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Interview with Charles L. Howell, December 10, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Charles L. Howell, December 10, 2003
December 10, 2003
Interview with retired U.S. Army Colonel and Chaplain Charles Howell.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Howell, Charles L. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul and Brinsfield, John W. Date of Interview:  12/10/2003 Series:  Military Length  56 minutes


Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock. I’m a staff member of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Randall Library. Today is the 10th of December 2003. We’re at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Today’s interviewee is Major Howell and a colleague and associate of John Brinsfield, a retired chaplain and also retired U.S. Army colonel.

Zarbock: Good morning John, how are you?

BRINSFIELD: Good morning sir, just fine.

Zarbock: And good morning sir, how are you?

Howell: Very well.

Zarbock: I’m going to ask the first question which is what individual or series of individuals or events or series of events led you into the selection of the ministry as a profession?

Howell: It’s probably the people in the vulnerable years of my life as a child who gave me the best advice, showed the most care and seemed to be the clearest thinking of strong Christians. So at moments of crisis which I went from being a pre-teenager to teenager and then from teenager to independent adult and also serving in the Army, they just happened to be placed at the right place by God to speak to me. So I began to listen.

That brought me in contact with God through reading devotional edification and felt a call to me and recognized this was how I wanted to spend my life and how it would be a purpose.

Zarbock: Where did you start off in the United States? Where were you born?

Howell: I was born in Lucedale, Mississippi as my parents traveled from Beaumont, Texas to Pritchard, Alabama. It was a stopover. I was born near my grandmother’s home.

Zarbock: And the year was?


Zarbock: Please go on. So there were a series of individuals who were significant at particular pivotal points.

Howell: After high school I really didn't have any purpose in my life or direction so it was 1973. I enlisted in the Army because we were at the end of the Vietnam era and I thought well the Army was a good place to kind of put your life on hold for four years to gain skills, to learn new things, to experience a lot of the adolescent stuff and afterwards have the benefit of the GI Bill to go to college because I expected going to school but I didn't know how I was going to fund it. I wasn’t ready to go at the time.

So I joined the Army and went to basic training here at Fort Jackson. I reported here on the 28th of June 1973 and then stayed in the Army four years leaving Germany in June of 1977. In those four years, I attended chapel and the Army chaplains were I thought just top notch. They seemed to understand, they were always where I was at. So I actually was converted, I’d say I made a commitment that altered the direction of my life forever.

After picking up a Gideon’s New Testament at the 21st Replacement Station in Frankfurt, Germany when I PCS’d from Fort Sill…

Zarbock: PCS is?

Howell: Permanent Change Stations. When I changed stations from Fort Sill to the European theater and eventually was reassigned in Augsburg, Germany to the 36th Field Artillery. Being away from family and friends, going to a new country, the only familiar thing I knew was to read the New Testament. I read through that about 17 times. Every time we went in the field, that was the only thing I could carry in my uniform and so I just started reading through it from one end to the other.

Zarbock: I’m struck with the fact that Augsburg is known for its own religious history.

Howell: Learned that later. Going there, it was just a great big city, very friendly folk. The chapel served three major concerns that were there, _____ casern, Flak casern and Reese casern. I was stationed on Reese where the artillery attended chapel, the Flak casern was near the hospital which I where I met my wife and was married in a chapel there by a chaplain, a hospital chaplain there.

We together decided to get out of the Army and we returned to her denominational church headquarters at school in Cleveland, Tennessee. I attended Lee University. Going from the military and having developed a really strong and fast work ethic, I put four years of college in 33 months time. My wife attended school while we were there too. She majored in sociology and I majored in Christian education.

Then immediately after that I enrolled in the seminary. While I was in seminary, halfway through I was appointed a church in Murphy, North Carolina.

Zarbock: Which seminary?

Howell: Now it’s called the Church of God Seminary in Cleveland. It’s one of the five Master degree programs they have, it’s an offshoot of Lee University. I went to Murphy, North Carolina which I found out was basically Cherokee County North Carolina which was the birthplace of my whole denomination. One of the members of my church at that time was 99 years old. I was a 25 year old pastor and our church was 98 years old. So he was able to tell me more about my denomination than the seminary or college could because he literally had lived in that county from the inception of our denomination until he died at 104.

After serving there for two years, my wife had given birth to two children and we moved to Oklahoma outside of Tulsa. We served there for two years. Then my denomination asked me would I come back and finish seminary because I had another year and a half and would I consider going into the military.

Well saying yes as a chaplain meant assistance. There was no commitment at that point. It was just an idea, would you consider. Well they were a little more serious than I thought they were. So I went back to seminary and did very well, graduated and was appointed to a church in Shepherdsville, Kentucky outside of Louisville, Kentucky and went there. We were building a new building when I got there.

