Pastor’s Column: Army National Guard Chaplain

As a chaplain serving in the Minnesota National Guard, it is a great honor to care for the spiritual and religious needs of Soldiers and Airmen and their Families. As an Army chaplain, I have two principal duties: To provide religious support and to advise commanders regarding the impact of religion on the mission.

Providing religious support is more than just offering a worship service on a Sunday. It means considering the needs of all service members and their families, and finding a way to meet those needs.

Our chaplains have taken Catholic Soldiers to mass, helped a Muslim Airman with a request for religious accommodation during Ramadan, gathered Jewish Soldiers to attend Sabbath services, and secured space for Wiccans to participate in solstice observances, among many other provisions of religious support.

Chaplains are called to “cooperate without compromise” to ensure our servicemen and women are afforded their constitutional right to worship, regardless of their faith tradition. I strive to perform religious support for those who believe like me, provide religious support for those who believe differently than me, and equally love everyone and show them dignity and respect as children of God.

As we counsel commanders regarding the impact of religion on the mission, our critical advisement role ensures they understand not only the religious needs of their Soldiers, but also the spiritual, ethical and moral well-being of the command.

We are professional clergy, non-combatants, and serving the Armed Forces as representatives of our faith communities, also known as ecclesiastical endorsers.

Here’s what I’ve learned in ministering to Soldiers that could help Christians better love and serve them: They’re just like you and I. They have families, spouses, kids, arguments, mortgages, incredible talents and experience, worries, dreams and aspirations. They are America’s sons and daughters, and for many, they signed up to be part of something bigger than themselves. They are most able to focus on their mission at home and overseas when they know their families are cared for and that their needs are met.

Minnesota is the birthplace of the nationally recognized “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon” program. Dozens upon dozens of Minnesota cities, businesses, and communities have declared their intent to use their influence and energize their network to help military families in need.

Care packages for those serving overseas are great, but let’s not be known for simply exporting sundry items.

Think creatively about the needs in your faith community, and then connect your resources to those whose loved ones are gone fulfilling their military obligation. Childcare, mentoring for kids, classes on personal finances and counseling are all in great need among military families. These families are proud and resilient, and they put a good face on what is an extremely difficult mission back home. Don’t be afraid to ask our strong families what they need – and then be prepared to respond when they give you an answer.

Above all, pray for them. Ask God to give them strength, courage, and wisdom for what is a demanding call to duty. I encourage faith communities to contact the Yellow Ribbon organization in their area to find out what they can do to further impact the families of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

Military personnel in the National Guard and Reserves are not particularly concerned about who is in office because they took a solemn oath to obey the orders of those who lead them. They are special and unique, and worthy of our respect and appreciation. But they’re not charity cases. They only ask for an opportunity to earn and keep a good job while also standing ready to answer the call to their state and nation, often on short notice. They have incredible spouses and resilient kids, and they are part of a legacy of service to their state and nation that goes back to 1636 when the Massachusetts Bay Colonial Militia was chartered by law.

I’ve also learned some things that can help Christians better understand Christ in the Armed Services. The church isn’t a building, a chapel, or an organization as much as it is the body of believers who love Jesus and love God’s people.

Chaplains have conducted services under camouflage nets while worshippers sit on ammunition crates in a field training environment while howitzers fired behind us. We’ve shared the elements of communion on the hood of a Hummer during flood relief operations on the Minnesota and North Dakota border. Chaplains provide pastoral presence during casualty notification missions, and bring comfort and hope to Gold Star Families.
I’ve baptized Soldiers in a pond in the middle of a training area, and prayed with Soldiers on the flight line in Iraq before combat missions. The great thing about being a chaplain is that wherever you go, you’re doing your job and you have the unique and humbling privilege of taking God’s presence with you.

Soldiers who come to worship are less known by their denominational affiliation or background and more known by their desire to love and worship God in an austere environment with their brothers and sisters in faith.

I come from a Pentecostal background yet I’m more likely to pray the Lord’s Prayer during our services and use traditional hymns than I might at my home congregation. Those essential elements of worship go a long way in finding spiritual touch points for the greatest amount of worshippers.

We’re also looking to connect those who are considering a call to military ministry with an opportunity to serve as chaplains. Seminary graduates and current seminarians are encouraged to reach out to our office to start a conversation about this demanding but unique, meaningful, and rewarding ministry to such an exceptional people-group.

Army chaplains fulfill their core competencies as they nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen. As they do, they bring God to Soldiers, and Soldiers to God. I’ve served for 30 years in the Army and the last 15 in the Chaplain Corps and not a day goes by when I don’t give thanks for the gift of being able to experience God’s amazing grace in this capacity.

Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Buddy Winn enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard as a Forward Observer in 1988. He served on active duty in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division as a Driver and Forward Observer followed by an assignment in the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, as Fire Support Sergeant, followed by four years as a Readiness, Training, and Supply NCO in various Minnesota Army National Guard units. In 2001, he answered the call to ministry and entered Seminary while continuing to serve as a traditional Guardsman.

He was accessioned into the Army Chaplain Corps in November 2006 and was mobilized in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007. Chaplain Winn later deployed to Kuwait in 2011-2012. In 2013, Chaplain Winn was selected as the Full-Time Support Chaplain for the Minnesota National Guard and assigned as Operations Chaplain and currently serves as the Command Chaplain for the 34th Infantry Division.  Chaplain Winn earned a Bachelor of Arts from Concordia University, Saint Paul, MN, and Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary in Saint Paul, MN.  He resides in Osseo, Minnesota with his wife of 15 years, Colette Fearing Winn . Chaplain Winn has three children and two grandchildren.

July 23, 2018