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Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

Local ministry conference on tap

Interested Soldiers may attend Calvary Baptist forum

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Soldiers interested in answering the call to the Army chaplaincy have a rare opportunity today.

The inaugural Ministry to the Military Conference takes place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus. The forum will bring together pastors, chaplains, church leaders and other Christian organizations for a discussion on ministry to Soldiers and military Families. Service members who want to become chaplains may attend to meet with denominational leaders. Denominational support is a necessary step in joining the chaplain corps.

Conference participants will include Chaplain (Col.) Thomas MacGregor, Fort Benning’s head chaplain; Dr. Keith Travis, chaplaincy endorser for the Southern Baptist Convention; and his partner, Dr. Dave Mullis, another SBC representative who focuses on military chaplaincy.

“Those are two very significant endorsers who make those decisions for people looking to become a chaplain. They’ll be at this conference, along with other chaplains,” said Jeff Struecker, a former Ranger who retired as an Army chaplain last year.

“I’d love for anybody even considering the chaplaincy to show up and talk to these people. … This conference is open to all denominations, but it’s basically the same from one denomination to the next as far as endorsing someone to become a chaplain. That process is pretty similar in the Army, Air Force and Navy, and it hasn’t changed much over time.”

He said chaplain requirements are two-fold: Meet the qualifications of a denominational endorsement and then decide which military branch to enter.

“I’m one of those classic examples — an active-duty guy who felt the calling to the chaplaincy, and this is the process I went through,” he said.

Struecker, who left the Army in January 2011, was enlisted for 13 of his 23 years in the service, including a decade with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. A squad leader in B Company, he deployed to Panama and for Operation Desert Storm.

But he said his life was changed forever by the unit’s deployment to Somalia in 1993, particularly the events chronicled in the film, Black Hawk Down, which depicted the Battle of Mogadishu.

“I had a very strong faith when I was there. It informed the way I thought and also informed what I interpreted there,” he said. “I felt a strong calling the day after that incident with the Black Hawk. It was Somalia that God used for my call to the ministry.

“For me, I had this pivotal event in my life in Somalia. … I thought about pastoring a church and just doing the National Guard. I had a love for the Army and really didn’t want to leave. But I felt that strong call to the ministry. For me, it was about being able to serve my God and my country at the same time.”

Struecker completed an undergraduate degree while he was still with the Rangers. From there, he made the transition, finishing his seminary in January 2001 and going on active duty as a chaplain.

Today, he serves at Calvary Baptist Church, visiting people in the hospital and conducting ministry to military members and their Families.

Struecker said the Ministry to the Military Conference would be highly beneficial for Soldiers interested in following in his footsteps.

“It’s designed for our pastors in town to connect with each other,” he said. “But for Soldiers who show up there, if you’re serious about ministry in the Army, this will give them an idea of what ministry is like in the military. … Not all of them know what it’s about. Hearing from Chaplain MacGregor or myself will give them the rest of the story, and a chance to ask questions if nothing else.”

Making the leap into the Army Chaplain Corps is a “life-altering decision” and not something that should be taken lightly, Struecker said.

“There is a need for great chaplains — there’s no more important role for a minister than serving the greatest congregation in the world, the men and women of the U.S. military,” he said. “You will not find a better avenue of ministry anywhere. But it has its own unique set of challenges, like anything else. The average pastor does not go overseas and get shot at. The average Army chaplain probably will. So life is different in that kind of ministry.”

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