Chaplains’ ministry continues after Fort Hood shootings

Chief of Staff of the Army General Raymond T. Odierno pays respect to three fallen soldiers during a ceremony at III Corps headquarters at the sprawling Fort Hood Army base outside Killeen, TX. The soldiers died in an April 2 mass shooting that took place on the base. Southern Baptist Army Chaplain Col. Matthew M. Goff opened the memorial service in prayer. (NAMB photo copyright Bob Daemmrich/Corbis, used with permission)

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FORT HOOD (BP)—Maj. Jim Fisher has experienced tough times since the April 2 shootings at Fort Hood. As a Baptist chaplain, his duties included accompanying the family members of Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson, who died that day.

But Fisher is not complaining; he sees it as an honor to serve. The night before Ferguson’s funeral, he reported: “Tomorrow will be a day of great emotion—mourning, sadness and bitterness. Yet, amidst the emotional clouds, the sun will shine light upon that which is true, noble and irreplaceable—service to others, at any cost.”

chaplain jim fisher300Chaplain Major Jim FisherHe prayed with Ferguson’s immediate and extended family in the waiting area of Tampa’s airport to prepare them for when the flag-draped casket was rolled from the plane, a moment he described as “breathtaking.”

“As we gathered around to share stories and thoughts, the jet engines continued to run, reminding us of the call to leave loved ones in service of our beloved nation,” he said. “I was honored to witness this moment in history. …

“Army (officers) stood proudly. The Freedom Riders took their post at the church and at the Florida National Cemetery. We were honored to see the casket placed in its final resting spot, after the Dallas Cowboys logo was affixed to the top.

“It will take all the attendees time to process what we witnessed. … Yet love for country and the military towered above all. Simply put—we are one family.”

On April 2, Fisher was carrying out his normal duties in the brigade building when suddenly the voice volume increased.

“I knew without a doubt something serious was happening,” he recalled. “I heard ‘active shooter’ and the orders to stay indoors. I realized the shooting was happening in my unit.”

Spent 28 years in the military

Fisher has spent 28 years in the military, including nine years as an Air Force reserve chaplain and a one-year deployment to Afghanistan. As soon as he learned the outcome of the rampage, he knew the weeks to follow would be intense.

“A chaplain is often thrust into situations—often, crises—devoid of relationships,” said Fisher, who has been an active-duty chaplain seven years. It “requires a unique skill set, the ability to walk through the open doors of hurt, pain and tragedy.”

Keith Travis, the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board team leader for chaplaincy, called military chaplains “evangelists, teachers, preachers, counselors who share the love of Christ in peace and war.”

“Soldiers who serve as chaplains are trained in mass casualties,” said Doug Carver, executive director of chaplaincy at NAMB and a retired two-star general who served at the Pentagon as U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. “They are functioning at a high level of vigilance and response. They are trained in combat. This is what they do, and they do it well.”

‘Ministry of presence’

Although he spent time comforting tearful family members, Fisher emphasized the ministry of presence. “Sitting with, not talking to, can be incredibly powerful,” he said.

How does he handle the inevitable questions, such as why did God allow this tragedy?

“I haven’t fielded those questions … not yet,” he answered. “I believe the next few weeks will tell a different story.”

He knows his work related to the Fort Hood shooting is far from over.

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