Follow the Leader
From Base to Battlefront
By CH (CPT) Roy Swisher
When opportunity knocks, open the door.
When God and country call, say, “Here I am. Send me.”
These two maxims set the stage for this article and how God is using me as a Special Forces IMA chaplain. I soon discovered that my mission was the same, no matter where my assignment took me—from base to battlefront: to take care of soldiers and their families, provide religious support, measure and affect morale, and advise my commander and the staff concerning moral and ethical matters.
This mission comes with many challenges. In addition to my pastoral responsibilities, I also face the task of maintaining cohesion and teamwork. To do this, I meet regularly with our Unit Ministry Team, taking them to lunch, visiting in their areas, and getting to know them and their concerns for their families. God has blessed me with the opportunity to work with a great team of chaplains and chaplain assistants. Still, it is not easy to build relationships among individuals from diverse backgrounds. It takes a bit of finesse, mutual understanding, and genuine concern for each team member in our care to achieve the need for cohesion successfully.
As chaplain, I have worked hard to build rapport with five battalion command teams. I cover for each battalion chaplain when he is away. Caring for their soldiers has earned the respect of battalion commanders, executive officers, and command sergeants major from each battalion. Reserve chaplains at the group level receive no free passes. We are expected to do an exemplary job in the absence of the group chaplain, so I do whatever the group commander requires to bring about the success of the mission.
After much waiting, I found myself assigned to Kuwait and Iraq. The excitement in my soul was overwhelming. Understandably, my family was not as thrilled. Arrival was an exciting time, as I was reacquainted with my company and soldiers in the group support battalion. The Religious Affairs NCO (my bodyguard since I can’t carry a weapon) and I spent a great deal of individual time with soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq. I would take my “Sword” over their rifles and 9mm weapons anytime. I encouraged many soldiers by sharing pictures of their spouses and children taken during an event for families of deployed soldiers. It was important for them to see I really care about them and their families.
We provided chapel and church services and luncheons for soldiers—physical food and spiritual nourishment that brought a smile to their faces. One intelligence officer even joked, “Chaplain, where are the tacos?” It seems I’ve developed a reputation for bringing in tacos for lunch back at the base. It gave us all a good laugh. It is these little things that help me forge a close relationship with the soldiers. We are much like Free Will Baptists: we love to eat!
While stationed at home, we constantly express our love for soldiers and their families by providing pizzas, tacos, barbecue ribs, country ham biscuits, soup, and sandwiches. I am grateful to our home church, First Free Will Baptist, Portland, Tennessee, for providing funds to give our soldiers a little taste of home. They showed their appreciation enthusiastically, and several sought me out for counseling after enjoying the food.
Although my time on the front was short, the mission was a success based on the affirmation and appreciation offered by both soldiers and commanders. I truly appreciate the opportunity to be involved in the Lord’s work of chaplaincy.
About the Writer: CH (CPT) Roy Swisher is the IMA chaplain serving as deputy group chaplain at 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. Learn more about the work of Free Will Baptist chaplains: www.FWBNAM.com.