I got a notice from the Chief’s office that my endorsement agent had sent my name forward and I was to report to Fort Knox on the 30th of December 1985.

Zarbock: But it sounds to me like you were marginalist in this process. You were sort of acquainted with what was going on, but …

Howell: I was 30 years of age. I met the height and weight requirement. There was a shortage of chaplains at that time.

Zarbock: The year is what?

Howell: 1985 and so I went over to Chaplain____, who served at the hospital there in Fort Knox. Swore me in on the 30th of December 1985 and then I immediately told my church this is going to be a great Christmas for all of us except that I was going to be moving and meanwhile the bulldozers were still leveling ground and the contractors were putting in the concrete and a friend of mine from seminary, Joe Byrd, came up and took the church so it had no loss of pastoral leadership.

I reported to Fort Monmouth on the 10th of January 1985 and began basic training as an officer in the Chaplain’s Corps.

Zarbock: What was your rank?

Howell: I came in as a 1st Lieutenant and was promoted to Captain on the 1st of August 1986. I’ve been in the ministry in the military ever since until now. I’m on orders to go to Korea on a two year assignment to serve as personnel manager of all the unit ministry team personnel stationed there.

Zarbock: That’s a rather unusual entrance into the military, sort of casual on your part.

Howell: Yeah, my wife would say the Lord only opened a door in front of us when we were ready to walk through it and what we did was maximize what we were doing at the time until that door opened. So I enjoyed going into the Army, four years was a great experience. I loved the artillery school. I enjoyed basic training here at Fort Jackson. Mine is one of the few _____ buildings still standing here. I enjoyed the 28 months I had in Augsburg, Germany. Great chapel services, that’s where young people…

What I learned at Fort Sill is if you’re a soldier and you’re hanging out in bars with cars, you’re going to get speeding tickets or DUI’s and that’s not career enhancing. So I decided very early after about 16 months hanging around with just my peers that this group was going to get me in trouble.

So Captain Ramsey, our Operations and Plans officer at Fort Sill in my battalion there, the 2nd Field Artillery, talked to the newcomers and just recommended, why don’t you check out the chaplains, you’ll meet fine young ladies and you’ll see great families and you might find something to do that will keep you all out of trouble.

Well I thought that was good advice so I started going there and then rotated quickly into Germany and Germany being a host nation, the American community even though it was pretty large in Augsburg, it’s still a small suburb of what Germany is about. The chapels were extended families. So I went there and the services were great. In the evening we had youth services that the chaplains had set up. So that’s where I met my wife.

We sang a lot of the Jesus movement kind of music in those days, guitars and sit around and have bible studies. So it was something to do after duty hours that was constructive, very social, helpful and couldn’t get us in any trouble and helped to build character and had us begin to think about what were we going to do about all our life, not just this weekend.

So she and I married after dating for eight months or nine months. What kind of forced that, her mom and dad were scheduled to PCS back to the States and I had to either marry her or watch her go home with mom and dad. So 10 days before they PCS’d, we were married at Sheraton Chapel and then she became my dependent. She stayed there an additional year. So together I spent nine years in Germany, my wife has spent 11 because she spent some time there with her family before we got married.

Zarbock: Chaplain, one of the things I’ve noted in other interviews with chaplains is that they would move into an area and after a while identify a need, a problem or a problem situation and then try and construct some meaningful and contributory activity to meet that need or meet that problem. Has this been your experience and if so….

Howell: The chaplain school prepares for a host of probable situations and does a good job of giving you basic tools for counseling, for worship leading, for preaching, for visiting, for ministry during crisis. But in every assignment I’ve been to, I went in with some intention of how to try to design what I would like to do, but in the course of human events, there is usually something that determines which is going to be the highest priority.

Sometimes the commander says, “Chaplain, this is a problem we’re having in our unit. Our young people unaccompanied are getting into great trouble. Focus your attention on ministry to meet those needs”. Other times it’s been in hospital assignments like at _____ Medical Center which I worked on a cancer ward. There the nature of the hospital’s mission, I worked for 36 months there and had over 500 people I got to know very well, elderly soldiers and family members perish because of cancer.

Some of course got well and went home, quite a few did, and some who were terminally ill surprisingly recovered. But for the majority, medicine was pretty accurate predicting that was going to be the end of their life. I got to know them and they all wanted to tell their story of what they did during they military career. So I focused a whole lot on comfort ministry in that kind of situation.

The last tour of duty I had before coming here was in the 21st Theater Army Area Command. We were deployed a lot back and forth in the Bosnia-Kosovo mission and so there it was the ministry with split options. We had family members who stayed in Usara who were separated from their soldiers. He was away, it was lonely time for them. Just a stressful time, but it turned out to be a pretty good place to be assigned.

So the nature of the ministry, the demographics of who was there, the problems, the social problems as well as the spiritual problems, the human dimension.

