a lot of times, chaplains are at the forefront of that, and then, once they get up and running, then they hand it off to somebody else, who is a better fit for that. We kind of become a jack-of-all-trades in the chaplaincy.
TP: Are there any other facets of being a military chaplain in your own uniqueexperiences in the chaplaincy that you'd like to speak to?
NC: Any other experiences?
TP: Yeah. Other facets of it, your own unique experiences as a chaplain.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I mean, the day-to-day forme right now, the biggest thing that I do is Strong Minds. I know I alluded to that briefly already, and it just has to do with ... We do events for military families, and primarily, we started off doing a lot of marriage retreats, and just trying to strengthen those relationships, and encouraging people and recognizing that this is not a substitute for counseling, this is making a good thing better, and brand that in a way that people want to come, would make it a really relaxing, fun environment where they learn some things too to improve their marriage. You want to destigmatize that, obviously, and not think that, "Hey, you're going to the marriage retreat because something's wrong." That's obviously not what what we're trying to do.
We've done quite a bit of those. Even also within the last few years, last fiveyears or so, we've really also built up singles' retreats, too, for unmarried soldiers. I like to call that the "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." I would much rather have a conversation with a soldier who's not married 02:00:00yet, maybe not even in a relationship yet, so that they can more wisely build those relationships in a healthy way. It's more bang for your buck, because in relationships, relationships are a system, right? They develop patterns over time, and once those patterns are developed, they're a lot harder to change. You'd rather let them establish relationships in a healthy way from the beginning, making good choices about who they are going to be in a relationship with, for example, and that's going to really help. We're still building that, but more and more, we're getting more interested in those things. One curriculum we've used in particular that's quite humorous is called, "How Not to Fall in Love with a Jerk," or a Jerkette. That pretty much says it there. I like to call it "How Not to Mess Up a Good Thing," too, so we're not excluding those who are in relationships. We just want to encourage people to build it in a healthy way.
This year, actually, this next year, we're going to roll out some family events,too, and so that's a nice addition as well.
TP: Is that something that the active duty component is also doing, [crosstalk 02:01:19]?
NC: Yes. All that funding for the Strong Bonds is federally funded, and so, yes.Active duty, Guard, Reserve, they all have access to that.
Now, you asked a few minutes ago about DOMA and how that relates, the repeal ofthe Defense of Marriage Act, and how that relates to us in the chaplaincy. I think Strong Bonds becomes a place where that occurs as well, where you see that played out. Obviously, with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and essentially providing all the support services for soldiers regardless of one's sexual orientation, it does create some complexities within the Chaplain Corps, 02:02:00but I don't think it's that hard to overcome. We can work through that.
When it comes down to it, it falls under the same category as perform andprovide. For example, they can't require a military chaplain to perform a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple if their denomination and their conscience doesn't allow that. Even if that chaplain can't do it, simply, you would refer to a chaplain who could do it. It falls under the same category as performing and providing.
Honestly, for marriage retreats, some denominations have elected to instructtheir chaplains that they're not allowed to do them for a same-sex couple. It makes things more complicated, because if you have a same-sex couple registered for an event in which a chaplain is not allowed to do now, well, then, you need to find a new instructor, and that's not always easy. That takes a little bit of prior planning and having some backup plans and so forth. We've been able to work through that, and even at times ... Because you've got to have a chaplain with the appropriate certification in that curriculum and so forth, and the availability, because our chaplains are busy. A lot of them have their own congregations. This is not their full-time work. They're traditional Guardsmen like everybody else. Sometimes we can't fill that. In a couple instances, we actually have even gone out of state and requested a chaplain from another state, like Pennsylvania or Indiana to come and do some of our events if we've had a same-sex couple attend. 02:04:00
Again, trying to meet the needs of the soldiers, yet still respecting theendorsement, the tenets of faith, of our various different chaplains.
TP: [inaudible 02:04:27] from that, and thank you for that. That's aninteresting intersection of how that can impact something I don't think people might necessarily think about when they think of the National Guard or military service.
