A chaplain on active duty in the United States Army (his name is being withheld due to safety concerns) joins The Redeemed Man Podcast. From frequent moves and long separations to depression and the stress of combat, members of military families face many unique and difficult challenges. Our guest, a married father of two young children, will talk about his background and share the insights he's gained into how these families can safeguard their mental health and maintain strong, loving relationships—both with each other and with God—even amidst the day-to-day strains of military life. Note: The views expressed by our guest are his own and are not endorsed by the Army or the Department of Defense.
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Welcome and Introduction
Paul: Hello and welcome. I'm Paul Amos, founder of The Redeemed. The Redeemed is a community of men that was built so that we could help with men in their difficulties and their triumphs over those difficulties. Today, we're back with The Redeemed Man Podcast, and we're here with a very special guest and a very special host. For the first time, I'm going to be turning over the hosting duties to our new director of The Redeemed, Nate Dewberry. Please welcome Nate as he comes in to lead us in this very special topic.
Nate: Paul, thank you so much, it's exciting to be on here today, and so excited about the guest we have with us. We have a chaplain who is currently serving in the United States Army. Due to security reasons, to protect him and his family and to protect the stories that he shares today, we're not going to call his name. I appreciate you guys understanding that, but we're so thrilled to have him with us today and welcome to the show.
Chaplain: Hey, thanks for having me Nate. It’s really quite an honor to be able to chat with you guys.
What does redemption mean to you?
Nate: Awesome. I know you have an extremely busy schedule, so thank you for taking time out of it. We want to start out first by asking you a question that we ask all of our guests, and that question is, what does redemption mean to you?
Chaplain: Yeah, well, I believe in the context of eternity, redemption means everything. I would go as far as saying that you could get everything wrong in life, but if you get redemption from the one who can truly redeem, that is the redeemer, eternally, you got everything right. And so what does redemption mean to me? I believe it is the process of being transformed by the one who is able to redeem, and that is Jesus.
What was redemption like for you personally?
Nate: Awesome, thank you for sharing that. Can you tell us a little bit about your own transformation and what redemption was like for you personally?
Chaplain: Yeah, that's a loaded question. Starting out with, I guess, just how I came to know Christ, maybe. My parents took me to church at a young age, and that's how I would say, I guess I cognitively or intellectually began to know who Christ is and who Jesus is, but the process of knowing Christ in a personal relationship and transformation. That's a journey that just like any relationship, I'm still on even today, right? But the relational journey for me started when I was in college when I surrendered my life to Christ and was baptized.
How did you get called to serve as a military chaplain?
Nate: Awesome, well, thank you so much for sharing about that time in college. Can you tell us a little bit about what transpired when in your season in college and how you ended up being a chaplain? I know there's quite the process to serving in chaplaincy, and so how did you end up feeling called to do what you currently do today?
Chaplain: Yeah, well, the abridged version is, I commissioned from the United States Military Academy at West Point up in New York, served for six years and some change and ended up transferring over the chaplain candidate program.
It's an interesting program where you can kind of just act as a job shadowing, essentially a chaplain once a month. So I went to seminary, youth pastored, and applied to get back in active duty, but that's kind of the abridged version.
The real meaty version, if you will, is probably what we're most interested in. So after high school, I came out of a very challenging home life. My parents were divorced, and people will ask, why did you go to West Point? And my kind of cookie cutter responds to folks is typically, "well, it was the best leadership opportunity for me at that time in life.” But the reality was, that I wanted to get away, I wanted to blaze my own path and do something, you know, just radically different, so West Point was an option for me to kind of get away from a challenging life situation.
So I played baseball up at West Point, and I tried to keep my head above water academically, and eventually started this ministry called I Am Second at West Point. And so I connected with a dear friend of mine, who is actually now a pastor down in Texas, and he helped me launch this ministry on campus. That was a time in life, that I'll come back to later on, where I really found fulfillment, purpose and meaning in life when I was in college, leading that ministry.
After graduation, I found myself in the army, which was kind of ironic because I thought I was going to be a pro baseball player, even going to a military academy, but when that wasn't in the deck of cards for me, and I found myself in the army. I went to Ranger School and airborne school, basically learning how to fall at an airplane, like a lawn dart and not get hurt.
Over the course of serving in the military, I found myself in the Middle East on a deployment, and for me, it was a challenging deployment. A relationship that I was in at the time deteriorated, I had a friend die, I struggle with acute post-traumatic stress coming back, and truly did not see the purpose of living. I was very depressed and very much suicidal. A dear friend of mine, who happened to be a chaplain, he was actually my chaplain at the time, he asked me how I was doing coming back from deployment. I was honest with him, he and his family actually decided to invite me to live in their home for several months and helped me get back to mental and spiritual stability.