Zarbock: What were the social problems?

Howell: Well one is isolation and loneliness is one that people resolve sometime by drinking into numbness. Another one is they have casual affairs, I’m away from my family, I miss them and here is someone who’s missing their family and so what I’ll do is just focus on their needs.

Zarbock: Some sort of fling that takes place.

Howell: Yes and they often regret that a great deal. They look at what that says about their character, it says I let my human needs override my value system. Sometimes there’s spiritual growth. Many young people come into the Army like I did searching for direction and they really don’t know what they want to do with their lives and as a result of that, they come to chaplains and say, “You’re somebody that won’t get me into trouble so I want to talk to you about what I’m thinking about and whether or not you think that’s a good idea. I value your judgment”.

Many of the officers are focused on task. It’s basically what do I have to do to make you happy. Well the chaplain, we’re more focused on their quality of life now and what they’re going to spend the rest of their life doing.

Zarbock: One of the other questions I’ve asked other chaplains, in your military career have you ever been ordered, coaxed, slyly or overtly to say or do anything with which you felt uncomfortable as a military chaplain in your belief system?

Howell: I’ll speak myself. It never in my career from either a commander, the Army as an institution or any other individual ever imposed upon me any standard that would violate my code of ethics, my theology, my conscience. One of the things we do as chaplains is making sure that there are conscientious objectors that keep people from fulfilling their mission.

Sometimes I’ve interviewed conscientious objectors to Desert Storm who until that point thought they could be a soldier. When called upon to take human life decided this is beyond what I can do and I had to help them in an interview to inform their commander of the sincerity of that religious conviction. Sometimes it was just a mental conscious conviction. It wasn’t necessarily tied to their denomination, but it was just as sincere or just as valued as if they heard it from God Himself.

So the Army was very accommodating in all of those cases by saying slavery went away and we’re not going to force people against their will. In terms of ministry, neither a chaplain, the Chaplain Corps or the Army or any commander usually they’ve been encouraging me to do more because I’m more aware usually than commanders are or even the institution of the Army of the diversity that we have within in the military.

I try not to offend by imposing my views as the norm and try to be general in approaching Americans from the American culture, not necessarily from my Southern Christian evangelical culture.

More often than not what I hear people say is, “Chaplain you ought to be yourself more. You ought to preach more like you. We understand who you are, it’s not going to offend us if you pray in the Lord’s name. It’s not going to offend us if you preach your theology because if we disagree with it, we’ll just ignore it anyway, but if we do agree with it, it will be affirming to us to have somebody speak on our behalf”.

So that’s been my experience to this point. Of course the places I’ve served more people were like me than not. And that contributed to some of that.

Zarbock: Something else I wonder if you’d reflect on is that other chaplains have said, I seem to be quoting other chaplains a lot here, that the experience of dealing with other denominations, with the individuals from other denominations, was really a very enriching thing, emotionally enriching, intellectually enriching and universally the chaplains have said this exchange in involvement was without rancor.

Howell: That was my experience as well. I say to this my endorsing agent who credentials me to serve in my denomination’s behalf that in the Army we have the best of all the other denominations working together. Everybody is pretty secure in who they are. They’ve spent a long time to become a chaplain you went through 12 years of public education, four years of college, three years at least of seminary, maybe it went on past that, and during that time you went through the credentialing and licensing process of your own church.

In my case it took eight years to become an ordained minister. So that’s quite a while. So by the time you arrive on station, you’re pretty well decided about what you’re going to be and what you’re going to believe and you can pretty well defend it against someone else. We’re kind of like a whole bunch of vacuum cleaner salesmen. We know the product we have to sell and we’re not really interested in trying to sell another vacuum cleaner salesman what … we understand that he’s got something to sell too. We share a lot of information. What that’s done for me is broaden the perspective.

Zarbock: Would you interpret that, what do you mean broaden the perspective?

Howell: Well you know historically I was born in ’55 in the southern part of the United States so what I know and see has been limited to my experience and I interpret everything in light of that and I was born in America. Some of our chaplains weren’t born in America, weren’t of ethnic descent, 3rd or 4th generation.

Many of our young chaplains today are first generation Korean immigrants. So their perspective on ministry, on Christianity, on America is quite a bit different than mine. Working with them and supervising them gives me insight on the changing demographic of America and how theology might be seen and how humanity might be seen.

So all that has been an eye opener. Now if I went back to my peers from seminary and talked with them, they would give me a very narrow story. They would say, “I’ve pastored three or four churches in the last 20 years. All of those churches have been in this region of the country. They all speak the same language. They’re demographically the same ethnic, racial group, pretty much from the same social status in America”.