NC: Right. Right.
TP: Looking back, how do you feel your military experience has affected you?From that, how has it affected your family?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Me personally, obviously, my military experience hasdeepened my appreciation for what this country is, without a doubt. Obviously, I'm a chaplain, so I'm going to say when you order priority of things, my faith comes first, even before this country. Even in the Chaplains' Core, our motto is "God and country," right? Well, God comes first, then country, right? That's still true, but I have a deep appreciation for what this country is, in that I feel like this country aligns and supports my understanding of what faith is supposed to be, in the sense that it's supposed to be something that we freely give. I believe in my faith tradition that God gives us freedom to make a choice, and that choice can either be to accept or reject, to live a life of service to others or just service to yourself. He gives us that freedom to choose. 02:06:00
For right or for wrong, here in America, people have the freedom to choose, too,and sometimes they don't choose very good, but they have that freedom. That's what, I guess, I appreciate about what this country is. While I would say that early on in my military career, it was all about me, it was all about that the opportunity that the military would give me, as I grew in my own faith and service to others, I developed much more appreciation for the greater cause that we are here to support.
TP: Has your, other than, you said at the beginning it was a little more aboutyou than it was about the service, has your opinion of your experience changed over the years? I also think, too, has your opinion of what the Ohio National Guard is changed over the years?
NC: Has it changed? Hm. I'm not sure what ... How has it changed throughout the years?
Well, like I said earlier, my opinion when I became a chaplain was initiallyabout meeting people according to ... Helping them to experience faith during a time of transition in their life, to supporting families. I'm still supporting people's faith, but I'm also seeing, wanting to support and strengthen the families. I guess that's a transition that has occurred for me personally.
As far as the transition in the way I see ... Another transition that I'vealready talked about was transitioning from the person who's providing a lot of 02:08:00the direct support to mentoring those. Not every chaplain enjoys making that transition. A lot of chaplains like to be on the front lines, in a sense, with that direct ministry with soldiers, and don't like to kind of take a step back and have a more administrative role and mentoring role with others. I think I've done well with that.
As far as the way I've perceived ... I'm not sure how you phrased the question,about how it's transitioned, but that's how it's transitioned for me personally.
TP: Given that less than 1% of our United States population serves in themilitary, what do you think people should know about military service, about the people who serve, about being overseas and near a combat situation?
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, you know, I think I mentioned it earlier. It'snot just those who serve, but it's the whole family, because I think sometimes that gets overlooked. This definitely calls some attention to the whole family.
The other thing that I think I will say is that I feel a strong sense of supportfrom the community for our military. I think we're very blessed to have that support. I think if you go around our communities around the United States, for the most part, people are extremely supportive. That's an awesome thing, considering the fact that, let's face it, we don't live in a country where everybody agrees with the decisions of our politicians about wars we enter into or how we propagate these wars. The fact of the matter is, is that this isn't the first time in our nation's history where we've had a lot of that disagreement. Obviously, thinking about Vietnam in particular. You look at the 02:10:00difference about how our communities really have rallied around our military members, as opposed to how they treated military members during the Vietnam era, and it's just 180 degrees different.
I'd have to say the most important reason why that has occurred is becauseVietnam veterans, when they came home from war, after experiencing what they experienced, their attitude has been "Never again." You know? "Never again will we allow our nation to treat our veterans and military members in this way." Sure, disagree all you want with the decisions of politicians, but don't take it out on the soldier. I really appreciate that, and really, every opportunity I have to give thanks to our Vietnam veterans for their service to our country, their advocacy, that's why we experience the support today.
TP: Is there anything else you'd like to add that we did not discuss, that Ihave not asked yet?