I was very unhappy in the army, I was self-reflecting, and I was thinking to myself like, when was the time in my life I was most content, most certain, most fulfilled? For me, that was in fact a time where I was leading that college ministry at the Military Academy. So I started to ask myself, How do I get back to spiritually leading college age, young adult life stage servicemen and women?
And so that was kind of the progression of me starting to contemplate getting out of active duty into the reserves as a chaplain candidate. I met my wife and was married to her within six months, not saying I recommend that progression for everybody, but for us, we knew. Anyways, so I was working as a full-time youth pastor, a seminary student, and several years later, one baby later, I was qualified and accepted to serve as an active duty chaplain.
Kind of a cool asterisk to that story is when I got my first assignment as a chaplain, I called my chaplain buddy, a guy who basically helped save my life during that time of depression. I told him where my wife and I were being assigned to, and ironically enough, he and his family had just received assignment orders to that exact same duty location, so currently now I serve about three miles away from my chaplain buddy who I would say saved my life in a dark season. So I guess a story of redemption and in itself.
Nate: That's amazing to hear your journey and how you ended up in the chaplaincy. And it's amazing the people God places in our life to draw out the purpose He has for us. And it really sounds like that interaction that you had was not only life-changing, but also really helped keep you from making the wrong life choices at that point in time with the difficulty that you were facing.
Chaplain: Yeah, there is no doubt that they have been influential and very key people in my life at very needy times in my life that have helped keep me on the right path, or on a path that's not destructive.
God Can Do Amazing Things
Nate: Yeah, for sure. So I have to go back to you mentioned the quick engagement period for you and your wife. Tell us a little bit about how you met her in that journey, and a little bit about your family today. I would love to hear a little bit more about that, because it sounds like it was a pretty fierce engagement period.
Chaplain: At the time, I was in Alaska finishing up my former time in the military. My now wife was working in Georgia as a pre-first teacher. Oddly enough, my wife's co-worker at the time was my mom's college roommate, so just a dynamic there. But the co-worker reached out to my mom and asked if we could arrange a date to whenever I come visit home on Christmas leave, traveling across the country. Then the co-worker was bold enough to text my wife and say something along the lines of, ‘I know who your husband is.’
So we had no idea of each other's existence on this earth. I'm in Alaska, she's in Georgia, we got my mom's college roommate trying to set us up on a blind date. So sure enough, I come home six months later on Christmas vacation, and I think I was actually planning to go to a funeral, and I was like, Hey, I think I'm going to go ahead and try to set up a just to stop in for coffee and meet this young lady.
I really had no expectations. I was like, Hey, this is probably not going to work geographically, I live on the other side of the world in the military and go move to Texas or something to go to seminary, so it's probably not going to work. Well, two hours later, I think I was drinking tea, and she was drinking coffee, I think she was judging me pretty hard core for drinking tea at a coffee joint, but anyways, all that to say, we knew very quickly that it was right. Like, this was it. She was my wife and I was her husband, and so six months later, we were married, I think we were engaged within two or three months, but pretty cool. I guess, moral of the story is, God can do some amazing things. And geography and your current physical location, God can pull two people together that are very far away and don't even know each other's existence.
Work-Life Balance within the Military
Nate: No, I appreciate you sharing that story. It really plays into our focus for this month, and the reason we are having you on the show as it is a military family month in the month of November. I would love to hear a little bit about how you navigate caring for your family and even what that's like for your wife now that she's married into the military. Because when you do marry a spouse that is in the military, it is like in some ways you're joining the military.
So, I'd love to hear a little bit about just what that's like and how you shepherd and care for your family, and then how your wife has transitioned into supporting you and being there, and even what it looks like for a community that she has in her life to help her not feel alone in this season of serving in the military.
Chaplain: Yeah, great question. We're still figuring it out. We're doing it live, but my pastor and dear friend here, I think he says it the best, he says this, and I totally subscribe to this mentality -- instead of sacrificing my family on the altar of ministry, we make sacrifices as a family for the sake of ministry and the Gospel.
