The Power of
From Kentucky to Kandahar
By Roy Swisher
Faith is essential to accomplishing what God has in store for us. Scripture is lined with one story after another illustrating God’s blessings on the faithful. I have lived out this proposition since I was 22 years old. And today, as a soon-to-be-retired chaplain, I am convinced God has directed every step for my family and me. Many times, we wanted to give in, give up, and give out, but we kept our eyes on the Lord and His “perfect and acceptable will” for our lives.
I see God’s hand at work in my life through the little things and the big things: growing up in the rural Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky; attending the funeral of my father, a disabled Korean veteran; being raised by a mother who experienced domestic violence on a regular basis but still loved her five children the best she knew how; joining the navy; meeting and marrying my loving and godly sweetheart Jan who has continued to be supportive throughout our 40-year marriage; attending Welch College; pastoring Northside FWB Church for 20 years; having God-given, supportive children (thanks, Ben and Rachel), experiencing one “miracle” after another to become a chaplain in the national guard at 53 years of age (50 was the cutoff); remaining on active duty for all but six months during the seven years I served; receiving not one but three mandatory removal date extensions after age 60. To sum it up: we serve a God who is faithful!
Living by faith was truly the right answer when God called me to full-time, active duty service in the army. Many thought it would not last, and some said, “Join the militia; you are too old for this duty.” It was during times like these I could not give in to temptation. Abraham, David, and Paul each experienced their own challenges to God’s will for their lives and yet remained faithful. Even when the calling into the chaplaincy was dramatic for my family and me, I just kept trusting His leading.
Photo: Preaching at Front Operation Base Morehead.
In 2013, I was assigned to First Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. During this transition, God kept confirming we were in His will. As the deputy group chaplain, I was called on to provide religious support and counseling to soldiers and their families. I had to “earn my seat at the table” before I was accepted as a viable unit ministry team member.
It didn’t take long for my dedication to be tested when a soldier was killed in action two days after I arrived. Then, within two months, a senior Special Forces retired commander passed away, and I was assigned to perform his memorial ceremony. After the service, our deputy group commander approached me and said, “Chaplain Swisher, I’d like to buy you a beer.”
I quickly replied, “Would you buy me a Pepsi instead?” When he said yes, I knew I had earned my seat at the table.These instances were the first of many times Jan and I have been called on by God to love our battle buddies and their families. She has been my partner in ministry. She took pictures at baptisms, prepared soup and sandwiches for headquarters staff and soldiers, prepared dinner for the unit ministry team members, their families, and visiting chaplains or dignitaries. I could not have done this ministry without my best buddy.
Photo: On a rotary (helicopter) in full "battle-rattle."
We have proven God is faithful. He provides for and equips even the aged as evidenced by the biblical example of Caleb, who stayed in the battle at 80 years of age. He allowed me to excel in the annual physical fitness tests required to stay on active duty. Even after I reached age 60 and was encouraged to retire and leave the army by a senior chaplain, I knew God was not finished with me.
He took me to Iraq and Kuwait in April and May 2015. During that time, I received a call from my group commander to meet him outside. He quietly and somberly informed me his father had passed away during the night. They had said their good-byes before he returned to Iraq to continue his command. While hugging my friend’s neck, I prayed God would give him and his sister grace to handle their father’s passing.
On that short deployment I had the opportunity to support and counsel soldiers contemplating suicide, to preach regularly, and to help keep morale high while these soldiers were deployed. Then, I returned to the States to assume the rear detachment chaplain’s role while the group chaplain was in Iraq. Caring for soldiers’ families during deployment is essential. Like their soldier loved ones, they are under a great deal of stress. I was honored to be their chaplain.
On March 6, 2017, I returned from my final four-month assignment in Afghanistan. I have lived by one guideline during all my years as chaplain: if you love soldiers, they will love you back. My soldiers loved me, and I loved them. I always made time to talk with and spend time with my soldiers. Talking comes naturally for this old, Kentucky hillbilly. But, a chaplain also has to be a good listener to catch hidden troubles that need to be addressed for a soldier and his family.
During my time in Afghanistan, I preached, observed, and listened to our soldiers. Young and old alike came to me for support; perhaps I just look like a grandpa to them. After one service, seven soldiers who were about to go on a mission each made it a point to hug me. I asked them, “Do I look so much like a grandpa that each of you felt you needed to hug my neck?” The truth is, I knew why they hugged me; they were afraid.
Photo: Baptism of husband and wife seargents.
I spent most of my time in Afghanistan traveling to a forward operation base to preach and provide religious support. Planes and helicopters of all types were my “taxis,” and they made many stops before arriving at my destination. If you love snow, go to Afghanistan. I awakened one morning to ten inches of snow and had to shovel a path so soldiers could get to the church service. They came, and we worshiped God in spite of the snow.
On another occasion, I prayed with an injured soldier, first in the hospital, and later on the plane used to transport him to a major hospital in Europe. To honor him, we stayed on the flight line until his plane taxied down the runaway and lifted off.
With doing God’s will also came heartaches and difficult moments. Yet, God gives more grace when needed. It is His work; we just kept obeying Him even when it was uncomfortable; when some questioned our motives or disagreed with our decisions. The army has a saying: “bottom line up front” or BLUF. The BLUF for me as an U.S. Army chaplain was to stay faithful to God’s calling and to finish the course. God was and continues to be faithful as we retire from the military in June 2017.
As I complete 43 years of military service in the navy and army, I not only want to thank the Lord for His love and mercy, but North American Ministries for the support they have provided.
Dr. David Crowe, Chaplain (COL) Steedley, and many others at the office always met our needs and more.
Finally, I want to thank my lovely, faithful, and supportive wife of almost 40 years. I am a better person and Christian because of her glowing testimony of love and faithfulness to God, both to our children and grandchildren, and to the soldiers we served.
About the writer: Chaplain (MAJ) Roy Swisher is a Free Will Baptist army chaplain serving as an active-duty reservist at Fort Lewis, Washington.