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Three chaplains serve many roles at Fort Leavenworth

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert
The Rev. David E. McLean is command chaplain at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
July 1, 2005

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (UMNS)—Military chaplains carry an image in their minds: a lonely, frightened soldier who needs to know someone cares.

Three United Methodist pastors serving in three very different capacities at Fort Leavenworth all carry that image with them—a reminder of soldiers they have helped in some of life’s most challenging times.

“Everything that I do, I try to remember the soldier out there, scared, uncomfortable and lonely, and his family back home, afraid and anxious and hopeful, and try to make sure they are well served,” says the Rev. Mitchell Lewis. “That is the bottom line of what we do.”

The Rev. David E. McLean is command chaplain at the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth. Lewis works on a team designing Army doctrine, and the Rev. Scott Jones is a recent graduate of the Command and General Staff College.

Before arriving at Fort Leavenworth, McLean served four years in Germany at Landstuhl Hospital. Lewis was in Iraq during the first months of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Jones was in Afghanistan from August 2003 to May 2004.

Chaplain David McLean

In his 28 years of service as a chaplain in the Army, McLean and his family have moved 24 times.

“What’s funny about that is we spent four years at Landstuhl Hospital in Germany and four years at Redstone Arsenal,” he says, laughing. That means he, his wife, and their five daughters spent a lot of time packing and unpacking. His wife, Angie, and their daughters have taken the moves and life in the Army in stride.

“As one of my daughters said to us one time, ‘I don’t know how ya’ll do it or why you did it, and sometimes I hated you for doing it, but it is good to see that ya’ll stuck together even when you were pulled apart.’”

As command chaplain at Fort Leavenworth, McLean oversees the command master religious program, supervising chaplains and chaplain assistants and teaching the chaplains who are students in the command and general staff course.

McLean went to Germany in 2000, after completing the national war college in Washington.

“It kind of looked like it would be a rather easy assignment,” he says. The family saw it as an opportunity to enjoy Europe and give their youngest daughter a chance to complete high school in one place. McLean was assigned as chaplain for Landstuhl, the largest American hospital outside the United States. Most injured military personnel are sent to Landstuhl first.

They arrived in September. In October, the USS Cole was bombed in a terrorist attack that killed 17 sailors and injured 39 others. In November, 155 skiers were killed in a ski cable-car accident in Austria, including an entire family who had been members of McLean’s chapel family from another assignment. Then the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred and war was declared.

“We never realized what hospital ministry during a war-time mission would require,” he says.

“During Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, we saw 17,000 sick and wounded come through the hospital.” In addition to providing religious support and care for the soldiers, the chaplains supported the hospital staff.

“The trauma that the medical and hospital care staff faces every day, 24/7, really called for the best and the most out of people,” McLean says. “I talked to many doctors and nurses who had cared for trauma patients throughout the world, but it is different when you see a young person injured or maimed because they are fighting for freedom. It does do something different to you.”

McLean says he knows he has definitely made a difference in lives through his ministry as a chaplain.

“I have been able to offer that assurance of God’s presence with us always,” he says. “When you ask have I made a difference, absolutely, because it is not just about me but about what we as chaplains represent to people.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert
The Rev. Mitchell Lewis is one of a handful of chaplains helping the Army plan for the future at Fort Leavenworth.
Chaplain Mitchell Lewis

Lewis jokes that he is a “spy for the chief of chaplains” at Fort Leavenworth, but quickly adds “that is not a very good way of putting it.”

He is among a handful of chaplains helping the Army plan for the future. As part of a team working on combined arms directives and Army doctrine, he must make sure the Army is keeping religious matters and the role of chaplains always in its plans.

“I am here to make sure not just that my branch is represented in the future Army, but that the spiritual needs of soldiers and the basic moral principles that our nation is built on are represented in what the Army does.”

Some of the biggest decisions about the future Army are made at Fort Leavenworth, he says. “We are transforming the Army even as we are engaged in the global war on terrorism.”

Lewis is focusing on such questions as: Where do chaplains fit in the Army? What should their primary tasks be? What equipment will they need to do their jobs? What kind of career progression will they have?

“Those are the kinds of questions we are trying to answer. You have to move in that direction; you can’t wait until everything has been decided and catch up. If you sit passively by, you will never have the right person in the right place.”

Before going to Fort Leavenworth, Lewis was at Fort Stewart, Ga., and was deployed to Iraq during the first stages of the war. He admits this job is very different.

“I think the work I am doing here is an important piece—it is an enabling ministry,” he says. “Pieces of it are very rewarding, (and) quite frankly, some pieces of it are very tedious. But I made the bargain with God, the church and the Army that I would do what they assigned me to do, and this is my job.”

The fact that he has firsthand experience being with soldiers during war helps, he says.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert
The Rev. Scott Jones graduated from the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in June.
Chaplain Scott Jones

Jones, who served as a brigade chaplain in Afghanistan, graduated from the Army’s Command and General Staff College in June.

While in Afghanistan, 17 soldiers were killed in his brigade. He particularly remembers a couple of incidents when soldiers were injured.

Someone threw a grenade into a soldier’s vehicle. “He had a split second to decide what to do. He couldn’t throw it out because there were kids crowded around the vehicle. What he did was put it down as far as he could under the seat. He lost a couple of fingers and the guy next to him really tore up his leg. Both lived and will be OK.”

Another time, someone left explosives on a bicycle and parked it outside a school.

“That injured a lot of kids. Some were killed. We took care of them at our medical center.”

Some of his other jobs included conducting memorial services for those killed and helping mental health teams perform critical event debriefings for soldiers who had witnessed friends being killed.

Being a student at Fort Leavenworth has helped him understand how the Army works, he says.

“When I first came into the Army, it was a culture shock. I felt like missionaries must feel, like I had been dropped into the middle of Africa and didn’t know anything about the customs or culture.”

In addition to learning how the Army works, he has had the opportunity to attend classes on subjects such as world religion, Middle Eastern studies, “just war” and ethics, and a chaplain-specific class on how to operate as a chaplain in the system.

“The Army and military is a very complex system, and you have to understand the system to get things done. All in all, it has been a good experience,” he says.

“I am a pastor in a uniform. That’s the only reason I am here, to be a minister in the Army.”

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

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

Audio Interviews

The Rev. David E. McLean: “…working together to meet the needs.”

The Rev. Scott Jones: “…represent God and the United Methodist Church.”

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