No doubt in the military specifically, in the line of Chaplaincy, there are times when I'm counseling a countless number of soldiers, exhausted walking through dark times of death with soldiers and our nation's heroes, but the sacrifices we make, we make as a family. I think that's key to how we are doing things at least. One pro tip that I'm currently still learning is self-care and boundaries. Outside of emergencies, we've recently made Saturday a dedicated family day, like non-negotiable. We're very excited about that just having one day set aside each week for our family to hang out together with no other obligations. Now under normal conditions, I'll only take four counseling per day, so that's two before lunch and two after lunch. Before I implemented that, it was kind of out of control and I was not really setting up healthy boundaries for how many people I was personally seeing every day. So just setting up healthy boundaries, implementing self-care techniques, whether that's healthy hobbies or just time for yourself, and then also just viewing ministry as a family decision and not just an individual decision of how I'm doing life here.
Nate: And what about for your wife? Obviously, those things you have set up for boundaries, but has she been able to develop a community that can encourage her and support her as well, as she faces the challenges of walking beside you?
Chaplain: Yeah, and that's been really important for her. She's got, I would say, three or four just very strategic, meaningful friendships with some ladies out here, and that has proven to be a source of life, a place for her to recharge. She goes to a women's prayer group every Monday night. And so there's intentional and strategic relationships that she’s intentionally made out here to help her just have that sense of community. Which community is, ironically enough, I think, one of the most challenging aspects of the military life because we moved so often, and so I've been very proud of my wife and her ability to connect with women out here.
How to Support Military Families in Community
Nate: You mentioned that challenge that you guys face in finding community, how could our listeners, other believers, the community of faith, do a better job in supporting our men and women in uniform as they move from location to location around our nation and around the world?
Chaplain: Yeah, well, I think it's one of the greatest challenges for military families, inherently moving every two to three years is challenging. By in large, moving is stressful, finding a new house, settling in a new house, and easily take six to nine months. Finding community, establishing new, local, uplifting friendships and relationships all takes a lot of time. A that's if you're being intentional about it. Uprooting your family support system. I think in 12 years, I've moved six times out of state, and so one aspect that as I think about your listeners, your network, community networking perhaps, if a family were to come to you and say, Hey, we're moving from Georgia to Alaska or to North Carolina, or from Hawaii to Colorado, or from New York to Louisiana, or whatever, as that family is taken care of, all the stressors of moving, perhaps your organization could help reach out to that new city, perhaps local churches, and find some local recommendations and encouragement for them to get plugged into a local community. Essentially talking about sponsoring a family during that transitional period of time and helping them to connect in a new area, maybe that's something that you all could focus on, helping families transition to a new church community or something like that.
Nate: Yeah, it's very interesting. I have some friends, my wife also went to West Point, to the military academy and served in the United States Army. And so I can relate a little bit to your story, but I have friends and acquaintances that I know, and one of the things I've seen them navigate is quickly plugging into church, and how much that helps by finding a community quickly. Is that something that you would encourage as far as, if anybody who's listening that is in the military, that they quickly plug into a local community and not delay that?
Chaplain: Yeah, I would make it top priority to try to get connected relationally with other like-minded believers, and I think one of the practical places to do that is inside of a church and finding a church community, so it's definitely something I would recommend families make top priority. Whenever you're at the assignment you're at right now, and you're thinking six to 12 months in advance or something like that, start looking for what churches might we attend or what church might we attend as active small groups that has community life that's involved in the community, and I would just say yes. Absolutely short stroke to your question.
Nate: No, I'm so thankful for Paul and his heart and connecting men with other men, that is really one of the things has led us and our small groups that we have. For men, knowing that men are often in places where it's hard to connect with others, so one of the things that we've tried to do is offer online groups, we hope to continue to grow this as men plug into different areas, we know that transition can be really hard as you're finding a church, you have a demanding schedule, oftentimes when you're making that transition with lining up your housing and taking care of your family and getting your kids enrolled in school, all that goes into any move, and we want to do everything they can to help me stay connected to brothers in Christ, knowing that whenever you make that transition, it can often be very difficult. Even now, we have a guy who's in one of our groups who is transitioning from Georgia out to Colorado, and it's been great because in the middle of our season, he couldn't commit to a group in person, but he could commit an online group, staying connected to the relationships here while he builds the relationships in his new location, so it is our heartbeat to help create a culture where men can connect and we want to see that, because we know how important it is.
What is the Greatest Challenge Facing Our Military Today?
Nate: We believe it's one of the greatest things missing and most men's lives is healthy relationships. So thank you for pointing that out and we want to do all that we can to support that as we think about that and think about those groups, and you mentioned the transition and the difficulty that are faced. What do you think is the greatest challenge facing our men and women in uniform today? Do you think it is that community, or is there something else that stands out to you that is one of the biggest challenges they're facing?
