BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with David Hicks, December 12, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with David Hicks, December 12, 2002
December 12, 2002
Interview with Brigadier General, United States Army David Hicks.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Hicks, David Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  12/12/2002 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  91 minutes

Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock. I’m a staff person of the Randall Library at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Today is the 12 of December in the year 2002 and we’re at Fort Myer, Virginia. We’re going to interview today David H. Hicks who is a Brigadier General in the United States Army.

Zarbock: Good morning sir.

Hicks: Good morning Paul.

Zarbock: Would you tell us please how did you get into the chaplaincy, a little bit of your background when you were a youth and what happened to you to bump along into this career path?

Hicks: I came from a family of 12, nine boys and three girls in Long Island, New York. My father was World War I Veteran, fought alongside the French because as you remember from history, Black American soldiers didn't fight alongside white soldiers. Dad was a member of the famed 369th Infantry. He was the First Sergeant in that Unit.

We, as children growing up, used to be fascinated by his many stories. A very patriotic man, never had any bitterness or expressed any anger or bitterness of his not being allowed to serve among the white units, but was so patriotic that on patriotic days, he would have his sons get up in front of our house and place in front of our house an American storm flag.

Zarbock: Where were you living, sir?

Hicks: We were living in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York at the time. So as I grew up, I lived under that influence and always wanted to become a soldier, wanted to become a sergeant like dad. So when the time came, I realized that I had been so well supervised by so many older brothers and sisters, I was one of the younger ones, I was third from the last, and had a lot of people telling me what to do, when to do it and how often to do it, if I would just follow the model of their own lives, things they thought were best for their lives, if I followed that model, I would come out very well in life.

So I devised a scheme. I tell folks when I tell this story, I joined the Army and thought I’d get away from all that supervision only to find that I really engaged in the supervision as never before. But as I got into the Army, I began to really experience life in a way that I thought would help me to become a man as a young 17 year old and years following. I reenlisted for six years after my first three years.

During that time, I really tried to identify with older people, men 35-40 years of age and I started hitting the streets the way that they did and started engaging in life in ways that they did. I couldn’t figure out my place in that adult world.

Zarbock: When you say engage in a life the way they did, give us an illustration?

Hicks: Sure. I guess the best way I can describe it is that I would just go out and hit the streets at night, go to the clubs, was very heavily involved in the nightlife. Sometimes to give you an example of the kinds of activities, the results of that life, sometimes I would get in early enough in the morning before the First Sergeant got in, just in enough time to get my uniform on and get ready for the physical training in the morning and then the activities that followed. Very dangerous and I look back on it today, I’m just amazed that the good Lord allowed me to get through that.

Zarbock: Where were you stationed during that period of your life?

Hicks: Initially I was at Fort Dix, New Jersey in 1958 from October through December. That’s where I took my basic. Then midway through December of 1958 until early February 1959, I was with the Artillery Training School, 105 Howitzer training at Fort Jaffe, Arkansas.

Then from there I went to Germany on a troop ship, 11 days traveling. I was a young 17 year old and spent two years in Germany mainly in Stuttgart, but several other areas. I became a communications wireman.

Zarbock: And Stuttgart was the area in which you became involved in I believe you called it ” nightlife?”

Hicks: That, more than anywhere else. That is where it really started to take root for me. Life just moved in that direction and never felt comfortable with that life. I always felt there was something else out there, something that I was not really getting in touch with. The people that I was looking to for that direction continued to move in that direction that I was not satisfied with and so I didn't see those positive role models out there.

I used to walk by the Chapel every time I went out of the gate on that small installation there, Kelly Barracks in Stuttgart. I would always see the Chapel there, but never felt like I could go inside there because I didn't feel there was anything there for me. I was kind of afraid of religion and afraid of God.

So I came back to the States and went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. There I reenlisted for an additional six years. I wanted to become an Airborne soldier and at the same time I wanted to get some kind of marketable skill that would allow me, should I get off active duty, to be able to plug into civilian life in a meaningful way. So I went to the Engineering School in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and became a Diesel Engine Repairman.

From there, I was reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas. I wanted to stay on the East Coast, but with the Army sometimes you get the opposite of what you want. After being at Fort Hood for about a year, I volunteered to go on jump status. So I took all the physical fitness tests and met the other requirements and went to Fort Benning, Georgia in 1962. After completing my airborne training in June of 1962, I was assigned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky with the 101st Airborne Division.

Zarbock: I’m going to ask you to pause here for just a minute. Let me ask for a comment. My perception of standing in an aircraft traveling several hundred miles an hour at an open door and plunging out is enough to give me night sweats that will last me for a long time. How did you manage your emotions? Standing at the door an you’re going to jump out.

Hicks: I like that phrase! I didn't realize “til years later that that’s in fact what happened. You manage your emotions and you begin to get all that adrenal working for you and it becomes a very positive experience. We began to receive initially some training that helps us to get focused on what’s really important. The safety and confidence in the equipment and those who train us.

So as I stood in front of that door, and I’ll never forget it, it was a C123 Airplane that was supposed to have been a glider years ago but they put two engines on, one on one wing and one on the other and it became a very effective plane for the Army, small and yet able to take off on a short runway. But as I stood in the door of that airplane and we went out individually, we were tapped out to get an experience of being able to step out, leap out in the way that we were trained to, and as I prepared to leap out of that airplane, I had no other choice it seemed in my mind but to make the very best possible exit that I could and make this the best experience that I could possibly make it.

Zarbock: Was this a prayerful moment for you?

Hicks: No, I really had no religious affiliation. A great deal of fear was there. That’s why I liked your words of managed emotion because we’re able to get a hold of those emotions and let that all move in a very positive direction. Then after I landed on the ground having looked up at my parachute, after I landed looking up, I realized that this was an experience of a lifetime! It was almost as I would later describe my conversion experience to Christianity. It was like moving from darkness into light, what a tremendous experience.

Zarbock: What a phrase, what a phrase. Well eventually somebody put wings on your uniform. What happened after that?

Hicks: After that, I was not immediately assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. I was a veteran in the sense that I had already four years on active duty having come in in 1958. So I used to love to march soldiers. Anytime given that opportunity, I would do everything I could to excel so I impressed the Sergeant there who was in charge of our class in marching us to the training area every day.

He asked me on a few occasions because I just happened to have time in grade and was longer in the Army and so to my joy, that lot fell to me, to march those soldiers on occasion.

Zarbock: What was your rank at that time?

Hicks: I was a Specialist 4 and so at that time he had asked if I would be interested in staying. I informed him that I had a younger brother who was with the 101st Airborne Division. We used to room together at home and he knew when we were growing up that I was going into the Army. I always wanted to be a paratrooper, but he beat me to it so he was up there about six months ahead of me.

So I said to the Sergeant I would appreciate so much if I could go to the 101st Airborne Division. I knew I had this Engineer MOS and that I wouldn't…

Zarbock: I’m sorry, years from now people won’t know what MOS means.

Hicks: Okay, it’s a Military Occupational Specialty. That was the area of service that I was trained for.

Zarbock: Each job has got a number?

Hicks: Each job has a number, that’s right and a letter affixed to it. In those days, it was different. It was 623, simply a number, but now they change it and put a letter in with it and periodically it does change. So later when I became a member of the 101st Airborne Division, I became an 11 Bravo, which is 11B and that’s a Basic Infantryman.

So when I got to Fort Campbell after the Sergeant agreed eventually to let me go, I transferred from the 801st Maintenance after about a year over to the 187th Infantry and was promoted in about six months and roomed together with my brother in the same room. Shortly after I was promoted, he had an Alpha 5 team, I had Bravo 5 team. That’s the two teams of six and 11 men in those days that made up the 11 man squad.

So because I was promoted, they had to separate us so we stayed in the same Company, but I was in a different platoon. But life went on for me like that. I did very well as an NCO, but in the quiet recesses of my life, I really lived in a hell. My brother and I used to go out and do the things that I had brought from my experience over in Germany of the nightlife. He was young and he was excited about what life was all about so we used to run together.

We’d run with the older guys as much as we could. So we got to a point where Tom was discharged from the Army. We did some very exciting things together. We made a parachute jump with our unit, the 101st. We wanted to show how fast we could get an Airborne Brigade from the United States Army 101st Airborne Division over to Iran and run a joint operation with the Iranian forces. That was in the spring of 1964.

