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Chaplain uses airwaves to get troops ‘spiritually fit’

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Army Chaplain Jay West has gone from a being "mud on the boots" chaplain to the pastoral voice for service members in 56 countries.
April 20, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Army Chaplain Jay West has gone from a “mud on the boots” chaplain to the pastoral voice for service members in 56 countries.

For the past year, the United Methodist has been the broadcast chaplain for the American Forces Network in Germany. It is a role that has been a little hard for him to get used to.

“I truly love being with soldiers, and my preference would be to be out there living in the mud, in the dirt and the sand,” he says. “Nevertheless, this is where God, through the Army chaplaincy, has assigned me.”

Before transferring to his position in Mannheim, Germany, he served as Army chaplain for the 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky. While serving at Fort Campbell, he was deployed to Iraq for more than a year.

West’s combat experience, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star for valor, gives him a special connection and message for those so far from home — many for the first time. He says he knows about “the pain, anxiety, adrenaline rush, loneliness, and flood of emotions that wash over a soldier and his or her family in times of war.”

“This is a military at war,” he says. “My focus is on spiritual fitness and readiness. It is my job to tell soldiers that God loves them and knows what they are going through.”

A broad parish

Shifting from being hands-on with 500 soldiers to sending his voice out to “faceless thousands” is stepping out on faith, he says.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

At Fort Campbell, Ky., Chaplain Jay West (left) prays with a troubled soldier.
“I’ve got a handful of soldiers now that I get to work with as a unit chaplain, but my parish stretches from Iceland to Turkey to Afghanistan to Iraq, all across Germany, Europe, Italy … to 56 countries, as we like to say in the AFN.”

He uses the Apostle Paul’s analogy of the planter to inspire his daily work.

“Paul says some of us are planters. One plants, one waters, one cultivates and I don’t know from one day to the next — am I planting a seed? Am I carrying a watering can? Is that the day I pull out the hoe and do a little bit of weeding? I don’t know. I just offer it up and say, ‘OK God, you transform my words into the message that that one person needs to hear today.’”

West has two Sunday programs, “Promises” and “The Rock,” and he does “Touch of Grace” daily devotions. He is also working on a series he calls “Stone Wall,” which will be radio interviews with people from all ranks talking about how their faith is “getting them through.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

Chaplain Jay West preaches during the early morning traditional Protestant worship service at Memorial Chapel at Fort Campbell, Ky.
West was in Nashville, Tenn., this spring at the Gospel Music Awards. Each chaplain coming into the job gets to shape the broadcasts, and West wants to reach the young soldier far away from home with music.

He knows if the young men and women serving today were not in military uniform, they would be sporting tattoos, body piercing and long braids.

“I want to bring them music that has an eternal value, good message, but reaches them with music they like, such as rock, hip-hop and rap.”

When you offer young people music that invites them to boost the bass line in their car, you reach them, he says. “A lot of stuff the United Methodist Church does is not reaching a younger audience. Music is a great way to engage them in their culture but not with hymns that are 200 years old.

“Our Wesleyan legacy is so rich and offers so many opportunities to speak to people where they are in today’s society,” he says. “We are Wesley misers — we hold on to our heritage and don’t share it enough.”

A modern Wesley

West loves his United Methodist heritage. He notes that Methodism founder John Wesley rode around on horseback, pulling his Bible out of his backpack and telling people they mattered.

“My horse is a Humvee, but it is the same concept,” he says. “Here was a guy (Wesley) who understood that the focus of what we are called to do is not done within the four walls of what we call the church. This was a guy who understood that ministry is done out there in the midst of a teeming, seamy, writhing humanity.”

West wants his audience to be “spiritually fit and ready” for lives in difficult situations.

“Our job is to tell the stories,” he says, and to remind soldiers “God is always with them.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or


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