Chaplain: Yeah, that's a good question. If I were to only give one answer to what is the greatest challenge, I would say it's inherently moving every two to three years, because you're uprooting relationships, you're uprooting the family, and to continually have to do that time and time again, I would say it's just kind of one of the inherent great challenges of living the military life. Any way to shorten the gap between transition from one community to the next, whether that's preemptively, reaching out to churches and pastors and like-minded communities, anything you can do to reduce that time and transition would be helpful to any military family, especially one with a Gospel-centric or Christ-centric worldview.
Navigating Through Depression
Nate: Awesome. You also mentioned that you had a period where you struggled with depression and the stress of being deployed and what you faced there, and as a chaplain, I know you navigate that all the time. What have you learned yourself about helping navigate through your depression and even what advice would you give maybe some of our listeners who are struggling with depression?
Chaplain: Yeah, depression is quite prevalent. For me, having experienced it personally, as you know, long-term been beneficial, as I counsel somebody that are actively dealing with depression.
Going back to my bought with it, it was a turbulent time in life, coming back from war as it often is with many reintegrating-into society, I personally was coming out of a failed relationship, questioning my career choice, not content, lonely, and personally, sometimes falling into medicating depression with sin.
Gosh, I'd like to say that I'm super proud of how I dealt with it all in depression, but I really can't it wasn't like a clean one plus two equals three process. It was more like cleaning a wound with sand paper type of a process, so not easy, a lot of painful nights and tears. During that time I had my one chaplain buddy that I spoke with, I had a mentor as well that I spoke with occasionally, and one friend that I hung out with sometimes, but other than that, I did a lot of journaling and talking with God, crying out to God quite literally, that He would help me to discover what I was to do with my life if I were to keep living, because I was in a pretty dark place.
So it wasn't all like roses and rainbows in the months to follow. Battling depression and really kind of coming out of depression and loneliness and coming through it, had some other life challenges. My house was literally flooded in three to four feet of water during a flash flood, I lost all my material possessions. A friend and co-worker passed away, traumatically next door to me, and I basically all but failed out of the military course that I was in at the time. So things were not easy, even coming out of depression, but through time and perseverance and a lot of time talking with God, often while I was either fishing or hiking, I mean, truly, I got a strong confirmation that I was supposed to take a huge leap of faith to leave the army, my source of income, my job, what I knew as stability, and step into the unknown in a full circle to me, that looked like the road to army chaplaincy.
So advice for those that are currently dealing with depression:
So hopefully that's a good blend of what I would just say is practical and spiritual advice for those dealing with depression. It's very real, and there's definitely intentional strategies you can take to start to navigate your way out of depression.
Nate: No, that's great, thank you so much for that advice, but then also sharing your own journey with depression. I could not agree more about the Christian counselor, if you have a bad experience its often like finding a church or any relationship we have, so you can't just base it on that first time, it's often about that connection, so could not agree any more on that. Go find one and look, there's a lot of people out there willing to help.
There's a lot of resources available, and if there's any of our listeners who are struggling and we can help in any way, please reach out to us because we want to be able to assist you and never want anybody to feel alone in this season because like you said, it is real, and many people face it at different times in their life. So thank you so much for sharing that.
Nate: You mentioned that you like to go fishing and hiking, is that your favorite thing to do to kind of get a reset? What's your past time of choice?
Chaplain: Yeah, So fly fishing is definitely a hobby that I've picked up over the past, I don't know, decade maybe, but I like going out fly fishing, the therapy of just standing in the river, listening to the sound of the river, and just kind of being alone with God and having that time to connect with Him has proven to be very meaningful for me.
Obviously, having a family and kids, like going on a fly fishing trip or going to spend an entire afternoon or morning out of the river is not always something that you can do for me, maybe more than just once a month or something. Having little moments of place, ways to decompress or relax. I like to go to the sauna, having worship music going in the background is something we do daily at our house, and personally for me, singing brings victory and joy. I'm not a good singer, but it's one of those things, and I think there's a biblical principle on that too. Rejoicing to the Lord. And so that's something I do.
Eating well, just simple stuff, eating well, treating myself to dinner or just simply getting enough sleep is a great way to kind of set yourself up for success and be able to have relaxing days. There's practical aspects, but I like shooting firearms. I like other little things like just enjoying a good cup of coffee in the morning, it's just a little pleasure that it is helpful to relax and just decompress.