So my brother, Tom and I, we did that. But something interesting happened for me. As we got off the DMZ, the drop zone and we’re in our little shelter halves, I had a little Gideon Bible, the New Testament, and I tried to make sense of that. It was in the King James Version so as I read through those first few pages, I couldn’t get beyond the “beget “and I put it away, never realizing what ultimately was going to happen in that experience of trying to pursue that Bible.

We went back to Fort Campbell and my younger brother was discharged after three years and I stayed on. After that interestingly enough, I had a real down time in my life where things really began to take a nosedive down. I eventually ended up in a unit outside of the 101st Airborne Division on the other side of Fort Campbell that we called on “the other side of the tracks.” We used to have railroad tracks that would bring supplies in and on the other side were the non-airborne units, the support units.

I eventually became a member of one of those units, an Engineer Unit. At that point I began to see myself beginning to lose my career, beginning to lose it all with the possibility of leaving the Army with almost nothing with almost nine years of service.

Zarbock: Let me probe here. When you speak so reflect fully of understanding that you began to lose your career, did this insight come to you spontaneously or did somebody help in sort of a counseling, reflective way? Did you think it all up or did you have help getting to that intellectual point?

Hicks: No, I began to notice it because as I matured in my experiences as a noncommissioned officer, had worked with junior soldiers and the kinds of things they were about and watched the patterns of their behaviors and what that led to, I began to see in my own self now that this is the trail I’m going down and seemed to be at a point of no return.

So I got to this unit and something really exciting had happened. I got in trouble again very seriously, not something where I was initially going to be put in confinement for long periods of time, but just because of the life I was living and then the lack of personal discipline and the kinds of activities I was engaged in.

It got to a point where we had this formation one Saturday morning. We used to work on Saturday mornings and our Unit Chaplain who I had no knowledge of, devised a scheme to reach young, un-churched soldiers like myself. He would give us four options for Saturday morning Character Guidance -- we could stay in the Company Area and listen to the Company Commander give Character Guidance. We could go to one of three chapels and listen to a Protestant, Catholic or Jewish chaplain give Character Guidance.

Well I wasn’t religious and I knew that I didn't really reflect anything religious, but the First Sergeant made an appeal for noncommissioned officers to march the various groups to the different locations. They had gotten a noncommissioned officer to march all the different groups, but no one to march the Protestant volunteers.

So I thought in my mind, I thought “ well 1st Sergeant,” I was thinking of a little speech I could give him, that “I’ll march these young heathens to hear what the good chaplain had to say”, but I wise enough not to say that. So I raised my hand and said, “1st Sergeant, I’ll march the soldiers over”. I formed them up, marched them over to the chapel, got them inside as we met the Chaplain at the door. There were probably some 35-40 of them.

It was in the old chapel, I got them all lined up in front of the chapel and I sat in the back pew. I wanted to make sure the chaplain and those soldiers knew that this guy who frequented the NCO club and used to pride himself on how he could live alongside those older tough soldiers that were out there, I didn't want them thinking that I was one of these “church wimps.”

So I stayed back and the chaplain talked to us about personal responsibility, used some Biblical examples, but didn't preach to us. After the Character Guidance Lecture was over with, I marched those soldiers after I formed them up outside the chapel, back to the Unit and did something that I didn't realize was somewhat Biblical.

Later when I grew in the Christian faith, I come to find out that there was a guy named Nicodemus recorded in the 3rd Chapter of John who went to Jesus by night and asked, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life”. I didn't realize that initially, but as I took those soldiers back to the unit, dismissed them, didn't talk to any of my senior leadership because it was lunch time and normally I would have gone to lunch. I made my way back to that Chapel, saw the chaplain in the door as he was speaking with another chaplain.

I got his attention and he took me upstairs to his office and we sat down and began to talk. I talked to him about his Character Guidance Lecture and went on for some time about that. I realized a little bit later that he was a man who was very perceptive and wise. Now that I’ve been a chaplain for 25 years, I understand that chaplains are men of great wisdom. So at the appropriate time he pulled his Bible out and said, “Sarge, how would you like to start life all over again?”.

I told him that the kind of life I was living, I didn't think that I matched the standards which he was looking for. He said, “No Sergeant, God will take you just the way that you are”. Well that shattered my defenses! Then this young, hardened Army Airborne Sergeant well set in his ways, spit shine boots, the yellow stripes, white nametag with the black lettering, I swallowed my pride and I invited the Lord into my life.

Zarbock: How old were you?

Hicks: At that time, I was 24 years old. I didn't know where this was all going at the time. So about two months later the chaplain asked if I would give my story, give a testimony he said, have a duty day with God which is an opportunity for soldiers to be with the chaplain maybe a half a day or six hours of that day in the chapel getting some spiritual direction, having kind of a time of reflection and maybe looking at some religious films.

So I did that. I was part of the beginning of the program and I told the soldiers what had happened to me. After it was over with, the chaplain came to me and greeted me and looked up at me and looked at me and I looked at him. He had a smile and he said, “Serg, did you ever consider becoming a preacher?”. I smiled back at him and said, “No chaplain, my plan is to retire in 1978 as a Sergeant Major”.

Well on a subsequent assignment, I was sent to Korea and volunteered to serve on the DMZ because on the demilitarized zone, you would be free from the nightlife and all the activities down in _______ where I was stationed. I was across the Injan River, but they would have a bus that would go across the river every night.

Zarbock: And the year is now what?

Hicks: This is 1965.

Zarbock: And what is your MOS now? Are you still…?

Hicks: I’m still an 11 Bush, but now I’m back as an engineer working in my alternate MOS. I had a primary now of 11 Bush infantryman, but my secondary MOS which was previously my primary, I began to move into that MOS.

Zarbock: The Diesel repair?

Hicks: Diesel repair and basically I became a Wheel Vehicle Mechanic during that time even though I still had the primary MOS of infantryman. So I was sent to Korea as an infantryman. On the DMZ, I began to get involved in a struggle, engaged in a struggle over what I believed that God had called me to do.

I really sensed from the inner recesses of where I was that God was in fact calling me to preach. I got excited listening to some of the religious programs at Armed Forces network. I got excited reading my bible. The more I did that, the more I prayed, the more it seemed to point in the direction of taking my discharge which would be 18 months later and getting off active duty.

I couldn’t reconcile that with my dream and with the fact that I would have had almost nine years of active service before I was to reenlist again. So I pushed that away and then a subsequent assignment, I was assigned to Bambergen____, Germany, first of the 54th Infantry, the old 4th Army Division, no longer in existence and I met a chaplain. I wanted again to cling to my faith as I had done in Korea.

The beautiful thing about Korea going back to Korea is that I stayed up across the Injan River, I began to grow in strength in my faith. I used to be a heavy smoker, two packs of Pall Mall’s a day, went to Lucky Strikes thinking that would solve my problem and then I got to a point where I realized that the God that called me to life is the God who was going to help me get rid of this habit. So I threw those cigarettes away one day and little by little the changes began to come about.

We would have assigned to our units a certain amount of Korean soldiers. We called them gooks.. So they got caught up in my faith and the fact that I wouldn't get on this bus and go down to the village. They would call me the Number One Church Sergeant. Because of the shortage of senior NCO’s, noncommissioned officers and officers, I became a Platoon Sergeant temporarily, a Staff Sergeant.

So yes, during the time I engaged in a real struggle, a battle over what I believed God was calling me to.

Zarbock: Did you share the struggle with anyone?

Hicks: I didn't, I was afraid to because I was afraid that I might get affirmation and I did not want to give up my career. That was my dream and I couldn’t believe that God would cause me to move away from that.

Zarbock: So the struggle is between career in the military and what you hoped to be your goal, ending as Sergeant Major, vis-à-vis your growing identity with a spiritual life?

Hicks: Yes, a very important spiritual life to me. It meant everything to me every step of the day.

Zarbock: But you couldn’t reconcile the two?

