Chaplain in the News: CH Benner

I like to keep an eye on the news for write ups about the things Chaplains are doing for soldiers. Chaplains don’t usually get a lot of press (nor should we if we are doing our job right) so when I find an article I like to share it. It always does my heart good to read about stories of Chaplains who are making a difference in the lives of soldiers.

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this article about a Chaplain that I have had the privilege of knowing. If you scan some of my pictures that accompany most of my posts under the “CHBOLC” tag you will find pictures of the CH referenced in this story. I was in the same platoon as CH Benner when I attended CHBOLC in the summer of 2008. I thought very highly of him then and it’s great to read about the good work he is doing.

The article is by Henry Cuningham of the Fayetteville Observer and was published on February 21, 2010.

Story Photo

Late-blooming Guard chaplain serves those who serve in Iraq
By Henry Cuningham
Military editor

Vaughn Benner says it took an act of Congress to get him into the Army about two years ago at age 46.

After realizing relatively late in life that the ministry was for him, Benner completed his studies at a Baptist seminary in his 40s, but he did not want a “pulpit-type ministry.”

At that time, the maximum age for a chaplain to start out in the Army was 40, so he talked to recruiters about age waivers, which the military occasionally grants. One day, the recruiter telephoned Benner and said: “Drop your age-waiver stuff. Get your packet together, and e-mail me these last few documents.” Congress had just changed the maximum age to 47.

On Feb. 1, Chaplain Benner, who wears the rank of first lieutenant, returned to the N.C. National Guard’s Fayetteville armory after a year in Iraq with the 30th Heavy Separate Brigade. The brigade is based in Clinton.

“We had a lot of prayer, a lot of concerns, a lot of ministry going on with that many people and that much happening,” he said.

Benner, who lives in Youngsville, was the chaplain for the brigade’s 252th Combined Arms Battalion, which has units at armories throughout the Cape Fear region.

“We have over 900 people in place with a lot of activity,” he said. “We were in a very hot spot of Baghdad, and we had a lot of incidents.”

The brigade was in densely populated southern Baghdad with a mission focused more on getting Iraqis on their feet than on combat, but danger was always a possibility, especially from homemade bombs and suicide bombers. The battalion lost three soldiers, and the brigade lost eight.

“It becomes quite an issue,” he said. “Emotionally you get very, very close. When you lose soldiers at any point, it’s rough. It reminds us all of our own mortality. When they are friends, that’s that much harder. It makes you realize this is a dangerous place that we’ve gone to. This is not a game. Lives are at stake.”

Guardsmen, who mostly have civilian jobs stateside, come in a wide range of ages.

“We have guys all the way from 18 into their 60s,” he said. “We do have a couple that are at retirement age. We are a broad age range, broad experience range. We have quite a few for whom this was their first deployment. We have a few that have deployed five or six times. There’s a lot of diversity there.”

The guardsmen’s nonmilitary occupational diversity also helped in the rebuilding of Iraq, he said.

“What Iraq needs right now is people of business background,” he said. “We have that. We’ve got farmers, we’ve got teachers, we’ve got law enforcement. We have a variety of businessmen. That’s exactly what Iraq needs is experience in how to do day-to-day business, how to rebuild their lives.”

The spiritual needs of deployed soldiers often concern their families back home.

“Being that far away from your family for that long a time is stressful on marriages,” he said. “Marriages that are already in trouble don’t improve with that much distance and that much time. Marriages that are strong can be made stronger if they learn how to communicate properly, but that frequently needs some help.”

The chaplain himself dealt with separation from his wife, Elizabeth, 59. During the deployment, she coped with loss of well water and the death of a dog. Their newest grandchild was born a month ago.

And he had to meet the needs of soldiers who are coping with family separation and the stress of round-the-clock operations.

“They need to have a spiritual foundation,” Benner said. “That was my job to keep them there. It kept me busy.”

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