Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner
Anthony W. Horton didn’t actually plan to become an Army chaplain. He was an Air Defense Officer when he picked up a book detailing the schools for various officer branches. He intended to read the pages on the Infantry school, but the book opened to the page on becoming a Chaplain instead. Although he tried to ignore the inspirations coming to him, the book continued to open to that page each time he opened it. He began the process of changing his career and has since served on the battlegrounds of Kuwait, Kosovo and Iraq, and served soldiers of all faiths, as well as the citizens of those countries.
I recently reviewed his first book, which discusses his experiences as a chaplain in Iraq and examines a number of essential gospel principles. This week, I had a chance to interview Brother Horton about the challenges of being an LDS chaplain. In addition, he offers advice for LDS men and women considering a career in the military.
Chaplains are not assigned only to those of their own faith. They must be prepared to counsel and teach soldiers of all faiths. Brother Horton said that his greatest challenge is coping with the prejudice of Christians of other faiths, and from other chaplains. “For the most part, LDS Chaplains are not welcome or wanted in this environment.... lots of prejudice and dislike for us out here. Other LDS Chaplains might say that their largest challenge is the possibility of deployment and separation from family. Although always a possibility, I personally am OK with that. I've been in the Army 18 years, and have more deployments than I can count. Retirement is around the corner for me.”
In Brother Horton’s book, he details a time when a chaplain he was assigned to preached an anti-Mormon sermon every week and then printed the material for distribution. This was against policy. When he was finally allowed to read a verse of scripture during the service, the entire congregation stood up and walked out on him in protest of his participation. His solution was to pray to see those people as the Lord saw them, which allowed him to work through the situation and gain the respect of the protesters in time. (See pages37-38.)
What is his most important blessing in doing this unique work? “The gift of Spirit and the Priesthood! This allows me to function and do things other chaplains cannot, and it is "cool" to participate in a work that the Lord has such an interest in! Imagine being the only priesthood holder in a land or area where the Church does not exist, to conduct sacrament services where there are none. My Iraq experience was like this for me. Imagine Abraham and many other holy prophets walking that land and blessing the lives of the people who'd listen and follow. The priesthood has not been there for many thousands of years, and suddenly I found myself in Baghdad, conducting services and distributing copies of the Book of Mormon in Arabic to those that hungered for it.”
I asked Brother Horton if serving as a chaplain gave him a unique perspective on the gospel. “No. My being a Chaplain has nothing to do with my knowledge other than the fact that I get paid to daily study . . .but aren't we all supposed to daily study? Paid or not? I do think I have been given an opportunity to serve in a way most will not be blessed to do, but I believe that if we all follow those inner promptings of the Spirit, we will all be able to stand on equal ground and all be given the opportunity to know all of the truth pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
Brother Horton feels that serving as a chaplain is no different than serving as a home teacher, Relief Society President, or in any other calling in the church. “Being in the service of others in the capacity that I am serves to keep me humble and constantly in touch with what is really most important to me, which is my relationship with the Lord.”
Brother Horton’s book discusses many of the challenges facing men and women in the service. I wondered what he considered to be the greatest challenge for those service members who were also members of the church. “The world! The military is a difficult place to be and maintain the high standards of the Church, but, for those that are able to do it, I believe it is a wonderful place to be.”
Is there a difference between the LDS soldiers and others? “Yes! I can see a definite difference, and that difference is the Spirit. When you look for it, you can actually see the added light of the Spirit in those that are living their religion, and when walking with the companionship of the Sprit, this light increases exponentially.”
If your children are considering a military career, he advises them to read about Helaman and his two thousand warriors. “Relate your own life to that of those warriors and serve missions and get married if at all possible in the temple first. For those single young adults considering military service: consider making the military a preparatory place to allow you to serve missions, or get married in the temple.
”I find that the military as a community is a great place to be...I've enjoyed it tremendously...but others will find it to be most difficult. The military is a group of people living, training and wanting to go to war. . .to kill, destroy and stop all aggression towards our way of living. If you are not prepared to join in the effort to accomplish this, the military will be difficult for you.
"Look closely at some of our greatest church leaders today . . .many of them served in the military."