Hicks: I couldn’t reconcile the two. It just didn't make sense because I had such a great desire to be a soldier. At the subsequent assignment in Germany when I met the Chaplain Billy Graham, not the Billy Graham, but a chaplain Billy Graham, he had a Bible study fellowship group and I had six months remaining before I was to reenlist or take my discharge. In those days, you had to reenlist with the Unit you were in and at the same time request, if you wanted, to go to a different unit or go on Airborne status or somewhere else.

I had gotten to 30 days before I was to reenlist or take my discharge and decided that I would end this struggle and that I would reenlist for an additional six years which would put me close then to 15 years when I would have completed that next hitch. But at that time, after I had taken my physical and met all the requirements for reenlistment and also filled out my request to go to the 1st of 509 Airborne in Munch, Germany, I went to Chaplain Billy Graham after bible school one night and said, “Chaplain Graham, I believe that God’s calling me to the ministry”.

I said, “ I didn't know how it was going to work, it just didn't make sense, but I believed as I look at that against what I believe my goals are. God’s calling me to the ministry” He said, “Well brother Serg, that’s quite interesting. My wife and I have been praying for you in that direction since you’ve been here”. I was floored. Now I don’t know if I said something to one of the other sergeants. I know at one point, Chaplain Graham early on in that Unit, and in that chapel, had asked me to preach at a Sunday evening service and I did that. But I don’t recall every saying anything to anyone about wanting to become a minister.

So I took my discharge. Chaplain Graham helped me to identify some colleges. To his dismay as I got discharged and was home, he received a letter and I received a letter that I had not been accepted at that school. The enrollment for the freshman year had exceeded the numbers so they referred me to a sister college, much smaller school. I was rejoicing. I received a letter of conciliation from Chaplain Graham and I was immediately moved to write him back and tell him how grateful and happy I was that God allowed me to go to this small school.

Zarbock: What was the name of the school?

Hicks: It was Wesleyan College and the larger school was Houghton College up in New York.

Zarbock: Where is the college located?

Hicks: Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Zarbock: Not a terribly great distance from your home.

Hicks: No, it really wasn’t. After I had been off active duty for six months and had worked some part time jobs that summer, that fall I went right to college. I was 26 years old at the time.

Zarbock: Sir, coming out of a rigorous life where the social boundaries are very specific and very rigorous in the military, into a civilian life, that’s a transition that many people cannot make and is difficult for all, even those who make it. How did it go with you?

Hicks: Well it was very difficult! Let me move you into where I was in college to go back and answer that more fully because I went to college and really had a very bad first semester. I felt so bad about that, so humiliated, I went back to my recruiter in my hometown and said that I was thinking about going back to the 101st, they were in Vietnam, and maybe a possibility of even going to the 173rd if that doesn’t work, an airborne unit also in Vietnam.

He asked me what I was doing and I said that I had been a Staff Sergeant, had almost nine years enlisted and now I was in college preparing to go into the ministry and I believed that God was calling me to possible service back in the Army as a chaplain. Something else I had a struggle with, because I loved the Army so much, I wasn’t sure if I was dictating to God where I was going to go and God was leading me into the Army.

So he did something interesting. He encouraged me to go home and think about what I was doing. I was stunned by that reaction because, I thought,” He’s a big fish. former Sergeant, Infantry, Airborne, ready to pick up his weapon and go with arms and go right to Vietnam.”

Zarbock: Where they need people like you.

Hicks: I was greatly needed and they needed great numbers of soldiers.

Zarbock: And the guy who is the gatekeeper into getting you into that military role is now telling you to reflect on it.

Hicks: Right and he could have easily sat me down there and it wouldn’t have taken I think very much. I was on the brink.

Zarbock: Sign that paper and you’re in.

Hicks: I went home and had a great time in prayer together with God and just realized that the same God that called me to life was the God that had called me also to be an Army Chaplain , and I resolved that night, that it wasn’t just my desire to go back into the Chaplaincy. God was using that desire to help me get focused on where he would ultimately take me, but in fact He had called me to the ministry and I had to put that as my first priority.

Went back to college, met my wife who I’ve now been married to, it will be 33 years this coming 28th of this month. We began to pray together after I shared my testimony with her about who I was and what I was about. We began to think about what God had for us in the future. Later we got married after attending Dr. Ogilvie’s Church ,who is now the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

I was trying to find a church and we went to Lloyd’s church and found a very large church with a very small church atmosphere. So Lloyd also encouraged me to apply to Princeton Seminary from this small college that I had been at. I indicated to him that I was very comfortable where I’d gone and I had already applied to several small seminaries and thought that would be best for my preparation.

Interestingly enough, Princeton was the school that responded back first with a letter of acceptance. I was overwhelmed and as I met my wife, I said I don’t know what I’ve done now with God. I felt like there had been so many things that had happened and each time I had met God face to face. I felt like I was not worthy of that next step that he was taking me to.

But I went to Princeton, it was a great challenge, the best preparation I could have gotten for the Chaplaincy. I met some wonderful people and then came right back into the Army. They had a fouryear program at Princeton. You could do three years of study. During your second year after completing that you could go out for one year and do an Internship.

Well the alternative they had was you could do that during your second year and that’s what I did. So I did my four year program in three years and then came right back on active duty in August of 1974. Normally after serving the church for one to three years as an associate or as a pastor, assistant pastor, I had compiled a list of activities that I had been engaged in, took that before my endorsing agency and asked if they would waiver that requirement because I was at that time a little over the age limit. It was 33.

So they decided they would send me in by way of the Reserves which I did when I was in seminary. I was a staff specialist, chaplain candidate. I would visit a local reserve unit. I would ask the installation chaplain at Fort Dix while at seminary if I could come down and tag along with some of the chaplains. Then when it came time to go before that committee for my endorsement to active duty and for recommendation for promotion, they accepted that.

Zarbock: General Hicks, did you have to declare or state a specific denomination?

Hicks: Yes, I did, and that was the problem I was having college. That’s what drew Janice and I to Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie’s church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. That’s how we became Presbyterians. Very large church with a small church atmosphere. So Lloyd in 1969, two years after Janice and I met, came to my hometown in New York and married Janice and I.

When I came back, Janice and I came back in June of ’99, that December, we set up to go up to the Senate to visit Lloyd Ogilvie and we did that the following three years. It’s been a great time for us just to renew that friendship, but also to get in touch with our roots in our marriage.

Zarbock: The Lord does move in mysterious ways.

Hicks: He certainly does. I reflect back on it and it’s exciting. When I remember going back home, I was the one that used to stop off at the liquor store. All my brothers were excited to see me come home and we would have a good time. But there was a time when I came home and I had these little bottles and things I wanted to give out to them. I was young and excited about my faith and didn't realize how I could most effectively communicate that to them.

They all in a sense kind of patted me on the back and said that’s very nice, but didn't think anything was going to come of it. And I had no idea where this was going to go. Never would have believed that I would be sitting here right now before you as a Deputy Chief Chaplain, that it was more than 44 years ago that I had actually enlisted in the Army.

Zarbock: Back to your family, when you would return to your family home, brothers and sisters, and instead of stopping at the liquor store, you stopped other places and then went home. Did your family members reject you or did they just short of shy away from you?

Hicks: They kind of shied away. They would listen sometimes as I would talk to them about my education and the kinds of things that I was about and wanted to get involved. Some of them did. Mom and dad got involved in the excitement over it. Dad died while I was in my last year of college. He never got to see me actually graduate from college or realize any of these dreams, but mom saw me all the way through all my family members.

There came a time when I graduated from college that it seemed to be a point of passage for the family, to accept the fact that I was on my way to become a minister and possibly an Army chaplain so they began to more closely monitor what I was doing. For graduation, I received some theological books and other information and materials that would contribute to my continued development.

Zarbock: Did other family members go to college?

Hicks: Yes they did, but none of them completed college. I was the first one to go all the way through.

Zarbock: Was there any sense of loss or abandonment on your part? You really are different now. You’ve got a college degree, you’re in the military, you’re a general officer rank, you’re a chaplain. None of those social categories fit your siblings.

Hicks: They learned to accept me even at family social events where there’s a great deal of drinking going on and celebrating. I would get great comments from people because they were all excited about the successes that God had given me as I moved along and then to realize that I did in fact become that Army chaplain, I believe that God called me to, now it’s some 28-1/2 years since then. So they still are in communication with me.