There hasn’t been a lot of challenge. There hasn’t been a lot of newness or innovation. Well my experience in the military it’s all been innovated, I’ve never duplicated an assignment so I’ve been to a different post or different assignment or a different country constantly and their history of how Christianity over the last 2000 years has had an influence on their values, their laws, their institutions is different.

When I was in Croatia, the priest there in Kirk Island spoke to me, he said, “Let me explain to you, we are more Catholic than we are Croatian. You’ve got to remember that every time someone from the east invaded the west and tried to convert it to Islam, they had to come through us. We have lost tons of soldiers dying to keep Rome the center of western Christianity”.

He said, “When we were conquered, it was wrong to send over bishops to buy back our prisoners of war as slaves. So when you tell us why can’t we just get along with the Protestants or the Eastern Orthodox or the Muslims of this divided Yugoslavia, you don’t understand what we have given in order to be who we are”. He said 98% of their population were firm Catholics born in that tradition, hundreds and hundreds of years. “When someone suddenly says they’re going to impose on us an Islamic law, that is very, very antipatriotic. It destroys our history, our identity, who we are”.

Well that helped me understand how wars are generated from an historical, geopolitical, religious basis. Now you won’t get that in South America or the southernUnited States. We all see ourselves as being patriots out of our American Revolution and we’ve had these great moats on the Atlantic and the Pacific that has kept anybody from attacking us. We see ourselves as one people.

BRINSFIELD: Chaplain, since you’ve mentioned the Balkans in your interview, would you tell us a little bit about your deployment to the Balkans and how you were organized for ministry because you had a very unique experience there traveling all over several countries.

Zarbock: And give us the years.

Howell: Well my unit was deployed before I got there. As I mentioned, I was in the 21st Army Area Command, now it’s called the Theater of Support Command stationed in Germany. I was a brigade chaplain meaning at the time I had six battalions to cover in a host of countries. I arrived on the 26th of June 1996, went through the situational training exercise up at Howenfells and then deployed into Tazar, Hungary on the 4th of July 1996.

I had overlapping coverage in Tuzla, Bosnia, is Slav-Brod, Croatia and Khapasula, Hungary and so I had to be kind of a circuit rider. Each week I would move by helicopter from Tazar to Tuzla to Slav-Brod, Croatia and then back to Khapasula and then land and then take my Hummer and drive back to the LSA, Living Support Area, there in Tazar.

I was there all of July and all of August. Then the unit headquarters was relieved by a Core Support Command unit and we came back. For the most part, we’d leave a couple of companies in Bosnia, Croatia and Hungary. So in November/December, I had to return to provide coverage and to visit each one of those soldiers. Most of them were very happy because they volunteered to stay there. Being in a combat or combat potential zone, they were tax free.

Now for spec-4’s not having to pay taxes is like getting promoted to an E-6 position. So a lot of our junior enlisted chose to stay even though they left family in Germany, they did so by raising their standard of living. We helped them by letting them fly back and forth about once a month for a four day weekend. Families were concerned and letters would come up through command saying some of your soldiers are having problems, can you send someone down to visit.

So my brigade commander said I was the guy so I was to go and see them. In January of ’98, we prepared to rescue as you know the Democratic Republic of the Congo fell in a civil war and so we deployed a number of our people down there in order to rescue the Americans living and staying at the Embassy. We got that all set up and the air field really wasn’t conducive for large aircraft.

So at the last moment, the Marines got the mission so we came home. In ’98 we prepared for several things, but really didn't deploy. It got very busy again in ’99 because as you know the Yugoslavian, we were able to stabilize using Hungary as our intermediate staging base, both Bosnia, Croatia, Yugoslavia. What happened is Kosovo became to erupt into a war and basically the leader, Slovadon Bolcevich from Yugoslavian Republic decided to push out all the Muslims out of the province, or what he called a province of Kosovo and we started Operation Allied Force.

That caused me to deploy into Rijeka, Croatia in February, March and April of 1999 in which we brought in the equipment from the United States aircraft, the helicopters at that port. Croatia was the 8th largest seaport in all of Europe. Before World War II it was a dominant place for income and a major port in that city. Beautiful place, the first torpedo was invented there. It was fired at a ship and it’s still laying in that bay.

They’ve invented a lot of other stuff on technology, intelligent people, wonderful people. We set up a base there. Later because the bombing campaign lasted 78 days and really wasn’t accomplishing what it was designed to do.

Zarbock: Bombing of who?

Howell: We were bombing; the Army from Yugoslavia was invading and pushing out the citizens in Kosovo under the command of Molosolov. What we found out, the Air Force, strike bombs are great things. You would kill a lot of equipment, but first of all we found out that it wasn’t as effective as we thought.

We spent a lot of ammunition knocking out the same target two or three times. It works very effectively in clear air like in the desert when you have no cloud covering. Hot and dry air and you have a visual line of sight between the missile and the target. But in Europe six out of seven months that we were there, it was overcast in which you couldn’t see the ground. So we had to use infra red and that gives you a general idea of what’s below but not a detailed picture.