How Can We Support Military Families
Nate: Yeah, no, that's great. I think one of the things it always amazes me with my spouse having served in the military is that military currently makes up less than 1% of our population. Most of the people have not served in the military, and a lot of people don't even know somebody who's serving in the military. Do you think that impacts how we relate to those in the military, and do you think that there's a certain way that our culture could be better at caring or being aware of what you guys face?
Chaplain: Well, I think at the end of the day, you know, I think the opposite is true. Right, like for someone who served their entire adult life in the military, feeling like they don't connect with people who haven't served in the military. So I'd say the inverse is also sometimes true, but for me, I just always remembering and trying to view every person like we are all designed in God's image on a humanistic level. It's like, Hey, I might have struggled in my ways in the military, but even if I'm talking to a civilian, I can all but guarantee that they've had some very real struggles and life circumstances.
To answer your question, just remember that regardless of if it's a soldier or not a soldier, we're all human. We might all have different occupations and experiences, but at the end of the day, we can connect on a human level that I think is very meaningful and powerful.
Now, I'd say that the difficulty of that is vulnerability. So often, especially as men, we like to put on this facade that everything's good and then we have life all together. That's been one of the biggest challenges that I working here, is just breaking through that shield of protection of like, Hey, I have it all together. Really asking the right questions, asking open-ended questions and listening. Asking about someone's hobbies, their passions, their family, there are hopes for a future. Asking very strategic questions, trying to break through that defense.
I think regardless of if you're in the military, you're not in the military, that's a technique that I like to utilize when trying to connect and understand other people. Just talking about listening to their hobbies, their passions, their future, their faith, the world view, asking the right questions has proven to be very helpful for me.
Nate: Honestly, that's excellent, because I think what you brought out about the humanity of remembering that at the end of the day, we all face some of the same challenges that may look a little bit different due to the uniform that we wear or what we face, but there's commonality all across and throughout humanity. So I think that's great, just engaging with people, asking questions, taking time to get to know them, find out what they're facing it, and honestly, just caring. So I think that's perfect.
Favorite Memory at West Point
Nate: You mentioned that you went to West Point, to the military academy. And so I have to ask, is there a favorite memory that you have in that time? Because my wife's always sharing stories about her time, and honestly, I think she thinks everybody's experience is the same as the Academy, and I'm like, there’s no similarities between what you did at the Academy and what I did in my four years in college.
Chaplain: I guess, as I reflect back on my time at West Point, the best memories that I have of the Academy are the friendships and the experiences that I had with the college ministry up there.
I was a baseball player up there, so I was involved with sports, I really struggled academically. There's a funny story that I remember, I don't even know why, but it was like my first six months at West Point, and I remember literally I had failed every assignment for the first month. I was like, I'm about to flunk out of this place... No doubt. And I remember asking one of my teammates, it is how bad it was, I asked one of my teammates, I was down in our team room and I was writing a paper, and I asked him... I was like, Hey. What is a thesis statement? Because I had no idea. And he looked at me like, are you getting to trial? This is where you're at. And so I was like, baseline, outside of my comfort zone, no doubt, and I had to get a lot of academic help to keep up. So my memories of West Point are getting to travel with the baseball team.
Baseball, I think in a lot of ways was, I think, long-term, where I put most of my identity, and so as that career or that sport came to an end for me, that was a challenging time. But my best memories at West Point were definitely, I am second college ministry, doing mission trips with the some of the baseball team and some of the ministry out to Nicaragua. We would go out to New York City and serve some of the homeless people.
As I reflect back on what seems like another life ago to me, those are some of the experiences that stand out.
Nate: Awesome, thank you for sharing that, Chaplin. And thank you for your service to our country and everything that you do on a daily basis to care for the men and women in uniform. I don't think we understand completely what it's like for you on a day-to-day basis, and we appreciate what you do. We're praying for you. We're praying for our men and women in uniform and all that they face, and we're thankful for the families who sacrifice and give and plan and re-adjust and transition time and again and often are without one of the parents. The kids that face that.
We truly are indebted to you guys and what you do and thank you so much.
Getting to Know Our Guest: Rapid Fire Questions
The last thing I'd love to do is just some reward fire questions, so these would be a little bit fun, so just relax. Answer you, the first thing that comes to mind.
Nate: No great way to end. Love that thought and renewing your mind, we all can use that and take that to heart as we end today's discussion. Thank you so much, chaplain, for joining us, thank you for taking time on your business busy schedule. And again, we thank you for all that you do for our nation and best of luck. God Bless.