I have a sister in particular, I like to call her the family historian. She’s captured and collected everything that I’ve done. If I get a newspaper article, I try to send it up to her. She’s the one that stands in my corner, is always wanting to talk about her younger brother David. She’s the one just above me in age.

Zarbock: Well you’re now in the Army. You’re now a new chaplain. Where were you posted after you came out of seminary and after you received your commission and what was the commission by the way, lieutenant or captain?

Hicks: I was commissioned as a captain. It was interesting how that happened. I was a 2nd lieutenant staff specialist They were taking me in by way of reserve commission. Actually it was a direct commission, but I was promoted to 1st lieutenant and to captain on the same orders. I was flown in the same day (laughter), it was fascinating how we did things in those days.

Zarbock: If the Army wants to do it….

Hicks: They will make it happen.

Zarbock: That’s right.

Hicks: So my first duty station was where I used to go train with these chaplains. When I had time at Princeton when I wasn’t studying or didn't have to be at the library, I would call the post chaplain and ask if I could come down and tag along with one of the chaplains. Eventually I had one of those jobs of one of those chaplains. Two of those jobs, one went away and so two became one and I became that person.

The chaplain of the military police battalion of all units, I used to give those people a fit when I was a young soldier. I became the chaplain for the 59th MP battalion and also for the confinement facility at Fort Dix, New Jersey. So these two positions were consolidated.

Then from there I went over to Germany and served in the 3rd Army division over at gray barracks in Bad Nauheim, 3rd Army division which involved a lot of field duty. At the same time, I was the Protestant pastor for that installation. My wife was with me which was beautiful. She was fully engaged in activities in the community. It was a great, great, great experience.

Then after I had been there about a year, I received a call that an airborne chaplain was needed down in Italy in the 1st of 509th Airborne, the unit I was going to reenlist for before I got off active duty. I was stunned. So my Commander said, “Well you’ve only been here a year now so we need you to stay”. He asked if I thought this was God’s will. I said that it was something I’d always dreamed of doing, to get back on jump status and that was the unit I was going to reenlist for if I reenlisted and had not gotten out.

He said, “Well you don’t mind if I twist God’s arm, do you”. I said, “Well sir, I appreciate so much that you want me to stay and I don’t want to walk off and leave this great program that you’ve supported and we’ve been able to build, but I’m just going to have to leave that in your and God’s hands”. I really had a great deal of reluctance to be truthful about that. I really wanted to go to that unit.

As it turned out, this Commander went to the Commanding General and they stopped the assignment. So a year later, they had a Colonel from the Chaplain’s Office in US Army Europe where later I became the Senior Chaplain who came to my unit and spoke with the Commander in my Chaplain Office and said that the Army wanted to move me to the 1st of the 509th Airborne. The chaplain that was going to leave there a year earlier was extended and he would be leaving that summer.

So the Commander asked again if I had really wanted this and I told him that I certainly would see it as God’s will, that now it’s come up again, that I do that. So I went there and stayed there for two and a half years.

Zarbock: Where was the post?

Hicks: It was in Caserta, Italy in Vicenza, Italy, northern Italy.

Zarbock: And the year is now what sir?

Hicks: This now is in 1978, June of 1978.

Zarbock: And we had paratroopers stationed in Italy.

Hicks: In Vicenza, Italy, that’s right.

Zarbock: And what was their mission?

Hicks: Their mission was as a part of the NATO contingent to provide support in Europe for various contingencies that might arise. As a matter of fact, when the Iranian crisis came up, we thought we were going to be engaged in that and weren’t, but those are some of the activities that we were always prepared and well trained for.

Zarbock: How many men were in the 509th?

Hicks: We had over 1100. We were like a small battalion. We had our own medical unit. We had an artillery battery. We had combat support for the infantry companies, the three infantry companies. So we were fully capable of going into any mission and in short term being able to operate and perform.

Zarbock: It was sort of a modified Regimental Combat Team.

Hicks: Exactly and as a matter of fact, thank you, that’s the term. We were the 1st of 509 Airborne Combat Team, Regimental Combat Team. That’s exactly what we were.

Zarbock: Always ready to be surrounded 360 degrees by enemies.

Hicks: That’s right (laughter), very exciting days to be the chaplain who jumped with those soldiers.

Zarbock: So you went back on jump status?

Hicks: I went back on jump status after I guess it was about 13 years I’d been off. After about a year, I asked the Commander if I could go back to Fort Benning and go to Jumpmaster school because I had enough jumps to get my senior and master wings, but I wanted to go back and be able to have the ability to serve as a Jumpmaster alongside with another Jumpmaster.

Zarbock: Would you define and illustrate, what’s a Jumpmaster?

Hicks: The Jumpmaster is the one that has the complete responsibility for that jump mission, getting those soldiers prepared to make the parachute jump, but even before that, helping them to get the equipment put on properly, checking it out, getting them seated on the airplane, going over aircraft procedures, exiting procedures and what the ground procedures would be once they landed and would be taken over by the unit, the noncommissioned officers.

So as a part of that team of two noncommissioned officers on a particular plane, my job was to check the equipment of those soldiers as they donned that equipment and then to get them on the airplane. Once they got on the airplane, then it was our responsibility to give the ten jump commands or nine depending on what aircraft it was and then cause them to exit at the appropriate time when the green light came on so we could perform the airborne operation.

Zarbock: So you wanted to go back and get this training?

Hicks: I wanted to go back because I thought that would be a good way for me to identify with those soldiers. Having been an enlisted soldier myself, so I had to be very careful because of the responsibility for the soldiers’ lives, that even though I had more years in doing some of these things in the Army than some of the folks who served as jumpmasters with me, I was one of the noncommissioned officers to be the senior jumpmaster so that I as a chaplain wouldn’t be put in a compromising position.

Yet I wanted to be close enough to those soldiers, and it was an exciting time because when they lined up for the jumpmaster inspection, they were quick to get in my line I think so the chaplain’s hands would be on them and their equipment.

Zarbock: (Laughter) I was going to ask you that. You know, lurking underneath all of us is this aspect of maybe superstition or something a little more polite than that. But having the chaplain on board with me if I was going to jump out of that airplane, I would either see that as an omen of good luck or I’m really in trouble if they have to send the chaplain. How were you perceived?

Hicks: I was perceived as that very positive influence and folks, even senior noncommissioned officers, sometimes would ask for a blessing and I would pray for them. I would have later on an organization that I developed called the Airborne Fellowship. I used to give membership cards out. There were statements in numbers that would equal the jump commands on the back. Some would refer to moral character, some to spiritual values, things of that nature.

I would talk about that prior to the jump and that jump that I would have would be kind of a fun jump. We wouldn't jump with all the tactical equipment. Sometimes I would be able to get a helicopter, a large helicopter, a Chinook, and that was able to carry a great number of paratroopers, 20-25 or more soldiers. So we’d go up after our service and drop over on Vicenza, the airfield over there, the military airfield and then we’d have fellowship afterwards and go back to the unit.

So it gave me a great opportunity to minister those soldiers. I can remember on one occasion, and this is what I would envision had I ever been in a combat situation, soldiers out on deployment. We were getting ready for a larger operation. This was up in Vilvenich, Germany where we had parachuted in. One night a soldier spotted me in the unit and it was dark, but yet it was light enough for him to see who I was.

He was in tears and he realized that he had left his faith, but yet as he was in the quiet of that evening out there in the field away from his family, he wanted to get back and reunited in his relationship with God. We had some great fellowship out there.

That’s the kind of thing that made it so exciting for me, to come back into the Army as a chaplain and it gave me the affirmation that it wasn’t Dave Hicks just wanting to come back in the Army to continue this military career, but it was that God would use that great desire and compassion that I had for these soldiers, that desire to be with really with those soldiers.

Zarbock: So you’re saying you didn't go, you were sent?

Hicks: I felt I was ultimately sent, that was the place I wanted to be and until I could reconcile with myself and my faith in God that first He wanted me to be a minister, I couldn’t even begin to touch the chaplaincy when I was in college. I had to focus in on becoming a minister first. When I resolved that, it became clear to me when I went to talk to my endorsing agent who I didn't really have much knowledge of, that the feedback I got from them, it was clear to me that was the right direction to go as I asked questions about the chaplaincy.