So a lot of our high tech weaponry was spent knocking out barns, tractors and knocking out the same tape day after day after day and Molosolov and his people just weren’t encouraged to leave. At the last minute our president announced that now ground troops were back on the table as an option. As soon as he announced that within 72 hours Molosolvo, we were going to withdraw, we didn't want them to invade.

We opened up a port. It was preparing to move a ground force in. The ultimate force in any war is going to be soldiers who can occupy a territory. No matter how smart the Air Force gets, an enemy can hunker down, bury itself deep and just survive the bombardment. So with that announcement, we opened up a port in Thessaloniki, Greece. It’s the second largest city in Greece and the USS Bob Hope was the ship that we used to bring in the equipment, the ground force from Fort Hood that was going to push back the Yugoslavian and the Serbian forces that were persecuting and driving out all the people of Kosovo.

Well we still brought them in as a safeguard. I was in Thessaloniki from the month of June, July and August. As we moved the ground force in instantly, that’s the peace that we’ve had since then. We stayed at a casern called Sindos casern in Thessaloniki which was basically a casern the Grecians had

Zarbock: What is a casern?

Howell: A small military post that’s self contained. It separates those new uniformed folks. So we had to renovate it to make it suitable, livable, and the Greeks were a great host, very friendly, part of our allied force and supported us very well.

BRINSFIELD: I’d like to ask a question just for detailed information. If we could go back to July 1996 when you were doing circuit riding, what was your technical chain of command then? Who were the senior chaplains?

Howell: The person above me was Chaplain William Delayo who was the 21st Air Support Command. Above him was Chaplain Dave Hicks who was the Usura chaplain.

BRINSFIELD: During this time you had six battalions under you so those battalions were also in Bosnia, Croatia and Hungary.

Howell: Three of them were, three of them were not. That was one of the difficulties of this ministry. We call it split option because the _____ Industrial Center battalion has about 700 people, didn't have a chaplain and the reason being that my office was next door and it was also assigned that beside your staff duties, chaplain you can come and visit us..

Well when I left there was no one there to provide ministry. It became a hardship for the Battalion Support Chaplain to provide coverage for a unit that I left behind. The MP unit that we had similarly didn't have a chaplain. The other four battalions did when I left. One of their chaplains rotated out and was not replaced, an aviation unit in Manheim.

BRINSFIELD: That deployment in 1996 that was an SFOR deployment, is that right, stabilization force.

Howell: Yes sir, the IFOR, implementation force went down and set up. In fact I was thinking I still have pictures of the day I arrived at the task force Eagle headquarters in IFOR in Tuzla, Bosnia and was then briefed. Chaplain Hardy Hennington was one of my battalion chaplains that went that way. A rabbi that went with me, Chaplain Aubrey Weiss, covered a unit and Chaplain Albert Schrom who works here now at the school was another battalion chaplain that went with me.

We didn't go pure. The whole battalions didn't move. We went down to support being a logistical support brigade, we went down to support the war fighters or the peacekeepers in this case and they decided how big a footprint we needed there and so often a battalion would only send out two companies. Our brigade commanders, the philosophy was that those deployed are going to get first class ministry so chaplains, you will go. Those in the rear will depend upon rear area support by surrounding units that did not deploy and the area support groups and the base support battalion chaplains.

BRINSFIELD: Okay, so you were in an IFOR in ’96. When you went back in ’99, had they changed the title of SFOR.

Howell: We went from IFOR, JFOR, SFOR and then OAF were the three major operations that I worked on.

BRINSFIELD: JFOR was joint force, stabilization force, and then what was the last one?

Howell: Operation Allied Force.

BRINSFIELD: Okay, your second time in `99 for operation Allied Force, can you recall your technical chain of command?

Howell: It was the same. Actually Chaplain Delayo was the 21st Air Support Chaplain and above him was the 5th Corps chaplain which would have been Chaplain Hicks. Above him, the Ususra chaplain in ’97.

BRINSFIELD: Okay, very good. During the second deployment in 1999, did you discover any problems with logistics for ecclesiastical supplies or other things that you needed, transportation, communication etc.

Howell: Well I didn’t, the 21st being a support command, if anybody was going to get deployed it was us. So we had everything, the chaplain’s kits that were ordered through, logistical chain was working very, very well, but because there was such traffic from Ramstead Air Force Base which is located right outside of _____, if I wanted anything on the 21st, it could be a plane coming down within 8 hours. So it arrived right on the airfield that I helped cover.

One of things that I did do that I didn't mention I had to serve as an Air Force chaplain on all those occasions because as a joint operation, they sent a captain to cover the air personnel that were located at the air fields and they were stationed there for 120 days. Them came on temporary orders. We came until the mission was over. They came knowing in 120 days, I’m going to be replaced.

