A chaplain’s story
July 4, 2021
The Lord said to me, “’My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12)
When the signers of the Declaration of Independence gathered in July 1776, chaplains were in the field with our soldiers and on vessels with our sailors and marines. As we remember the significant events of this day, please consider the ministry our chaplains have provided through our nation’s history. Below is the story of one of God’s servants now nearing the end of 30-plus years in uniform.
Just as Chaplain Schaick was there when his comrades needed him the most, so today our chaplains are deployed around the world supporting those who faithfully serve so that we may all pursue liberty and justice for all.
The last day of service for Chaplain, Major Gen. Steve Schaick, USAF, was July 2 and he will be honored with a retirement ceremony on Aug. 10. Retiring as the Chief of Chaplains of the Air Force, his ministry has been one of faithful service for more than 30 years.
Lyman Smith, Director, Presbyterian Federal Chaplaincies (presfedchap.org)
Just before kissing my pregnant wife goodbye, I tiptoed into the room of my sleeping 3-year-old daughter. My lips touched her tender cheeks and uncontrollable tears followed. No one ever told me deploying would be so hard.
A few hours later, I climbed the ladder of a B-52 bomber. As their chaplain, and a frequent flyer with these guys, I always sat in the instructor pilot seat behind the pilots. Soon, we were airborne, on our way to a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. A tent, with a dozen of my new best friends, on Diego Garcia would be my home for the next four months.
Our 19-hour flight gave me time to process a few looming questions. Having been a chaplain for only 18 months, I had questions. “Does the military really need chaplains?” And, “if so, am I called to be one?” Flying had long been a passion of mine as I earned a pilot’s license soon after my driver’s license. A few years later, I turned down a pilot training opportunity in ROTC when I received a call to ministry in college. Foolishness or faithfulness?
Two weeks into my deployment, the horns sounded. President George H.W. Bush’s attempt to negotiate Saddam Hussein out of occupied Kuwait had failed. My stomach rolled as fear, uncertainty and a hatred of war surfaced. The top-secret charts projected on the wall revealed how the first night of the Gulf War would play out. Weather, targeting, intelligence and leadership all briefed. And as our commander finished his comments, he looked at me and said, “Chaplain, pray for us.” Just before a brief reading from the Psalms, I noticed that every crew member in the room, 140 Christians, Atheists, Muslims and Jews, had interlocked their arms as if to form a prayer circle. And into a sacred silence I read, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. …”
Two weeks of round-the-clock bombing convinced the Republican Guard to retreat and the raping and pillaging of Kuwaitis to cease.
At 3:45 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 3, I felt a hand shake me out of a deep sleep. “Chaplain, chaplain, the commander needs you, now.” I got dressed and rushed to the headquarters building, where I learned that a B-52 had crashed into the ocean about 14 miles short of the island. The commander pointed to the operations officer and me, directing us to meet the deployed rescue helicopter. The HH-60 set down on the helipad just as we arrived. I ran to the aircraft praying the six-member crew would all be safe. Steve Ellard, the gunner, got out; we hugged. Kevin Kent, the pilot, got out; we hugged. Jeff Love, the co-pilot, got out; we hugged. Expecting three more hugs, I looked into the helicopter and saw only an empty bay.
Besides a few medical personnel, I alone was allowed access to the survivors. We prayed; we cried. Three of our brothers were dead. The hard work of grieving had begun.
Thirty years later, these guys remind me why we have military chaplains and why I’ve been called to this ministry.
Stories like this fill my soul as I prepare to retire this summer. And my heart sings:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Chaplain, Major Gen. Steve Schaick, USAF
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, July 4, 2021, the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Today’s Focus: Chaplains
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Lord our God, thank you for pardoning our sins, for providing us your peace, which endures, and for your presence, which cheers and guides. On this day of remembrance, thanksgiving and hope, may we give thanks for your superintending grace that brings good even when error clouds our best efforts. As you have done through 245 years, please continue to guide our nation and provide wisdom, love, compassion and humility for those who lead. In our weakness, may your power be made perfect as we seek your peace. Amen.