NTC Chaplain Brown, fellow chaplains charter new programs, offer counseling & communion during rotational trainings in the field, as they ‘plant a spiritual rose in the desert’
FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Post Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ric Brown wasn’t even a teenager when he first knew he had a calling to minister to the masses—specifically, servicemembers.
“At 10 years old, I felt a calling to minister to military,” Brown said. “I didn’t understand the term ‘chaplain’ but I had a draw for the military for as far back as I could recall as a kid.” He made be clear that he also felt a ‘calling’ to go outside and play at that age.
The son, and grandson, of ministers, Chaplain Brown went on to join the National Guard at 17 years old and has now been serving his country and his community for 34 years.
He came to Fort Irwin in July 2018 and before his first visit to the National Training Center, he prayed about how he could best serve the installation.
“Before I got here, I felt a burden upon my heart for Fort Irwin and began to pray and really truly weep for Fort Irwin,” Brown said. There was a pain upon my heart for Fort Irwin and I began to learn that it seemed to be a place that was hurting and needed some care, some love, somebody to listen and love on the people, so coming here, that’s been my biggest goal.”
In just six months, Chaplain Brown and his team have hit the ground running in an effort to shore up existing programs, offer new ministries and be as inclusive as possible.
He said he wants to put emphasis and bring heavy support to programs like the AWANAS and PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) programs to keep them popular. But Chaplain Brown and his team also started Life Groups on post.
“These are home studies that individuals are leading and the intent is to get people comfortable coming to those and they may, then, come to a chapel; because some people are just not comfortable coming to a chapel…but they’ll go to somebody’s home and do a study with them in a friendly setting,” Brown said.
The Life Groups include the “Truth Project,” “The Art of Marriage” and “Making Disciples.”
Then there’s the Youth of the Chapel ministry. Chaplain (Cpt.) Dan Kim recently kicked off this program and is leading this effort to reach a group that doesn’t have many, fun options in this environment.
“My main focus for the youth groups has been to provide a fun, safe place where they can learn a little about the Bible,” Kim said. “But my end state is to make it a place where they can seriously pursue faith and have fun at the same time, so to maintain that space where you can feel safe to be themselves.”
Bringing the Bible to the Box
Not every new move has been met with optimism from everyone on post. Before Chaplain Brown arrived at Fort Irwin, there was an additional chapel service at the Blackhorse Chapel. After meeting with fellow chaplains and the community, he made a strategic move to end that service, leaving only two services on post— one for Catholics and one for Protestants.
“By reducing that, we build up a quality Protestant service, versus two mediocre services,” he said.
“We may have reduced the number of services, but the service we have now reaches a broader range of people,” Chaplain Brown said.
He’s not opposed to adding another service, however, if the numbers grow.
He said one of the most important things the change affects is that chaplains can now be out in the Box without worrying about coming back in to run a service.
While looking at the training/rotational calendar, Chaplain Brown noticed some entities at the chapel were not coinciding with the calendar, so the chapel wasn’t meeting the needs of the soldiers and families.
“So I looked at communion and where they had it set every second Sunday of the month and had a conversation with a couple and the husband said ‘You know I haven’t had communion in months, I don’t remember the last time I had communion.’”
The Chaplain then moved the dates of when communion is taken at the chapel, so soldiers can take communion with their family. The chaplain team also brought communion to the Box.
The 11th ACR has what’s called the “God Van” and their lead unit takes it out to the Box. In the summertime, they give out snow cones and soldiers line up for the treat.
“What they’re actually getting is a little bit of love because they come for the snow cones, and they get a little bit of spiritual fitness as chaplains talk with them,” Brown said.
Chaplain Brown speaks highly of the senior Operations Group chaplain, (Maj.) J.P. Smith, who he served with at Fort Drum and said they wanted to take church services to the soldiers in the field.
Chaplain Smith said, “We witnessed a need from our Observer Coach Trainers, that they wanted some kind of religious service. Many would go to service on post while they’re not in rotation and their families attended each Sunday and the OCTs don’t have the opportunity to go to services at least two Sundays per month because they’re in the box.”
What started during the summer of 2018 was chaplains and ministry teams traveling around the box and ministering through prayer meetings, Bible studies, communion services, religious services and counseling.
“They know that while they’re doing services out there in the Box, their families are also doing communion services on post, so that’s a comforting feeling to the soldiers and the families that while they’re not able to do it in a certain geographic location together, they’re still doing it together,” Smith said.
Chaplains have also started having a group prayer for the OCT’s, the incoming rotational training units (RTU’s), 9/16th and the 11th ACR before each roll-out for the rotations.
Challenges & Opportunities
Living and ministering in such a remote area has its share of challenges. Chaplain Brown wants to focus on providing quality programming, to entice worshippers to change the mentality some have and serve on post instead of looking elsewhere.
“Here at Fort Irwin, we’re in a unique position and situation that the closest place to go (and worship) is about an hour away and my goal and desire is to make the chapel programs here, an individual’s first thought before they go off post.”
He said the ongoing mission presents a struggle, in ways, because many are spread around on different schedules during training and when they come back, they want to just go and get off the “island” as some call it.
“They want to go and I get it—that can be as much of a spiritual aspect, to take and go with the family and the beach to the mountains, as staying here” Brown said.