NC: Let's see here. We've covered down on a lot of the ... You know, one thing Ididn't talk about a whole lot was suicide prevention and intervention. You hear a lot about suicide in the military, correct, In the media, and so forth, and that it is a problem. While certainly it is a problem, I wholeheartedly agree it's a problem, I don't think it's exclusive to the military. I think it's a 02:12:00problem in society in general, and I think it's a growing problem. I think, without going into depth into why I believe that's the case, I think we see that in our world today, where people deal with stress in a different way than maybe they did before. There's a lot more stressors, in some ways. In some ways, it's like the world we live in is much more complex, and we are not as bonded ... We don't do good with developing healthy relationships. I think that sometimes you could relate that to some of the breakdown of the family a little bit, you know? There's a lot of factors involved.
The fact of the matter is, is that it's a problem everywhere. The reason why youhear about it in the military a lot, in my opinion, is we report our statistics right off the back, whereas the CDC, they don't report their statistics for, like, three years after. Here in 2015, we're probably gaining stats from 2012. If there's a rise and there's an uptick in suicide, the military reports it in January for the previous year, every year. I'll say that.
The other thing is that, when you think about organizations and how they relateto this problem of suicide and what they do about it, I will say that we address this issue of suicide better than anybody else, without a doubt. You're not going to see any corporation in the United States doing as much work on suicide than the military does. It's amazing what we do. Not only do we do training annually ... Granted, you know, I think we've evolved the training through the years. A lot of times, just the annual briefings and so forth, they weren't really making the impact that they were supposed to make. It's more of just a 02:14:00"check the block" sort of thing. I think it's evolved throughout the years where we've transitioned the way we do training from just a one-way conversation about suicide to something that we can talk about and inform in a group, and have leaders step up and encourage people to get help.
When I was early on, maybe ten years ago, the way they looked at suicide and howthey did training was, "Hey, Chaplain, come over here and do this training." All right, so the chaplain would go and do the training, right? Well, the way we do suicide prevention training these days, it's, "Hey you, Leader, you do the training. You, Squad Leader, you do this training, or you, Platoon Leader," whatever. You're having people who are the more natural leader conducting that training for the soldier, encouraging that person to get help. The difference is, is that it's one thing for a chaplain to tell somebody it's a strength to get help. It's another thing for your leader to tell you that. To me, it makes a bigger impact when one of your leaders tells you that, because you're hearing it from a person who has authority. I'm sorry, as a chaplain, I don't have authority over the soldiers. I'm not their chain of command. I'm just the good old chaplain over here, you know? Having the leaders openly speak about it, that makes a big difference.
One of the key things that we've done in the state of Ohio that I'm very proudof is we've really taken the lead in suicide intervention training. We've been utilizing a training called ASIST: Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. It's a training that has been developed for 40 years by a company from Canada called Living Works, and they've constantly, they've taken experts in the field, they're constantly updating their training to make it more relevant and making 02:16:00it better. Essentially, it's a two day training, a 16 hour training. Last I checked, I think we've trained probably around 1,500 to 1,600 soldiers in the state of Ohio on this intervention training, here in just the Army. Think about that. In the state of Ohio, we've probably got 10,000 soldiers, and we've trained, what, 1,600 in this suicide intervention training, which is basically a two-day training, on how to be more ready, willing, and able to help a person at risk for suicide. Check with any corporation out there, any school system. I'm sorry, we probably have more training than most doctors on suicide intervention, actually a practical method to get people help. The fact is, is that we're seeing it work. We're seeing more and more these days soldiers and leaders doing the right thing to get people help, and focusing on that safety for now and making the right decisions.
I'm very proud of that. A lot of times, when you think about perceptions insociety about the military and Army and suicide, you see it as this big problem, but in my opinion, you think of the fact that we are citizen soldiers here in the National Guard, every one of these soldiers who's getting this world-class training on suicide intervention, they're going back to their communities. They're teachers, they're paramedics, they're police officers, they're factory workers, moms and dads and everything else, who have a higher level of training on suicide intervention than most people in their community, neighborhood, workplace, whatever. To me, we're having a positive impact in our whole 02:18:00community. We're not, in a sense ... I see that a lot of times, the perception is that the military is sort of in this bad situation, we've got this horrible problem, but I think we're taking the lead and addressing this.
