Devoted chaplain supports trainees

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Story by SPC Chris Lindborg on 08/27/2017
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain (Maj.) Christopher Laughlin, a 108th Training Command chaplain, understands the influence chaplains have on Soldiers.

Laughlin's own experiences in childhood, basic training and advanced individual training laid a foundation to prepare him to be a devoted Army Reserve chaplain today.

"I believe that God called me to this," said Laughlin, a well-spoken husband with bushy eyebrows and a kind smile. "That call has been reaffirmed for me in a number of ways in the last 15 years or so I've been in the Army."

Laughlin grew up in Audubon, New Jersey, a small town near Philadelphia. There are three Medal of Honor recipients who graduated from the same high school as Laughlin.

"It's a badge of honor for us," he said. " It's a pretty patriotic place where a minimum of a couple people a year go into the service."

At the age of six, Laughlin told his parents he wanted to be a pastor. When he was in eighth grade, his father, who was a factory worker for 40 years, recommended military chaplaincy.

Laughlin's father worried about congregations closing and shrinking. Today, Laughlin said, it turns out there are more open pulpits than pastors to fill them.

"I think my father feared there would be no churches, but there was always work in the Army," said Laughlin. "My parents were both supportive for me becoming a pastor."

Laughlin attended basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He then attended advanced individual training (AIT) here and earned a military occupational specialty as an 88M Motor Vehicle Operator. After AIT, he was assigned to the 445th Transportation Company of Waterloo, Iowa. During this time, he received a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran Theological Seminary School in Gettysburg.

During the past seven years, he has been a parish pastor of an Evangelical Lutheran Church and an Army Reserve chaplain. He, along with other mobilized Army Reserve Soldiers from units across the 108th Training Command, were mobilized in support of the Army's end strength increase.

Laughlin's mission includes the 2nd Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, which was re-activated in June 2017. The first trainees, assigned to Alpha Company, arrived July 3, 2017. Trainees assigned to Bravo Company arrived on Aug. 7, 2017, and trainees assigned to Charlie Company arrived Aug. 15, 2017.

"My drill sergeants have made something out of nothing," said Laughlin. "It's been incredible what they've accomplished."

Laughlin participated in the obstacle course with Charlie Company here on August 24, 2017.

"If I'm going to be in some way the face of Jesus, or the face of the church, it's my job to suffer with them," he said. "If I'm with them when they get dropped, I get down, too."

Laughlin said he wants the trainees to know there's nothing they do that he wouldn't also do. He said this also applies to his theology.

Laughlin said the commander asked him to support the mission, for whatever the mission is.

"I'm there to support Soldiers in whatever it is they believe and religious support is the right of every Soldier to free exercise of religion," he said.

Chaplains are bound by confidentiality under Title 10. They are not permitted to repeat what someone tells them.

"A lot of people don't know this but privilege is absolute," Laughlin said.

However, absolute privilege can have its downside.

"If something is told to me, now I have to live with myself and look at myself in the mirror and deal with my own conscious," he said.

When a Soldier comes to Laughlin, there is a process he goes through. He first asks the Soldier to tell the facts. Then, he asks the Soldier how he or she feels. Finally, he asks the Soldier what he or she wants to do about it.

"Empowerment is important," he said.

At the end of every meeting, a prayer is optional.

"I'm not here to enforce what I believe on them," said Laughlin. "One of the advantages of being a chaplain is that I'm the safe place. I always make sure they know it's an option to report anything. They've always come on their own."

Laughlin's current assignment ends on May 29, 2018. He said he looks forward to going back to his parish and the Army Reserve again.

"This is really just an incredible and rewarding ministry," said Laughlin. "I have really enjoyed it. It's exhausting! I couldn't do this forever because keeping up with 17-year-olds is a lot of work!"

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