Well that time would be unrated unless the Army chaplains wrote an evaluation. So I had an additional unit team that was on the airfield there at Tazar and also down in Greece.

BRINSFIELD: Could you describe the ministries that were going on such as worship services, coffee houses and include perhaps any relationships you had with chaplains of other nations?

Howell: Well first in the Army, the thing we’ve trained for that we have to do was provide religious cover for any of the host nations. We’d did with allies. For instance the Germans that came with us attended our same chapel facilities. The Russians that were a part of our allied forces not only got dental and PX privileges, but occasionally they would drop in, some of those that spoke English that wanted to attend.

Primarily it was set up for just our military folks that were there. I supervised eight worship services in the Tazar Gateway Chapel and each of my chaplains similarly supervised six to eight services at the chapels at the caserns or the camps that they were at and that would typically be a Catholic service, a Protestant service, a gospel service, some form of a Pentecostal or Charismatic service, a Mormon service was always there, generally a Lutheran service.

Those that had a distinctive faith that said I would feel more comfortable with people in my community who understand my history, my theology and my form of worship. We did meet with the host nation of people on every occasion I deployed with. Generally what I discovered was nations of Baltic, the strongest leadership outside of politics is the church.

Historically it’s always been that way. When governments fail the church bishop led leadership on what citizens were going to do. We don’t think about this America, but often civil governments become bankrupt financially. They literally have no money to execute the services they provide to their citizens. Well the Catholic church of course having an unwed clergy is very economical. It doesn’t take much money to sustain their leadership.

So it survived every one of those catastrophes and gave it stern and strict and clear guidance to its constituency and so they learned that if anything is going to happen, that’s going to affect the populace, you have to have religious leadership so I began to be invited into civilian military affair issues every time we met with the host nation leaders.

I found out that I had to be next to my commander representing the religious views and our faith, something they saw as being permanent because while in the Army we may say well ministries may come and go or chaplains come and go or new churches are raised up and changed, in the Baltics they saw me as you’re going to be here. Commanders will change commands, armies will make different policies, but if I know what the heart of your people think and feel then we can decide whether to trust you or not.

So that was a growth area for me because that’s not something I was prepared to be and I had to be very cautious about what I said, how I said it and things I would see as humorous could be very offensive and so our civilian military officer said that “Chaplain here’s something to us that seems ludicrous, but to them it’s critical”.

Zarbock: Could you illustrate that?

Howell: Well for instance some of the things that they were fighting over, I couldn’t understand how the plain of Kosovo which is a volcanic plain from a mountaintop, it’s kind of level, the basic war that was the antecedent there for all the trouble that started there in 1388-89. Basically the Muslim Turkish Ottoman Empire was moving further and further towards the west. The Christians of the European were trying to stop that.

They had a war in which the Christians basically killed all the key leaders of the Muslims. They did an envelopment or a circular movement and wiped out Kaluja, but the mass of the Army survived and conquered the territory. So they see this pretty much the way we would see the Alamo. We lost the war, but everybody would keep saying remember the plains of Kosovo.

The Muslims that are today claiming this land belongs to them are invaders who killed and butchered our people and the sore point, forced them either to convert or pay a 4% tax to remain a Christian and live in the land that they always lived in. Well there’s been back and forth fighting in between that time period but there has been a mentality that’s grown up saying one day we will push these invaders and their descendants back to where they belong.

So when Yugoslavia fell apart, those that were scampering for leadership couldn’t find any form of the government the people would rally around. They didn’t care about colonies. They were thinking about living and eating, but something they could rally followers is I’ll give you your dream. You’ve lived for hundreds of years with the idea one day this will again be our land.

And so by trying to bolster their leadership and their support, they began to push out as what they saw were invaders whether they had been good citizens or not, the last generation wasn’t so much important. It was living out a long myth and ideology and a theology, a view of history that was finally being capitalized on.

When I went there and I would say it seems unreasonable to me the folks that you went to grammar school with, high school with and went to college with and the doctor that delivered your wife’s baby is now public enemy number one and you are shooting at somebody that’s of a different faith. How can this make any sense to us? I would say things like in America we have basic restructuring of our society in ’64 when the Equal Rights Amendment was passed and it’s inconceivable to me that ethnic and racial issues would keep somebody from being where they ought to be.

My commander was a black officer, just a little bit older than I am. He grew up in the same era of change that I did. For us this is a subtle issue never to be revisited. Here they are revisiting an issue that’s hundreds of years old. I mean it almost sounds like you’ve trumped up a trivial thing to fight about.

But believe me for the Bishop and for the citizens there, it was not trivial. It was the identity they had lived for. They had promised one generation after another we have not forgotten the sacrifice and the abuse that you have taken. And one day the tide will turn and we will be able to right the injustices and it won’t be on these people, it’ll be on their sons and daughters, but we will reclaim our land.