Zarbock: Sir again for the purpose of historical accuracy, what is an endorsing agency?

Hicks: An endorsing agency is that person who represents the church regardless of the denomination, but each denomination has an endorsing agency and they have one or two endorsing agents and they are the people that recommend you to the Army as a member of a particular denomination. Then the Army receives that information and along with your state of physical fitness based on your physical exam and other requirements, will either accept you for active duty or reject you.

Zarbock: Well you’re kind of like a chandelier. You have all of these prisms that reflect back in and out of you, your life experiences that have triggered off internal thoughts, feelings, moods and yet you are able to transmit many of these things out. So you’re an observer and a transmitter of energy.

Hicks: I like the way you phrase that. I tend to do that. I’m always reflecting on where I am, on where I’ve been. I’ve always told people, I put up on my wall in my office, I even have it in my Pentagon office now, my enlisted certificates and my picture when I was just a young 17 year old with all my hair taken off and with a bunch of soldiers who now today are 65-70 years of age. But I let people see that.

I used to let the soldiers see it when I was a Battalion Chaplain. It kind of helped them to feel a little bit more comfortable in talking with me that I had put those kind of shoes on that they wore and those boots and I’d been out to the field and done those kinds of things. It really would break the ice.

Zarbock: Let me reconnect. So you ended up as a Jumpmaster?

Hicks: That’s right in the 1st of the 509th Airborne in Vicenza, Italy.

Zarbock: You took your training where?

Hicks: At Fort Benning, Georgia.

Zarbock: So you went back to the States, took your training, then returned to Italy?

Hicks: That’s right.

Zarbock: Okay, what happened in your life after that?

Hicks: After that I wanted to stay in Italy longer and I was told by my branch that I had to go back to the advanced course and so I took that advice. I knew that if I continued to stay away, I was going to miss the windows that they said I would have to go through.

Zarbock: Advanced course in what?

Hicks: Advanced course for chaplain training. We have a basic course that gives you a basic orientation into the chaplaincy and then when you go back for the advanced course, that’s the level of training that prepares you to become a brigade level chaplain because for the first time you’re supervising at least three other chaplains. So I went back and I did that at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey at the chaplain school.

From there, and I already knew this, I would be going to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, I’m not sure what unit. I wanted to go to the 82nd and never asked for a particular unit as a chaplain. So I was assigned to the 35th signal brigade. The 35th signal brigade was a headquarters and most of those staff officers were on jump status. So the commander had offered to the installation chaplain that if I wanted to jump, he would give me a jump position.

So I thought how wonderful it was that I was able to get my jumpmaster training and become an airborne soldier again and I did some jumpmastering for those people and was able to integrate into that unit in a way that probably I wouldn’t have otherwise. Then a year later, the deputy installation chaplain and the deputy 18th airborne corps chaplain at Fort Bragg always wanted to get me in the 82nd airborne division.

So our last child was born in June of ’82 and he came to me as I was on leave and said, “Dave, the XVIII Airborne Corps chaplain is going to send you over to the 82nd Airborne Division”. So I went over and became the Brigade Chaplain for the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. Soon after that within a year, we were involved in the operation going into Grenada.

Every unit was involved, the two brigades, two other brigades, but our brigade was really the one that stayed back and had responsibility for getting the other two brigades out. It was a very difficult time, a difficult time for a lot of people. In a unit like that, the spirit is so high, the sense of energy and urgency about what we do because we’re always watching the news in the evening because it could have direct impact on us that a greater part of my ministry was to soldiers and leaders who didn't get to go to Granada and yet that next week would have to watch all these soldiers come back in a sense as a combat veteran and heroes.

Then there were several other events and opportunities that came up for a significant ministry at Fort Bragg where I was able to as an airborne soldier take my airborne fellowship group that I had created over in the 1st of the 509th and use that in the 82nd.

Zarbock: Let me return you for a minute. Am I correct, two battalions left?

Hicks: Two brigades.

Zarbock: Two brigades left, one stayed at station?

Hicks: That’s right.

Zarbock: The stay behinds were feeling what, a feeling of depression?

Hicks: Oh yes, there was a great deal of depression, a great deal of feeling that we were not needed, but we wanted to be there. These people trained so hard. A few weeks earlier as we had the different brigades on first ready which means you’re ready to go if the word comes out, we were in that position. But as it turned out, we went to the bottom of the heap and one of the other brigades became the first ready and the other brigade that went was the second ready brigade. They took one of our battalions out of our brigade that went.

Zarbock: How did you handle as a chaplain this? Did people come to you? Did you go to them? This depression, this feeling of inadequacy.

Hicks: Basically I went out to everyone because I had my own emotions. I had never gone to combat. I served on the DMZ in Korea, it was a very large situation. We fired rounds down range if necessary and complete combat gear, but it wasn’t what I considered to be an all out combat situation. This was one of the problems I had getting off active duty during Vietnam, that that was my dream. I wanted to be an infantry soldier in combat.

So I couldn’t believe this opportunity had come up, that we were going to go into combat. I happened to be in the brigade that didn't go, but God used that because I had my own emotions to deal with and I could identify with those people.

Zarbock: I was going to say, you’re churning around in there yourself.

Hicks: That’s right and my mission had changed. It wouldn’t be carrying a weapon. And I had been asked that, what would happen if you were in combat. I said well I was an infantry soldier. I certainly know how to use those weapons, but God called me to use a different weapon to help people to get rid of those things that offset and destroy their lives. And it was quite a ministry and that’s happened a few times during my time as a chaplain. What a tremendous ministry it is to do that kind of thing.

So while I was down in the 82nd, I asked for an additional year and about the time that was accepted, I received word on that, I received another phone call within the month that I had been selected to go to graduate school to get a second Master’s degree, but this time in Ethics to teach at the Infantry School to be the Ethics Instructor for the Infantry School.

So when the professional development officer called me about that, I asked if this was something I was required to do. He said, “No Dave, but some people want you to do this. You need to talk to your Division Chaplain and your Corps Chaplain”. I asked how much time I had and he said I had to call back tomorrow. So he told me to go home and talk to my wife about it (laughter). I thought my ministry was within soldiers, I didn't want to stand on platforms and talk about ethics.

I talked to my Division Chaplain and Corps Chaplain and they said I had to go. My wife was excited because it would eliminate all that field duty and I’d be coming home every night. So I went to Duke for a year. Again it was a real challenge to be engaged in the academic arena, but having come out of the Princeton environment, I could understand why God let me go there because now I was familiar with that Ivy League kind of environment with life at Duke.

After that I was assigned to the US Army Infantry School and that was in June of 1985. I served there for three years. I was going to be the ethics instructor for all of the programs of instruction for the senior noncommissioned officers, 1st Lieutenants, 2nd Lieutenants that had just come out of Basic Course and also Captains that were coming back from Infantry Advanced course.

The OCS leadership instructor, the primary instructor, tore his knees up playing rugby and so he had an assistant instructor who was working with him, a Captain. They asked while he was being aborted from the Army if I would step up and take on that responsibility in addition to being the ethics instructor for the other programs of instruction. I thought I was going to be there at that time for 3-1/2 more years so why not.

So they let me as a chaplain take on that responsibility to write the leadership program of instructions, the workbooks for each class and encouraged me to bring my experience in as a chaplain leader and spiritual leadership and use that as a vehicle for communicating leadership in talking about Army leadership.

Zarbock: What was your rank now sir?

Hicks: I was a Major at that time. It was a fascinating, fascinating time. It took about six months for me to get adjusted for that. I saw the chief of chaplains at a leadership conference where the Chaplain Instructors came in and he looked up at me and said, “There’s Dave Hicks who went to the Infantry School kicking and screaming”.

Zarbock: Sir, writing skills, it has been my observation, you either have them or you don’t. Now writing skills can be improved if you don’t have them, but it’s like me trying to paint a picture. You’ll quickly notice that I have to paint by number.

Hicks: I can identify with that.

Zarbock: Where did these writing skills come from? How did you acquire them?

