By Whitney Burton
Chaplain (CPT) Todd Williams and his assistant, Spc. Cody Leslie
It’s about 7 a.m. The air is thick with dust and the smell of burning trash. Three boiled eggs, without the yolks, honeydew and hot coffee sit before him as he prepares his mind for the day’s duties. In silent reverence, he sits among his fellow men, praying for their safety and strength. Only God knows what the day holds for them.
Currently deployed, Chaplain (Capt.) Todd Williams spends his day tending to the needs of his fellow soldiers. The day’s duties include meetings, visiting, counseling, ministering to soldiers, and a trip to the gym. This may sound like a typical job to some, but for Williams, it is far from a typical job. It is a calling, a passion and a mission.
According to the Army Chaplain Corps, “Army chaplains have the responsibility of caring for the spiritual well-being of Soldiers and their Families. An Army chaplain's parish can consist of over 1,500 people. For this reason, the Army chaplain is crucial to the success of the Army's mission. Exercising leadership in things that are spiritual requires a special person with a unique calling."
“The Army chaplaincy is a religiously diverse population reflecting the diversity of the Army, yet each chaplain must minister in accordance to the guidelines of their distinct faith group. Army chaplains oversee the spiritual care of their assigned units wherever they may train or deploy. They also assist with the congregational care of their assigned posts performing religious ceremonies, rituals, and rites in accordance to their respective faiths.”
“Unlike most officers in the Army, a chaplain begins serving as a staff officer immediately. As a member of the commander's special staff, the chaplain is responsible for providing advice in matters pertaining to religion, morals and morale. The chaplain serves the Army with a chaplain assistant as part of a Unit Ministry Team or UMT. As a non-combatant, chaplains do not carry a firearm. The chaplain assistant provides security for the UMT and assists with the administrative aspects of the UMT's ministry. Fully trained in the technical arena of religious support and Soldier-specific tasks, chaplain assistants are an integral part of the UMT's ministry and mission.”
Williams describes his job as “HOO-AH for Christ; bringing soldiers to God and God to soldiers, being a moral and ethical standard in the world of the Army based on my faith as a believer in Christ. God has called me to this ministry that has enabled me to ‘pastor’ and be directly embedded in the military. Because I love God, I love my country and I love soldiers and soldiering. I’m where I need to be for this place in time. I consider myself a missionary to the Army.”
Williams is able to exercise his calling to ministry by spending quality time with soldiers and meeting their needs. Before entering the Chaplain Corps, Williams was an enlisted soldier. After he left the military to attend college, he re-entered military service as an Army Reserves drill sergeant. “While I was attending college, I re-entered the Army Reserves as a drill instructor. Because of my call to ministry and Christian faith, I found that there was a way to be in the Army and minister directly to soldiers. As a drill instructor, I was more limited in how I shared my faith, but as a chaplain I represented my faith in the context of the Army.” Prior experience as a noncommissioned officer allows Williams the ability to relate on a different level. He is not just a minister but a friend and fellow comrade. He knows what it means to serve alongside other enlisted men and women as well as those in the officer ranks.
“During meals my assistant and I sit at different tables and eat with as many different groups of soldiers as possible. Together we get eyes and ears on more soldiers than we would if we sat together. This helps us get a pulse of the unit as far as morale and issues that may arise. And it makes us accessible to everyone. Sometimes when there are multiple things happening I will stay up with the command team practically all night. Some evenings I will return to sermon preparation and book reading; sometimes I will watch a movie with some of our soldiers, play pool, Ping-Pong, or just visit. When something serious happens, we grab our rucks and respond as quickly as possible to the incident. Sometimes we check on morale and distribute spiritual materials. We also have a ‘Support a Soldier’ program where people send our guys care packages. This is really working well. We are able to send a list of requested need items so the soldiers are not just getting junk food and stuff. They are all health conscious, but then again, most will not pass up Oreos.”
With history and honor in the uniform of our soldiers, the regimental insignia of the Chaplain Corps holds the symbolism of their service and duty. The sun and rays allude to the provision and presence of God in nature. The dove with olive branch, a traditional symbol of peace, embodies the Corps' mission in the Army to deter war and strive for peace. The pages of the open Bible represent the primacy of God's word. The blue is representative of the heavens and alludes to the spiritual nature of the mission of the Chaplain Corps. The rays represent universal truth and the surrounding palm branches spiritual victory. The shepherd's crook is emblematic of pastoral ministry and was the first symbol used to identify chaplains in the Army. The numerals "1775" commemorate the date of the establishment of the Army Chaplain Corps. The motto "PRO DEO ET PATRIA" translates “for God and country.”
Chaplains all over the globe are serving the men and women of our armed forces. They go where our soldiers go, bringing religious support to those in uniform. They don’t carry a weapon; yet, they’re willing to go to the front lines.
It is 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and soon the sun will set on another day. Williams makes his rounds; a cold-cut turkey sandwich with kiwi and a diet cola await him. He looks out across the barren desert as a dust storm rolls in. He says a prayer for his wife and sons back home — that God would carry them through another day. In his mind he translates the motto “Pro Deo Et Patria,” and in reverence, he whispers, “for God and country I serve.”
*If you didn't catch who the writer is (and stuck with the long read this far), my daughter wrote this and it came out in our post newspaper (not disclosing due to privacy for our family) today! We are so very proud of her and the work she is doing for this newspaper, as well as her school newspaper. This article is particularly special to us because it's about chaplains AND she interviewed my friend Sheryll's husband, via e-mail, who is currently deployed. We are praying for you, Todd!!!