I had to get that focus in mind when we went to something and we’re trying to be the arbitrator. Remember when we went in unlike any other war or peacekeeping operation I was aware of, all sides loved the Americans. All sides saw us as the allied. The Serbians wanted us on their side, the Croatians wanted us on their side, the Bosnians wanted us on their side, the Kosovo Muslims saw us as being the rescuers. So we stood in the gap and literally we were the peacemakers.

We were arbitrating offenses and we were trying to help them reconcile and become one nation. It’s kind of funny if you think about it. We really didn't help any of them achieve their individual goals. We forced them to stay together. I mean Communism is falling apart. That’s what held it together for 50 years and we’re forcing them to stay apart, each one wanting to be independent. Each one of them wanting to be our allied. Against their wishes, we were saying no, we want you to stay together.

When I was Greece and I mentioned we’re going to have to drive through Macedonia in order to get to Kosovo. The Greeks say you cannot use the word Macedonia and I said why. I drew a cartoon every day about what we were doing, it’s just a big of humor in the mess hall and I wrote in a Calvin Hobbs type cartoon about his going through Macedonia.

A general came in absolutely burning about this because I used the word Macedonia. He marked it out and put the word FYROM. What that stands for is Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. He said this country has no name. It is not Macedonia that Philip of Macedonia owned. It’s the land that he conquered that was extended beyond Macedonia and they’re borrowing our name and our heritage. They are not Macedonians.

I said, well he was the priest, it was irreconconsible in their minds. So I had to learn to be careful to use the terms that they would accept in just talking to them back and forth, meeting with the Bishop of Krk Island. He told me how long Krk Island, there’s no verb in that language, he told me about their history. He took me to their different places. When I was in Thesslaniki, they took me where Timothy had been put in jail, where Paul preached. They took me to all their churches. We went to Mount Olympus.

Zarbock: So history is just the day before yesterday and their role in Western civilization is their contribution that they won’t have rewritten or be denied and it’s interwoven with their religious faith. So understanding that, you know we Americans think about separating church and state as if you can do that. You know I don’t see how it really takes place. A person has an identity. They know who they are and they remember the patriots that founded this country.

We had religious thoughts. Well they would say the same thing. Our history and our religious faith and our theology have been developed together and you can’t unwind them. So church and state have to support one another. Well that’s an area that broadened my perspective of how am I going to minister from America and neither adopt that view nor conflict with it and provide ministry to our soldiers and open dialogue with people of other nations.

BRINSFIELD: Can we ask you Chaplain did the Muslim religious leaders and the Christian religious leaders ever sit down together while you were there that you can recall?

Howell: Yes. I was a part of that. While I was there a good friend of mine, Brent B. Cosley who is now a chaplain in Germany was at Eagle base in Kosovo. My unit flew in gravel to fill a swamp so we could put a runway on it to build Eagle base there.

Zarbock: Gravel came in by air?

Howell: Anyway we could get it there. We brought rock crushers, anything we could put down because it was about a six inch mud puddle, the whole place that we took in. So Camp Bonsteel was set up. Chaplin Cosley, he has pictures of this, of bringing all the key leaders in the area and had them to sit down and sign a religious non-aggression treaty. It was a religious statement saying I will not generate violence from my congregation against your people.

The thing I did was I did meet with those people. We had one on one verbal, I went to the city of ____ in Hungary. I have pictures of the chapel where it’s been overrun. It started out as a church that was basically Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Christianity that was overrun by Muslims and become a mosque. It was conquered then by western Christians and became a church again.

I met with those leaders, but I never had anybody sign anything. Brent Cosley actually had people who came in and said since we’re all starting stuff, can we all agree and they did. The chapels where we were deployed were always filled. Once we starting having independent chapels like mess tents or with the temper tents, the temperature controlled tents, well not just the worship services that were done on Sundays but during the day people would want to get away from the noise and so we had a library of books that the NWR, the Morale Welfare Recreational Office, had given us.

So people would come sit on our couches and just read something to get quiet and also a wing in a chapel, one of the tents we set off on an angle, we had a piano, an organ, drums, guitars, tambourines. They were always musically inclined, people that wanted to come over and practice. So we never knew what the chapel was going to look like, but we knew we were going to have a good time when they were playing and singing and carrying on.

So there was something all the time. Literally at night we had to shut the door and run the people out because there were folks that came in just to play cards. There were morale welfare and recreational opportunities going on. The Dallas Cheerleaders came, B.B. King came. We had a lot of big name entertainers that dropped by to provide a lift for our folks after duty hours. And that’s great for a loud noisy party, but a lot of folks write a letter home to mom or their wife and are wanting to get away from the noise.