TP: It's clear that you're very proud of that, and that seems to be ... Was thatsomething that you initially saw as a role a chaplain would play, this suicide intervention and prevention?
NC: I do. I see the chaplain's role ... The chaplain's role has always been theperson who the commander brings the soldier to who's experiencing these suicidal thoughts. A chaplain's sort of the go-to person: "Hey Chaplain, I need you to talk to." Just to be clear, a lot of times, people think of chaplains, and they think the chaplain's there just talking about religion. Yeah, we're there to talk about faith, but that doesn't mean that we exclusively only support people of faith and that's the only subject matter. A lot of it's relationship-driven and things like that. Interpersonal. Suicide is one of those categories as well, where a commander is kind of at a loss, and like, "I don't know what to do with this, Chaplain, come and help," because they know that the chaplain's used to dealing with these types of situations and so forth.
The transition that I see is the chaplain not just as the primary person who'ssupporting, but the person who's training others. I'm not saying it's exclusively chaplains, by the way, because we've got several trainers that are from different fields, behavior health, and soldiers who are just soldiers, maybe they're a logistics field or whatever, but they have a particular interest in this. That role of seeing the chaplain as the person who is training others 02:20:00to intervene, I think that's the change there. That's a good change.
TP: Is there anything else that we have not addressed that you'd like to add?
NC: Okay, so ... Let me think here. I think that's really the major stuff. I'mtrying to think here if there's anything else. I think that covers the really big rocks.
TP: I did have one question that I wanted to follow up and end with, was, itsounds like, in hearing your story, you had ... Your decision to join the military and your decision, or your faith journey, I guess, have very much been intertwined.
NC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TP: How do you feel that has worked? Do you see them as a linked thing? Do yousee your faith and your ministry as something you're doing inside of the service, or, I guess-
NC: That's a good question.
TP: What's that feel for you?
NC: That's a good question. Well, according to my faith tradition, as anevangelical Christian, I believe in something called the priesthood of all believers. I believe that God calls every person to ministry, not just some, and I don't care if you are a waitress at a restaurant or an accountant, engineer, teacher, whoever you are, whatever role and the multiple hats that you wear as a 02:22:00parent, as a husband, and whatever, that God calls you to minister in that environment. I just happen to be a chaplain. In the same way, as as soldier, I think ... Can you say an infantry soldier, that's his ministry? I think yes. I think yes, because he's serving his fellow human being. He's serving his country. The way we go about that obviously can make a difference whether or not it truly is a ministry or not, but if we're serving in such a way that upholds our values, our values as a nation, as an army, as a person of faith, then I would say, yes, it's your ministry.
Yeah, I would say it's completely tied together. Do I see myself doing this forquite a long time? Yes. I mean, I'm 41 years old. I've served for 23 years in the military. As long as my health holds out and the good Lord doesn't return, I'd like to do another 19 years. That's my goal.
Yeah, it's completely intertwined, but if it's not this, it's going to besomething else, of course. I've heard people ask the question in terms of the chaplaincy, "So, once you retire from the chaplaincy, do you just hang it up and you don't serve anymore, or do you find other ways to serve?" Obviously, the 02:24:00answer is you find other ways to serve, but it may be in an informal way. It may be formally. It could be that you could be a pastor of a church, but it doesn't have to be, in my belief. I could be a landlord and see that as a ministry, in some ways. You know what I mean? It's just the way we conduct ourselves. Yeah. It's completely intertwined for me.
TP: Can you speak to what you said, the term "moral injury"?
TP: What is that, and how does that play out in your role as chaplain and inmilitary life?
