The story of military chaplains begins with the story of the War for Independence.
Colonial clergy frequently raised military units from their congregations or locations and often led them into battle, according to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center & School.
With the soldiers, they endured suffering, hunger, loneliness, defeat, wounds, death and, at last, victory. At Lexington Green and Concord Bridge in 1775, of the Reverend (Dr.) Phillips Payson it was reported, “Seizing a musket he put himself at the lead of the party and led them forward to the attack.”
Military chaplains have also made the ultimate sacrifice.
In all branches of today’s U.S. military, chaplains, as noncombatants, are prohibited from carrying weapons. That does not mean, however, they are immune from danger.
Chaplain (Capt.) Mike Shannon, with the 10th Air Base Wing’s Community Center Chapel, can attest to this after his seven-month deployment to Iraq.
For his outstanding service, the Army awarded him the Bronze Star.
“I am humbled and honored by it,” he said. “God blessed me with a great commander.”
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Dwayne Peoples, wing chaplain, said in the past awarding a Bronze Star to a chaplain was rare but less so now with current overseas combat.
“Often people don’t think of a chaplain being on the front lines,” he said. “In those settings receiving the Bronze Star was usually reserved for combatants.”
Chaplain Shannon served with the Army’s 360th Civil Affairs Brigade based at Camp Slayer in Bagdad. The unit was tasked with building infrastructure, establishing rule of law, promoting agriculture, building hospitals and clinics, and helping with manufacturing and small businesses.
The 1,100 member unit was dispersed throughout the Iraqi theater. He began every week on Monday climbing into aircraft for visits to the brigade’s 62 units across the theater.
On site, Chaplain Shannon provided counseling, prayed and talked with service members, led worship and rendered training on coping skills, among other duties. He frequently returned to Camp Slayer only in time for Sunday worship. One week he was stranded for five days without transportation.
“It was a good ministry,” he said of his second time in Iraq and where “people took heavy hits.”
Chaplain Peoples gave high praise to his colleague.
“He came through with flying colors,” he said. The narrative accompanying the award called Chaplain Shannon “phenomenal in his ability to integrate himself quickly as an active component Air Force chaplain into an Army Reserve unit” and “tireless in providing religious support to the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in the unit.” The narrative also added, “Regardless of the danger involved, he went to where the warriors were on the battlefield.”
During deployments, chaplains in-theater are often regarded as “lucky charms” with their presence, no doubt due to the belief chaplains are in close touch with higher powers.
Now back at the Community Chapel, the former Preparatory School chaplain oversees the Protestant ministry and leads worship for two Sunday services.
He began his military service while serving with the Army. In 1994, he was selected as a chaplain candidate with the Michigan Army National Guard. Before coming to the Academy, he was assigned to the Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
At the core of the soft-spoken chaplain’s ministry and life is his faith.
“I am completely, unabashedly committed to my faith in Jesus Christ,” he said and added, except for the potential impact on his family, “I was never afraid of dying because of my faith.”