At a Crossroads
By John Carey CH MAJ (Retired)
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace,
and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).
17 September 1986
I signed my name on the dotted line…countless lines, in fact. I needed money to attend college, and the army commercials assured me I could do that and more. “Be all that you can be” the army advertisement claimed, and I bought it completely. Upon raising my right hand before that beautiful American flag and reciting the Enlisted Oath of Office, I officially joined the United States Army. I reported to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training. I was one of 50 trainees in my platoon, and I received my first incredibly short haircut, several sets of BDUs (Battle Duty Uniforms), boots, and my first taste of army chow.
Like many of my fellow trainees, I was “chewed out” several times regarding my appearance, my marching capabilities (or lack thereof), and one instance of being late for a formation. All of these one-way discussions resulted in numerous opportunities to hone my skills in pushups, a much-needed exercise to pass my APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test).
Only four days into training, I attended my first army chapel service. Amazingly, I knew the hymns, and even recognized Bible verses and the comforting words of a preacher, an army chaplain. God was active among soldiers in the U.S. Army, too. From that point forward, I attended chapel services every Sunday. I enjoyed hearing God’s Word and a few minutes of relaxed company and encouragement. I received spiritual as well as physical nourishment that encouraged me to stay the course during those eight demanding weeks of training.
I graduated from basic training November 21, 1986—one of the proudest days of my life as I marched proudly with my platoon. I later enjoyed fellowship (and restaurant food) with my uncle and brother, Wayne McDaniel and Doug Carey, who had come to celebrate the big day with me. It was a day I will always remember as I earned the rank of Private First Class, and the title of “army soldier.”
01 August 2000
The Carey family moved to Fort Hood, Texas. I earned a M.Div. from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and reentered active duty as a battalion chaplain. I reported to my unit, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, from the 1st Cavalry Division. My son Will was eight years old at the time, and Bobby was only seven.
I was thankful God had given us this new ministry, and that gratitude extended to my wife Lynne (pictured above) for her unwavering hard work and support. Without her, we wouldn’t have made it back. After five years and nine months of active enlisted service, four years in the Tennessee National Guard, and a year in the reserves, I now had the opportunity to share the Lord with my soldiers as a new captain and chaplain. We enjoyed this ministry for many years, deployments, and challenges to come.
27 October 2016
It hardly seems possible that more than 30 years of military service have passed since I first donned an army dress uniform. Lynne and I attended an army retirement ceremony held by the Fort Campbell 101st Airborne Division, along with 25 other soldiers and their guests.
Several family members and guests were there to support us, including my in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. James Sturgill; my sisters-in-law Vera Eads and Valerie Ponder; Dr. David Crowe, director of North American Ministries; Chaplain Kerry Steedley (COL, Retired); and Steve Willis, former first-sergeant and friend; and his wife; Dr. and Mrs. McDaniel (Uncle Wayne and Aunt Cele); and my brother, Doug Carey.
Yes, Uncle Wayne and Doug were there for both my first and last ceremonies as a soldier. It was a full, busy, and blessed day, though the event itself took less than an hour. We celebrated with cake and refreshments at home afterwards, with all our guests in attendance.
Over 22 active service years passed quickly during my time as a soldier, 16 as a chaplain. The Carey family endured five major deployments—the first Gulf War (1990-91), two tours of Kuwait (2001-02), Operation Iraqi Freedom (2004-05), and Operation Enduring Freedom (2012).
I have had the opportunity to serve under several commanders and units, as hospital and post-counseling chaplain. Throughout this service, God has blessed our family greatly. Will, now 24, graduated from Army ROTC in May 2014, and married Kristin in May 2015. First Lieutenant and Mrs. Carey currently serve in Germany. Bobby, age 23, is a senior at Austin Peay University, in Clarksville, Tennessee, earning top marks in his studies. Lynne and I have been married 27 years, and to say I “married up” is a severe understatement.
As I write these words, I must admit mixed emotions. I am at a crossroads in serving the Lord, and I believe He has closed the door on army ministry. I have not taken the privilege of serving God as chaplain lightly over these 16 years, and the idea of learning something new has not been a pleasant thought. It is not easy to admit a personal struggle, but I am coming to terms with it, and I believe God has a purpose in the whole experience.
I want to remain obedient to His will, and I hope to apply the gifts I have received when ministering to soldiers on the battlefields, hospitals, and on the home front. I will always have a special affection for soldiers and veterans. They understand what serving and sacrificing for a cause greater than self is all about. That sacrifice is necessary for our country to continue, for freedom is never free.
As I leave the army, I leave with gratitude, for the same Lord and Savior who saved me—the same God who promised to never leave or forsake us—is still in charge, and He has a purpose in all of this. I am grateful He allowed me to serve soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines for so long. God has reminded me, through the contact, gratitude, and friendship with many I served that, in some small way, I was successful in sharing His Word, and I was faithful to His cause. Perhaps someone out there is reading this and wondering where God would have him serve. The military chaplaincy is a wonderful calling and a ministry that needs Christ-led pastors more than ever.
I leave the army claiming Jeremiah 29:11 among many other Bible passages: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” I leave the army family, and I join the many U.S. veterans of wars past and present. I look to the future, always trusting that God will use me to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others, both in Word and in deed. The timeless chaplain’s motto is Pro Deo et Patria: “For God and Country.” May it ever be my motto as well!
About the Writer: John C. Carey, CH MAJ (RETIRED), was an active duty chaplain for 16 years. Learn more about how you can be involved in the ministry of Free Will Baptist chaplains at www.FWBNAM.com.