Hicks: You learn them over the years and each of the Army courses that I had taken, even with the basic course, we have military writing and they try to get you, for example, to get the bottom line up front and to say what you want to say and say it in a most meaningful way with a minimal amount of words. So I developed an interest. I don’t consider myself to be a great writer or have a great enthusiasm for writing, but I’ve learned to write in ways that people are able to easily understand and I’m able to get my message out.

At the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, it really became quite an experience to be able to step on the platform before all of these students, different levels of experience, different ranks and relate to them what leadership was like from a chaplain perspective and tie that in with the Army’s manual on military leadership. It took me about six months to get to a point where I saw that as ministry and really enjoyed the excitement of it.

I just recently as I tell this story right now, I was over in one of my office areas here in Washington and a gentleman stopped me and he pointed to me, a young major, and said you were my leadership instructor when I was an OCS candidate. That was now back in 1987. There are a lot of people out there in the Army. You never know who you’re influencing.

So that was really quite an assignment. When we finished that assignment, as we got close to the end of it, I was asked by the installation chaplain what I wanted to do as a follow on assignment because I was getting near for consideration for promotion to lieutenant colonel and he was looking at possibly getting me assigned to an airborne division, which would have been the 82nd or the 101st, or one of the other divisions.

Then there would be a possibility of going back to Germany and he asked me to talk to my family about that. Apparently the door closed for the opportunity to get into one of the airborne divisions and so he proposed I either take a division in Germany or one in Alaska. In talking with my family, we were all very much excited about going to Alaska since we had been to Germany and Italy and done those kinds of things.

Alaska was quite an experience. For my first seven months, I was post chaplain at Fort Richardson and then I went up with the understanding that I would become the division chaplain and served on the division staff for about 18 months. During that time, and this would have been a three year assignment, but during that time, the war college list came out and I found that I was selected to go to the Army War College.

So one year was taken off my assignment and I was sent to Carlisle Barracks to attend the Army War College.

Zarbock: I’ve got to take you back because we index the tapes and we look for military organizations, names, places, etc. What was the division in Alaska?

Hicks: The division was the 6th infantry division and that was at Fort Richardson and during my tenure part of what we were doing was moving the division headquarters up to Fort Wainwright, Alaska. So we were split based. We had half the division up in Wainwright and half in Anchorage so about every Tuesday or Wednesday, my noncommissioned officer had it rigged so we could get a C12 flight up north of the range as we called it, pass Mt. McKinley. It was a beautiful site, up to visit the units up north of the range at Fort Wainwright.

Zarbock: The distance between those two dots was what?

Hicks: As I recall it was something like 200 miles, somewhere in that range, 150 to 200 miles.

Zarbock: Was surface transportation possible?

Hicks: It was possible.

Zarbock: But not recommended.

Hicks: Not recommended.

Zarbock: So you were Division Chaplain.

Hicks: That’s right. When I came back from the War College, I left as the 6th Infantry Division Chaplain.

Zarbock: What were your duties and obligations?

Hicks: I had responsibility for about 30 unit ministry teams, chaplains and chaplain assistants for all of the brigade chaplains, for all the battalion chaplains and their chaplain assistants. So what we would do is we would train for combat missions. We were trained for various types of contingencies. Ours was a cold weather environment so we would spend time in the field at -60-70 degree temperature sometimes.

Zarbock: Sleeping under canvas?

Hicks: Sleeping under canvas with the little Yukon stoves and other equipment that we had to keep not warm, but to keep from freezing. I never felt like I was warm in those tents even though I was inside of a sleeping bag at the same time. I just knew that I was not going to get frostbite.

Zarbock: How did your family like Alaska?

Hicks: They loved it. We enjoyed it, maybe because we were not there that long. We didn't have a chance to ever have a problem with the short days in the winter and the long days in the summer. We just really enjoyed it and loved the snow as we have always. We lived at a place that was about 10 miles north of Fort Richardson in Anchorage, a place called Eagle River.

We lived just at the foot of the mountains and had a house that had a big glass window at the end of it and you could look out at the mountains so you could see moose come by during the course of the day on the weekends when we were home. It was fascinating, kind of a dream world.

Zarbock: I’m tempted to say the obvious and that is, “I lift mine eyes up”.

Hicks: Yes. Many, many times reading Psalms could see them just come to life even out of my office window. In Anchorage, I could look at the mountains. What a beautiful site, driving to work, looking at the wildlife and all the other sites. It was fascinating.

Zarbock: But duty calls and off you went.

Hicks: That’s right. Did a year at the War College and then I was brought to the Chief Chaplain’s Office as a instructor.

Zarbock: What did you do at the War College?

Hicks: At the War College, I had a responsibility as each of us did to engage, at least the first half of that year, in getting exposed to a variety of military subjects that helped us to get better informed as to national strategy, how our government functions at the strategic level and its impact on the military forces on countries around the world.

Zarbock: Could you illustrate that specifically?

Hicks: Well a good example, one of the things that we started out with is how national strategies developed and the different roles that agencies play in that process. We had a tremendously large history department and we had responsibilities to take a look at military history and see how wars were fought and how the great minds contributed to our successes in formulating plans and also how it resulted in success on the battlefield.

Zarbock: Now your tenure there, was it as a student? I mean did you have exams and write papers or was this basically an orientation to a higher level of abstraction?

Hicks: It was as a students and the idea at that level is to train you to operate at the strategic level because many of us would be going to the Department of the Army, I would be serving on the chief chaplain’s staff as force structure plans officer. Others would be going into other areas of service at the Pentagon or at other headquarters, but at a strategic level.

Out of that group is where the general officers come for the Army eventually. Senior colonels would have an opportunity to serve at levels where they’re impacting on national strategy or formulation of plans for larger type combat units. So those are the people who with their experience are really in competition in their various branches for general officer service.

Zarbock: Okay. So you managed to gulp all that information and all those concepts and off you went to where?

Hicks: I went to the chief chaplain’s office and I asked a question. Don’t usually ask questions about my assignments except for when I was in the 82nd and wanted to get extended and was told I had to go graduate school and become an ethics instructor. Again I asked a question because the Gulf War was on as I was coming out of the 6th infantry division and I remembered that I had an opportunity to choose to go to a division in Germany or take a division in Alaska and we picked Alaska.

I began to think that I would have been with those soldiers in the Gulf War probably had I taken that division in Germany. So I asked the chief chaplain because we as War College students got some special treatment in terms of being able to sit with the chief chaplain. I came to his office one day and I asked him that question, if there would be an possibility that I could be diverted and sent over to the Gulf War and if I could talk to his assignment officer about that.

He said you can talk to the assignment officer, but I’m bringing you to my office to serve. I said, “Sir, I thought I’d just ask the question” (laughter).

Zarbock: And you got an answer.

Hicks: I got an answer very quickly. Two years later, actually about a year and a half later, I was selected for promotion to full colonel and was asked if I would be willing to go to Special Operations Command, serve as deputy for a year and then assume responsibilities at the command level position after promotion.

Zarbock: What year was this and what are Special Operations?

Hicks: This is the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, the folks that you hear so much about in the news today over in Afghanistan who do those special missions, small type organizations, people who work with the local folks and get out into the communities and deal with people, specialized soldiers.

So I was sent there because I had the airborne background. I had a great deal of infantry experience. I had several years at Fort Bragg. I had a good perspective and was old enough at that point to be able to operate with this mature group of professionals. You’ve got to be accepted by those people in order to really get in and do the ministry that we really wanted to do.

So I went into Fort Bragg as Special Operations Deputy and then was promoted within three months and then that following June, the Command Chaplain was reassigned and then I assumed responsibilities as the Command Chaplain. Very exciting assignment, one of the most important, not important, but the most influential opportunities I had to touch people at the senior level.

I was amazed at how these senior professionals were hungry really to hear spiritual messages and to really…once they trusted you and knew who you were and had no fear of what you were about and had no question about what your message was, it just opened tremendous opportunities.

Zarbock: Well honesty is one of the attributes of what you’re talking about to develop a relationship, but there are other dimensions other than honesty. What other dimensions were there where you were able to establish a relationship with the senior military officers in your role as a chaplain? What did you have going for you?

Hicks: Well they want to know too that you can go where they go and do what they do, that you’re prepared to go out and put your life on the line if necessary. I was involved in some of the ministry for those that had gone over to Somalia.