“What’s awesome to see, several people have told me, is when they’ve gone away for the four-day weekend and their kids and teens come back and say ‘mom, dad, hurry up, I don’t want to miss youth services’. That tells me we’re meeting both the kids and parent’s needs.”
Chaplain Kim also admits Fort Irwin’s location and mission has chapel challenges that are unique.
“Spiritual resources are limited for various faith groups, especially lower-density faith groups, like Muslim and Jewish soldiers may have much more challenges meeting their spiritual needs,” Kim said.
He also mentioned the temptations of nearby Las Vegas and Los Angeles which can mean trouble for some servicemembers.
The real backbone to the Chapel: A Chaplain’s Spouse
The Chaplain has at least one, secret weapon when it comes properly serving the community and he married her 32 years ago when he was private—she was his first sergeant’s daughter.
“There’s lots of rewards and there’s lots of payments due, just being a soldier’s spouse, no matter what, there’s lots of payment due—but that doesn’t change that there are some beautiful benefits,” De’Dee Brown said.
Mrs. Brown said she’s a helpmate and assists all the chaplains, ministries and life groups. She said her number one job involves paying attention to what’s going on, alerting her husband and others when she sees holes or opportunities for someone to step in a hole; and helping fill the hole before someone steps into it.
Mrs. Brown and her husband agree that Chaplain Brown is just as “bone-headed” as any other male when it comes to taking advice, though.
“I think he hears me, I don’t know that he always listens,” she said.
“There’s many times I know I’ve been successful because of her,” Chaplain Brown said.
He appreciates his wife supporting him, even through the late-night phone calls and times he must be absent from family.
“Nothing ‘smart’ happens between 11 at night and 4 in the morning and those times are when the phone calls come,” Mrs. Brown said.
One thing she said she is thankful for, is not having to be a typical pastor’s wife because she does not sing, nor play the piano.
New Year, New You
Many have heard that depression and suicide rates go up around Thanksgiving and Christmas but studies out of the Centers for Disease Control say that is a myth. Their numbers show this time of year—January—is actually when there is a rebound in those rates and the religious services office is aware and also has support for those in need at this time.
“This is a time of year that if folks aren’t going home and spending time with their families, it lends itself to depression and we make sure we reach out and target those who may be more at risk or more vulnerable,” Chaplain Smith said.
The chaplains mentioned they have programs for single soldiers, as well as marriage retreats to help ensure people can start of the new year with the necessary tools to be proactive and lead a healthy life.
Chaplains are the only entity in the Army with complete confidentiality and they say you don’t have to be ‘religious,’ as they care for all individuals.
Chaplain Brown uses the analogy of a weightlifting spotter when it comes to encouraging everyone to reach out for help if needed.
“Chaplains are spotters in our lives and to go see them does not make you weak, it actually makes you stronger,” he said. “They can’t lift the weight of life for you but they can make sure you’re not crushed and lookin’ a fool.”
Single Soldiers Program: The aforementioned Single Soldiers program is a spiritual resiliency opportunity and Chaplain Smith said it’s a group they’re really trying to reach every month, since they don’t always have their families close to them.
“We actually go into the barracks and we do Bible studies, we do devotionals,” Smith said.
Chaplain Kim said they’re in the planning stages to do more events, targeting those soldiers, including paint ball and camping events, to raise morale and share spiritual advice and life skills.
Youth of the Chapel: Meets every Sunday at 6p.m. at the Center Chapel
Children’s Church: (1st- 5th Grade) Sundays at 11a.m.
Beginner’s Church: (K4-K5) Sundays at 11a.m.
Financial Peace University: This is a program that shows parents and children how to better manage their money and start thinking more smartly about their spending and saving. First meeting is Jan. 10 at 6 p.m., at Center Chapel The weekly course meets over a nine-week period.
PWOC (@pwocfortirwin on Facebook): Protestant Women of the Chapel: A resource network that unites, trains and encourages women in the military chapel community in their spiritual growth.
AWANA: A ministry focused on providing Bible-based evangelism and discipleship solutions to reach kids, equip leaders, and change the world. (Contact Center Chapel for more information)
Bible Study (Fort Irwin Christian Bible Study on Facebook): Meets every Wednesday from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Center Chapel.
Life Groups (See Chaplain for details and/or to sign-up):
-Truth Project: Meets Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
-The Art of Marriage: Meets Saturdays at 6 p.m.
-Making Disciples: Meets Sundays at 6 p.m.
High Noon Service: A more casual service at noon at the Black Horse Chapel (See 11th ACR ministry team for more information)
MOPS (Mothers of Pre-schoolers): A group that gathers to support moms. The chaplain team is looking to re-start this and needs volunteers. Contact the chapel, if interested.
Men’s Ministry: The chaplain team is working to re-start this program. Contact the chapel, if interested.
Critter Team Burns: Conducted monthly when the chaplains choose a different critter team each rotation and after that rotation, chaplains barbecue for one of the 14 teams, do devotion, Bible study and make themselves available for counseling during and/or after rotations.
Chaplain Brown says, “I encourage people in the new year, if they want to see that change, sometimes they have to be the element of change and realize that change takes time. Some people are looking for a quick fix and after a month or two of not seeing immediate change, they go back into the rut they were in before. Be patient with yourself and allow the chance to impact.”
Fort Irwin Chapel/Religious
Center Chapel (Bldg. 315):