Everybody is eager to get up and at 6:00 running PT and by 7:30, they’ve eaten breakfast and they’re ready to go. The mess halls had large screen televisions, larger than this one so we kept informed with CNN and what was going on in America, back in Germany the whole time. Of course they were on a different frequency. They used different amps of electricity even from Germany. So when we came down, we found out that the television we brought down wouldn’t work. We had to buy local. It was set up differently than ours was.

So I think it was General Krause that came over with General Wright and they came to the chapel one day. One thing that happened in IFOR, previously the doctor was called the airline and battle doctor. The ideal was we were going to fight the Russians and chaplains were taught if you’re going to do services in small congregations of maybe 12 or 15 in large circle or semi-circle out in the field, you’ll have no coverage. It will only be limited to maybe 20 minutes, you’ll offer communion very rapidly and then you will move on to somewhere else to keep from presenting a target opportunity.

Well the world had changed since we had deployed and we were no longer going to fight the airline battle, but we had not developed new doctrine on how we did services. Well now we were going down in large units, highly concentrated and we needed a place to put them. The Army had no answer. We had not put together any chapels. We had nothing.

So we started borrowing facilities. We started out with a GP meeting when I got there and I went to my executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver and I said, “Sir, we’ve got a problem.” He asked what it was. I said it had rained that day and the soldiers that came in for communion, by the time we got everybody served standing outside, the rain had washed the grape juice out of the cup and it was just water and there was no longer a wafer to hold because it was wet and just flung like fluid across their fingers.

Of course his first thing was well it won’t rain next Sunday so stop worrying about it Chaplain, just go out and be busy. I said, “Sir, CNN is going to be here today and they’re going to witness this as our service. We’ve got to provide a place for these soldiers. It tells America how important worship is when soldiers are standing in the rain with tears running down their eyes saying I can’t worship like this.” He said, “Chaplain, we are going to fix this problem”. So he went to the Medics and said nobody’s getting sick, you don’t need your facilities, give me that.

Instead they said if we keep the Lord, we’ll give you our temper tent with air-conditioning units. We would call them heat pumps in America. They called them environmental conditioning units in the Army. So we set all that up and it’s still there. If you go right now to Hungary where I was at, it’s like a monument. They have roped it off and said this is the place where the American soldiers over these last four years had worshiped without cease. It’s on a website. Chaplain James Robinson was still the 21st year support command chaplain and wrote the article that was published both in the Hungary newspapers and the American about what we were doing.

Zarbock: Chaplain look metaphorically over your shoulder and tell me in your military career what lessons or sometimes they’re called blessings that you have received.

Howell: Well I think it’s a blessing to serve the military for a minister because you don’t have to look for something to do. It comes to you. You just have to put your flag out in front of your tent and you will be busy. There’s always counseling needs, marital needs. Marriage is essentially a spiritual contract between two people. It’s more than what our government can do to license.

People understand it goes to the depth of their being. And even those that don’t see themselves as religious are going to say I need to talk to somebody who’s spiritual to help me figure out is this a just call for a separation or divorce or continuation. Is it my fault, her fault, our fault. So I think it’s a blessing just to serve in any of those capacities. I found out that working in ministry is hard way to get age.

If you talk to my civilian counterpart and ask how his church is going, he’ll tell you about his weekly attendance and he’ll judge it by well a year ago, we were running this number and this year we’re running more so I must be doing better. He would judge it by his income, here’s how much money we collected last year versus this year. He’ll judge it by his family training hour, how many young people, he’ll judge it by the number of baptisms.

It’s not that easy to count in the military. We do all that too, but it’s a little different. Here’s why, in garrison the people that go to chapel are different people than go to field services. Folks I’ve never seen a chapel back in the rear area of Germany and are suddenly in every worship service down range and are dealing with a lot of religious issues. Folks that were faithful in the rear suddenly are volunteering to do guard duty so other people can go to chapel or are simply just not coming as often as they did before.

So it was a handoff. What was called religious ministry, I saw it as true health care visiting people in the motor pool, going to their places of work and garrison, but in the field it was taking ministry to where they were at. They couldn’t get away. Those on guard duty would say “Chaplain you need to come to me, I can’t come there.” “Chaplain, we’re separated by dozens of miles. If you don’t come to me, I’m not going to be able to come to you. So lesson learned was to take it where the need was. I really thought the metaphor that Jesus used with his disciples that I will make you fishers of men really fits well because fishermen go where the fish are. They don’t just keep throwing their net or line in the water. The find out where people are biting.

Well in the military, the lesson I learned was success is wherever people are, they’re going to be human needs that the ministry can reach. Go where they’re at and don’t label them the same when you’re deployed as you would in garrison. Garrison they do it by volunteering, when you’re deployed, everybody’s needs are overriding and it’s chaplain come to me.

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