I had to deal with families when they came back and they want people that they can put in a call with them and go out and make those notifications, people who could work with the leadership, people who could sit down with a commander of those type units, very professional individuals and be there for that commander as that commander deals with his own faith.

Zarbock: So they didn't want a chocolate soldier.

Hicks: No, no, they want you to be real. They want you to be out there and to be able to deliver something that really counts.

Zarbock: General if you’d be so kind again for the purpose of historical accuracy, would you please tell the camera, what is a chocolate soldier?

Hicks: Well as you describe it, I’m not sure that I have the same kind of definition, but it’s one of those people that just kind of comes with all the nice trimmings and all the appropriate sayings and statements and reactions to the questions, but really has very little substance.

Zarbock: Knows how to dance (laughter).

Hicks: Knows how to dance and give what he thinks the commander wants to hear.

Zarbock: Well there isn’t a discipline in the world, profession in the world, that doesn’t have some people that think they can get by on charm.

Hicks: That’s right.

Zarbock: And some do for a fair piece of time, but charm is not going to carry it all of the time.

Hicks: Because lives are at stake.

Zarbock: Well, I’ve interrupted. Carry me along, what happened?

Hicks: Well after Special Operations Command, we were involved as you know with the Haiti operation, situation in Somalia and a variety of other contingencies which was a tremendous experience, tremendous time to be serving at Fort Bragg here in North Carolina.

Then from there I was pretty much resigned to retiring. I had I think at that time about 32 years in and talked with my wife. We felt very comfortable with where we were, that was a major Army command which was about as high as I thought I’d ever go and never even fathomed the idea of becoming a division chaplain much less a major Army command chaplain.

I got a call from the Chief of Chaplains office as I was getting close to making my decision to retire or stay on a little bit longer and possibly get another assignment. He said that he had decided he wanted to send me to V Corps over in Germany and get involved in the Balkans operation that had been underway about six months at the time. It would have been six months at the time I would have arrived.

I talked to my wife about that and she asked what were my options. I said I’ve got several, but a couple right up front. One is I could accept the assignment and go to Germany. We’d be separated for a little while because they’re going to deploy down into the headquarters, down into Hungary as part of the larger Balkans operation.

Then the other immediate option is that I could tell the chief that come June, I wanted to retire and simply say it’s been a great career which it had been. I did more than I ever could have imagined in terms of getting assignments and doing things. Well she said I was in good health and why would you want to stop now. I said is this the same lady that wants to go to Pennsylvania and live in a log cabin. She said have a ministry that you love.

It’s been exciting, so we stayed with it. Went to V Corps, served a year there. Then I was informed that I would be in competition to be the next U.S. Army Europe chaplain and then we had our chaplain’s conference the following spring. I was at lunch and received a call from the chief of chaplains. He wanted me to come to the phone and talk with me. He said, “Dave, you’ve been selected to be the next U.S. Army Europe chaplain”.

Zarbock: For all of Europe?

Hicks: For all of Europe.

Zarbock: Again, let me probe. As the chief of Army chaplains in Europe, irrespective of your denomination, that meant all chaplains.

Hicks: All chaplains, regardless of what faith, Italy, Germany, Belgium, all over Europe. We’d have responsibilities for supporting those ministries of those units that come in from the states in the Balkans. We had some responsibilities there also.

Zarbock: The spread of responsibility is enormous.

Hicks: It was, but it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in the Army. I thought Special Operations was the cap until I got to V Corps, but mainly USAREUR, to be able to reach out and touch all the ministry providers over there in Europe was an awesome responsibility, but the demands and the rewards were equally awesome. I put the demands along with the rewards because those demands ultimately brought back those rewards.

Zarbock: What were some of the demands?

Hicks: Sheer travel to try to get out to be with all of the teams, trying to get out through my staff to communicate with them spiritual leadership, my desire to pray for them, for them to know that every day…I would send three notes out a day to three Unit Ministry Teams randomly throughout Europe and I would have my Executive Officer to monitor that to make sure I didn't duplicate during the course of that year.

I would just simply let them know that I’m praying for you. We appreciate your ministry and I would just say to them that I wanted them to know today that as I began my day, I remembered them and their unit ministry teams in prayer. Trying to get them to understand that we operate as a team and try to reach out and connect in a way that these are not words coming from someone in a big building in Heidelberg, but that we in fact were there for them.

That’s why we would go out and visit these unit ministry teams as much as we could. In the process of that, I would also take on the speaking responsibilities that gave me exposure to families and to the community as well as commanders.

Zarbock: But your congregation, your parish was really co-professionals?

Hicks: Exactly and their commanders.

Zarbock: How long were you there?

Hicks: I did that job for two years and one year in V Corps, so three years all together in Heidelberg. I had put my retirement papers in then in March of 1999.

Zarbock: You’re a full Colonel?

Hicks: For retirement. I had been called by the Chief of Chaplains to ask if I was going to extend another year to make it three years in USAREUR would make it four years and give them a year in V Corps. So I indicated to him that no, we have had a great career, could not imagine that I would have ever been a corps chaplain in addition to the Special Operations MACON and now to be the Europe chaplain, it’s just amazing so I thought it was time for us to step down and let some other folks step in.

He said, what would happen if I was considered to be the deputy. I said that Janice and I had talked about that, if that happens, it would have to be God’s will because we’re planning for retirement. He said he just needed to know that because he needed to send the program another USAREUR chaplain in behind you. So I went through the process, got my orders, was preparing to send my family back, was just about to have the truck pull out a week later.

Zarbock: The year is what.

Hicks: This is the spring of ’99. Right now we’re at May, midway through May and in about a week the truck would pull up to pack our things up and send them back to the States in storage because our plan was to go to Carlysle. Our youngest daughter had one more year in high school and we thought she had been an elementary student there and would feel comfortable there and then from there, we would use that as a base of operations to go to Lancaster or where we wanted to go permanently.

So the list came out the week before and I was informed by the chief of chaplains that I had been selected to be the next deputy chief of chaplains. So we had to scurry around. My orders that I had gotten for sending my wife back were the orders that they let me use to send them back for reassignment, but now to Washington. They would have to resend my orders for retirement.

The problem was I couldn’t go back to the Chief of Chaplain’s oOfice until I was confirmed. On the 30th of June, Janice and Sharon and myself, we departed from Germany. I packed so that I could come back and get confirmation in August when the Senate reconvened.

As I got back home, back to the Philadelphia airport, we stayed in a hotel and I called my son the next morning, I said, “Jeff, we’re back and I’ve got mom and Sharon here with me. We’re going to come visit you on our way to Carlysle”. He said, “Dad, didn't they call you”. I asked him what he meant, that I was flying all the day before. He said that the Chief of Chaplain’s Office had been trying to get a hold of me, that I was confirmed yesterday while I was on the plane.

They didn't know what hotel we were in (laughter) so I called the chief’s office and he said I had to call the General Office of Management because they were going to rescind my retirement orders and reissue assignment orders assigning me to the Pentagon. So I had packed in a way that I could either go back to Germany so we picked it up at that point.

Then I came back and started serving as of the 1st of July ’99. I moved into position as deputy and then was pinned on as a Brigadier General right here at the chapel, this sanctuary. Had the chaplain that introduced me to Christ at Fort Campbell come and gave the opening remarks.

Zarbock: Who was still on active duty?

Hicks: No, he’s a retired Brigadier General, he’s National Guard advisor to the Chief of Chaplains’ office and he lives in Washington. He has a church about a mile and a half from the Pentagon so I’ve been in contact with him over the years. It was just fascinating. The emotions were running high that day as you can imagine.

He described me as somebody who, when he first met me, he said “When I met Dave Hicks the first time, he was on his way to hell and he was doing a good job of it. So I stand before you today…” kind of gave his opening remarks and we went through the ceremony, but it’s amazing. Those people come back into your life.

Zarbock: Would you do it again?

Hicks: I would, the only thing I’d change in my life if I could, I would not go down that path of experiencing life in what I describe sometimes as in some of its worse forms, trying to figure out my place in this adult world. Now that I know there are certainly other role models out there, and I did at the time I’m sure, but it wasn’t as attractive and exciting as those that were out for the good time.