NC: Right. Well, let me backtrack for a second and say, several years ago, theArmy instituted this program called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. Comprehensive Soldier Fitness tried to look holistically at the soldier and look at how we can promote a healthier, more fit soldier. Obviously, when you think of fitness, you think physically, but that's also going to incorporate factors such as your emotional fitness, your social fitness, family. Another component of that that was really acknowledged by the Army was spiritual fitness, which was sort of interesting, that they would acknowledge that component. I think it's a healthy thing, when you think about acknowledging a person's spirituality.
Obviously, spirituality can be defined in many different ways, religiously orjust philosophically, but when it comes down to it, whether it's your religious system or your worldview ... Everybody has a certain worldview that they develop over the course of time, and some of these worldviews can be helpful or not so 02:26:00helpful. Hopefully we want to encourage people to be more introspective about why they do the things they do and what purpose there is. As a chaplain, we've had an opportunity, we do have opportunities to do that in different ways.
Now, one thing I think helps is when the Army acknowledges that, andacknowledges that that's a need. At times, I've had opportunities where I have been able to speak to soldiers, even in a training supported by the commander, saying, "Let's talk about spiritual fitness and what that means." To ask those key questions, those introspective questions about, "Hey, what's your purpose in life, and what kind of impact do you want to make in this world?" But, as it pertains to your worldview, everybody has this worldview.
When you go to war, your worldview will get tested, and that's a good thing anda bad thing. In many ways, I think it's good, because it helps refine your worldview. If you went into war and you had a very nave worldview ... Let's say you believed that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, and that's just the way things are. Well, what happens when that doesn't happen, and then, why does evil flourish? That gets tested. Things become a lot more complex. Well, it can do one of two things. Some people come back from war, and they lose their faith. Their worldview was tested, there was a crack found, and they abandoned it. For other people, it strengthens their worldview. It matures it.
As a chaplain, I think we try to encourage people to think along these lines,02:28:00because this obviously becomes very tied into that holistic person. It's not just some spiritual thing that you can throw into a closet and just deal with it every once in a while. It becomes a part of all you are as a whole person, and it affects how you relate to yourself, to other people, to your understanding of who God is. If you don't deal with it in that healthy way, it could send you in a pretty dark place. Even in the mental health field, there have been acknowledged terminology along the lines of moral injury, is the term that's kind of come up in recent years. There's been some research done on that. You could go and check that out. There's a lot of stuff out there, information on the topic of moral injury.
Moral injury can come in many differet forms. Sometimes a moral injury has todo with what somebody did to you, and how it violated your sense of rightness. It could be the enemy, it could be a commander. Sometimes moral injury has to do with what you have done to another human being that doesn't match up with what you believe. Maybe there are certain things that you've done that you regret. It's a very complex matter, I can't go and define it in one specific way because it's unique for every person, but when it comes down to it, it all has to do with refining and redeveloping your own worldview, and developing a system in which you can feel connected to God and to others in such a way that you're not simply abandoning your faith. I think you see that play out in a lot of 02:30:00different ways. I think that in society, we've seen people more and more willing to talk about that matter.
Even things like the movie American Sniper, which I thought was a fantasticmovie, that illustrated the psychological effects that war causes, may cause, on another person ... For him, for Chris Kyle, he found his avenue toward, I guess, health and returning to his faith by helping other people, and not focusing on the things that he didn't do. I don't know if you're familiar with his story or not, but as the most decorated sniper in American history, for him, his struggle was the people he didn't save. Obviously, as a sniper, he's there trying to provide for the safety and security of other soldiers, and so when you think about the countless number of lives that he has saved ... But he focused on those he didn't. It led him to a pretty dark place, when he focused on that. When he realized that, "Look, there's still people who need saving, they just, they're not at war right now. They're your fellow brothers and sisters who are back here and trying to work through a lot of the trauma of war and things like that. They're there, that need assistance as well."
As a chaplain, I think we're there trying to encourage those conversations andnot just to avoid them. I'm happy to continue that conversation with any leader 02:32:00or commander who's willing to have that conversation. Trying to help our commanders and people in a role, in a position of responsibility to appreciate that and not just throw it in the closet and say, "That's just that religious thing.