Zarbock: I’ve got a few questions having less to do with the specifics of your career and more to the ethics and your sense of professional responsibility. In the military, have you ever been ordered to do something and the order made you feel uncomfortable spiritually or religiously?

Hicks: Only one time. It was not an order. It was someone interpreting what they believed was the commander’s guidance and that had to do with something very simple, but yet something very important to me. In one of my command level positions, I was informed that anytime I would give a prayer or any of my chaplains would give a prayer at social functions, it would have to go through the Chief of Staff.

I said absolutely not. I said I was called to be a minister, I’m trained in theology. I’m a minister who communicates a message to families, soldiers and anyone else in attendance and I’m an advisor to the commander and therefore the prayers that I give are prayers that I believe are appropriate and consistent with what the U.S. government expects of me in providing for the free exercise of religion for all soldiers.

I went to the Chief of Staff and explained that I can’t do this and found that his response was quite surprising. He said, “Well chaplain, if you can pray and you know what you want to say, that’s in your hands”. So I said I just thought I would check that out because the word came to me that I was to run these prayers by your office and I just couldn’t do that. He understood and said that wasn’t what I needed to do.

Zarbock: Sir, theoretically and in the abstract, we have abolished all chaplain services in the military. What would that result in?

Hicks: It would be tragic. It would result in the loss of spiritual support, the practice of free exercise of religion for the sons and daughters of the people who send their children, their sons and daughters to support and defend the Constitution of this great country, all the freedoms and all of what we enjoy at home. It would create havoc. We would lose what young people like me, as a young sergeant experienced.

People ask me in the church, church officials, church leaders, how is it that I’m able to serve in this war making machine. I say I’m a part of that machine because this machine is not designed to go out and wage war against people as a way of just trying to justify its existence. This organization like the police force is there to protect the rights and freedoms.

Others have died to allow us to have the Constitution, to have this strong spiritual, moral foundation that we have and those of us who are committed to serving these years on active duty believe that we do it because we’re fulfilling a higher calling and responsibilities to that supreme being God and to the people who expect us to be here for their sons and daughters.

Zarbock: Well how is God revealed in the military?

Hicks: It’s an awesome, awesome experience to see God, his presence in the life of senior commanders, midrange supervisors and leaders, junior soldiers and family members, the sense of morality, the sense of good and wanting to make sure that we stay on the course of what’s right despite what happens in society and to try to work within the confines of limitations or guidance or laws and policies that are set by those above us and sometimes those that run counter, some have over the years to what we’re really about as an organization.

You see it when you recognize that leaders step up and say that our organization has to be free of these kinds of things to be able to take the soldiers on the battlefield and do the kinds of things that they need to do. It really is shown, God is really shown in the lives of people in so many different ways. It’s exciting just to be a part of that. We see it worship. We see it how people exercise leadership in command positions. We see it in the family housing area, where families are and in a variety of other settings throughout our daily life in the military, at home or overseas. It doesn’t make any difference.

Even out in the battlefield where soldiers take on these awesome missions and our quick to say God was with us as they prayed and asked for his guidance and direction, taking all of their military training into it as well.

Zarbock: What are comments, one of the big changes in the social structure of the world is involvement of women in the chaplaincy. What’s been your experience and what is the general attitude? I guess I’m asking you to do the impossible, what has been your experience in listening to conversations of other people, both command inside the chaplain corps and outside of the corps. What has been their attitude towards women in the chaplaincy?

Hicks: I think early on there was a reluctance on the part of some folks because it’s so new as everything was. It takes people a while to get adjusted to those kinds of changes, but I’ve been impressed as other leaders have. Today as I look at what’s happened over the years that we’ve had women in the chaplaincy, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. They’ve done a great job.

We have two full colonel female chaplains on active duty today doing a tremendous job. Our subordinate chaplains, I was just talking recently about one of our chaplains, retired, who has a daughter on active duty who served in the Balkans. I saw her over there and it was interesting that this man was talking to me about her, that she now is in the chaplain school in the advanced course doing a remarkable job.

It just reflects the quality of the people. So we’re getting good quality people, men and women. I believe that if you talk with commanders and soldiers, they’re looking at the chaplain and they’re not looking at the gender.

Zarbock: In your command position now, your responsibilities include not only Christian, but non-Christian chaplains. Is that a role strain? How do you manage that?

Hicks: It’s very easy for me. We have an opportunity, the chief chaplains primarily, I’ll fill in for him when he’s not able to do it out at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, we do a pre-command course briefing for all the battalion and brigade commanders that are coming in. As chaplains, we talk to them about the free exercise of religion, that all soldiers who come into the Army have an opportunity and have a right to the free exercise of religion.

I do one of two things as a minister, as a Presbyterian minister, as a Protestant minister, as a chaplain. I give the provider what I can perform. I can perform all functions that civilian ministers in my church do in civilian life. But on the other hand, I provide for those faith groups that are not of my own tradition. When I provide it maybe in a room like this, that gives an opportunity and a place to pray and I’ll provide that for them.

So whatever the requirements are for those people to worship, I’ll do everything I can consistent with the criteria that’s laid down by government, that it be done in good order and discipline, that there’s nothing to be disruptive or that attacks another religion and there’s nothing that’s done without regard for safety. As long as they take on that criteria and work within the confines of that and their own faith tenants, there’s not a problem.

I can provide for them. I don’t participate in their worship. I don’t attempt to try to change how they worship, but I’m concerned as a supervisor of the chaplains, be it at a brigade level or division level or installation level, to make sure that they’re operating consistently with the criteria that’s laid down.

Zarbock: Gazing into a mythical some sort of device that would give you access, at least limited access into the future, what statement of probability would there be that the number of non-Christian military personnel and chaplains will increase, stay the same or decrease?

Hicks: I think over time if I understand your question, there are going to become more people who are going to identify as believers, as people of faith in the military. I think for the Christian faith, I think we’re going to find more that people are moving away from what we’ve seen in recent years and that is we have almost another category where some folks are not identifying with some of the main line of denominations.

It’s their way I think, even though they are believers of separating out and not wanting to be a part of what they have perceived to be maybe not representative of what they want in their faith practice. I think those churches are waking up and I think faith is coming alive in this country. We see it in the military with people and we have an administration today that represents those kinds of values that is getting people back to some of the very basics.

I think the church is recognizing that, that they’re losing these people because they’re not that prophetic voice that they had been in the past. When people are looking for answers and the church sounds like everything else that’s out there, it doesn’t bode well for them to hold these people in their congregations. I think churches are becoming more and more aware of that and therefore I think as people grow in faith, as we experience more people coming into faith commitment, we’re going to see that result in greater numbers of people going to churches.

One of the great tragedies I think that happens for our Army and really for any of our services, and really for the country, would be something of the outsourcing of the chaplaincy. The idea that you could get religion for soldiers and families by contracting people. As a young soldier, and I can’t help but take myself back to those years, to remember my unit chaplain who would take his fatigue jacket off and get out on the football field with the soldiers.

I saw that and that might have been one of the things that attracted me when this chaplain invited us to come to the character guidance lecture, that that was someone who understood our language, wore our clothes and served in our community. People who don’t have that exposure, don’t have that relationship with soldiers and families, would have a very difficult time.

For example, I deploy as a unit chaplain with my soldiers. I know that soldier and his family when I’m back at home station. That family knows that I’m with that soldier when I’m deployed. So therefore when they’re communicating with each other and dealing with some of the problems of life, maybe problems with their relationship or problems with children or their future, that spouse back at home station knows that I can speak with that service member as we’re in a deployed area and at the same time, that spouse has access to a chaplain in the rear area.

So we take our ministries to soldiers wherever they are. We grow up with units. We grow up in the military environment with leaders who I guess life’s experiences kind of cross our life’s experiences and sometimes we serve together in other units, but at a more senior level. All of that contributes to our being able to give the best possible religious support to our units, to our soldiers, to our commanders and to their families.

A tragedy would be that we eliminate that in any way or reduce it. If anything, I would be one who would say it needs to increase. I sit here before you today as one who certainly is a recipient of that great ministry and the confidence in our government that makes sure the chaplains were there for the sons and daughters of America’s mothers and fathers.

Zarbock: General, thank you very much. The Lord be with you.

Hicks: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign