BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Malcolm Roberts, November 8, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Malcolm Roberts, November 8, 2007
November 8, 2007
Interview with Chaplain Malcolm Roberts III.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Roberts, Malcolm III Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  11/9/2007 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  60 minutes


Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person with the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Randall Library. This videotape is part of the series of Military Chaplains Oral History. Today is the 8th of November-- 9th of November in the year 2007, and we're in New Bern, North Carolina. Our interviewee today is Chaplain Malcolm Roberts, III. Good morning, Chaplain.

Roberts: Good morning, sir.

Zarbock: Tell me, what individual or series of individuals or event or series of events led you into the ministry? When did you start getting interested in that?

Roberts: Well, some time before I was 16 years old. I lived in a wonderful house. Unfortunately, my parents were not wonderful. If you'd met my parents, you would have thought they were the salt of the earth. My sister keeps telling me I was an abused child. I just put up with a lot of physical and emotional abuse. And so what I did was, being a person of prayer and faith before 16, I decided that I would just make a deal with God. If I could survive the abuse, I would serve God. And so I did. So I went to serve God by finally matriculating and graduating without honors from Windham College in Putney, Vermont.

Zarbock: You said Windham?

Roberts: Windham. W-I-N-D-H-A-M College in Putney, Vermont. And it was not-- I actually did four years of college in four and a half, unlike George Patton, who said, "West Point is a five-year college that most people do in four years." I went to Windham College. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in English Literature December of 1966, and since I'd been deferred for years and years, I either had a choice-- I either joined the Army or got drafted or joined some other service. So I said, "I'm going to join the Navy because Newport is 45 minutes from where I live." Now, don't ask me why I wanted to go to-- did I love boats? I loved the water. And so I went, and I maxed their English portion of their test and flunked their math. I did not know that A2 plus B2 equals C2. I did not know Pythagorean's theorem and how to apply it. "You cannot navigate," the Navy said, so it was off to the Army I went. And so I enlisted in the Army to go to Officer Candidate School, and that's what I did. Because when I'd gone to see the Bishop of Connecticut, Bishop Gray, he said, "We have no draft dodgers." Well, that's my-- he spoke more eloquently. "I do not want to have any draft dodgers who are priests in this Diocese, and I don't get anything out of priests until they're 30 years old. You're 24. You need to go do something-- or 23. You need to go do something for two years, come back and see me." Which meant, "Get drafted."

And so I joined the Army to go to Armor OCS. And what I found out after completing basic training, advanced individual training, and Officer Candidate School, that I never do anything the easy way, and that's the hardest way in the world to get a commission. I was dumber than dirt. You may have all heard about Roberts' rules. Roberts never does it the easy way if there's a hard way to be found. It's just what comes naturally.

And so in my course of service as an enlisted man, noncommissioned officer and Armored Calvary officer and instructor in the Armor School, the one thing I really realized, was I still had a deep calling to go to seminary, and I also realized that at least when I was serving in the capacity of an Armored Cav Troop Commander with C Troop 4th of the 7th Cav-- we're a part of General Custer's outfit-- on the DMZ in Korea that I never-- we had one chaplain who was covering like three battalions. I mean, that's huge. And I said, "You know, there really is a need for Army chaplains here." And actually I remember his name. It was Leo Bolsen, and I and he and his chaplain's assistant and probably two others out of this huge 600-plus-man Armored Calvary squadron, were the only people that came to church. Now, I would not say that he was influential in my life, but I did support him, at least in his worship services and in prayer, because you know, one person covering three battalions is just enormous. And so when I left Korea I went back to Fort Knox, Kentucky, met my bride of 35 years. We got married. She got out of the Army. She was an Army physical therapist. I get out of the Army and I went to seminary, and the process was very, very easy.

Zarbock: Where did you go to seminary?

Roberts: I went to Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. Probably the best school I've ever been to, and it equipped me at least with what I call entry level training as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. And then I served for three and a half years at St. Paul's in Wallingford, Connecticut, and I was also the chaplain at Choate School for awhile at the same time. And I was also--

Zarbock: I'm sorry, what school?

Roberts: Choate.

Zarbock: Oh, yes.

Roberts: Choate and Rosemary Hall. And I also served as the priest of a mission church called St. John the Evangelist in Galesville, which is about three or four miles away from Wallingford, Dascal. And I did that for awhile, for three and a half years, then the Armed Forces bishop, Charlie Birdgreen, says, "Are you going to come back in the Army as a chaplain or not?" I said, "Yes, I do." He says, "Well, I've got a position in the Navy." And I said, "Yeah, that's pretty nice. I'd like to go back in the-- I'd like to go to someplace I hadn't been before." And he says, "You know, Air Force. I need someone in the Air Force." And I finally said to him, "I have had five and a half years in the Army. I know the culture. I know their history, traditions, customs." I said, "That's where it makes sense for me to go." And so in November of 1978, my wife, within two weeks of giving birth to our second child, packed up and went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Zarbock: You're how old at that time?

Roberts: I was a mere child at 35. Well, I actually turned 36 on the 27th of November of that year, 1978. And I served in two positions at Fort Campbell with the 101st. I served as a battalion chaplain in the 2nd of 502nd Infantry Battalion for about 29 months, and then the remainder of my time I was the 3rd Brigade chaplain.

Zarbock: You didn't go to jump school, did you?

Roberts: No. I did something stupider. I went to Air Assault School, which is actually more physically demanding than air assault school.

Zarbock: Tell us about air assault.

Roberts: Air Assault School is designed to teach assaulters how to repel, how to rig all sorts of equipment the different aircraft can carry. It's designed to build confidence, and to help you try to do things you've never done before. And I managed to do that the hard way, and the second day I cracked three ribs on a very nice obstacle called the Dirty Name.I was in too much pain to say the dirty name.I cracked three ribs, so I did everything in Air Assault School in a lot of pain, and that's when I found out it's not pain I don't like, because I have a very high pain threshold. But it's a school that was 10 days long, and it culminates in a 12-mile road march which you must do in two hours and 20 minutes or less with a full pack. And of course the day I did it, since Roberts never does anything easy, it was in April. It was 80-some degrees, and everyone was dropping like flies.

Zarbock: What was the distance?

Roberts: Twelve miles.

Zarbock: Twelve miles in--

Roberts: Two hours and 20 minutes with a full pack.

Zarbock: Oh.

Roberts: Up and downhill.

Zarbock: You're double-timing?

Roberts: Well, you have to walk real fast or run. And I did complete it. And I almost didn't make graduation. I fell asleep on the bed in my uniform. I went home, took a shower, put my uniform on, ready to go to graduation, I almost fell-- well, I did make it, but-- and it's a 10-day school. It really teaches you how to be an air assault soldier, how to rig equipment, how to build your confidence, and to push your endurance. That's really what it is. And I'm glad I did it. I'm not so happy I did it at age 36. But after that-- I need to tell you that the only reason I joined the Army chaplaincy, was to serve soldiers and their families, because if you don't love them and care for them it's like a mechanic who doesn't like fixing cars or a cook who doesn't like cooking. It just doesn't work very well. And so I do love soldiers and their family members, not because I grew up as one and I served as one in two different capacities, as a light infantryman, as an Armored Cav officer. And so I was very delighted.

I only joined the Army to be a battalion and brigade chaplain. That is the last time in my 26-year Army chaplaincy career that I ever served at that level. My career, because I'd already been a captain for so long, both on active duty and in the Army Reserves, I was due for promotion when I got there. And it's hard to get promoted to major, when you've been in the Reserves for so long, and so I only had, as a captain chaplain, I only had less than-- I had one OER in my file to go in front of the Promotion Board.

Zarbock: What is OER?

Roberts: Oh, Officer Efficacy Report, I'm sorry. Report cards on not how well you did. It's mostly-- it's supposed to be your potential for serving at the next higher level. But, you know, God is provident, and I was promoted. And I went off to the chaplain's advanced course for six months at Fort Monmouth, and I was supposed to go to Kaiserslautern to serve as the admin chaplain for a guy by the name of Max Burgin. And what happened, was my good friend, who was a brigade chaplain at the same time, and who later became the commandant of the chaplain's school and I became his assistant-- we were battalion brigade chaplains in the 101st; it's kind of a circle, but I probably should start here-- he well, I went to the chaplain school. I just want to go back and tell you probably a really significant thing that happened at Fort Campbell. I was really never the only Episcopal chaplain there, so I really never had a lot of Sunday responsibilities where I worked all the week long and then did Sunday services, too. I was very blessed. There was always at least two of us. I think it was because they didn't want me to be alone or they didn't trust me. One or the other, I'm not sure. But that's how it worked out.

One of the most wonderful weddings I ever did, was for a young E-4 specialist and his girlfriend during the regular Sunday service at Fort Campbell, at the chapel that we used. And all the parishioners made cakes and cookies, and we had the reception for them. Well, some years later, when I was at chaplain's school in a temporary facility before the new one was built, here's this first sergeant, a C 8, sitting here with his wife and like, two or three kids. And he says, "You don't know who I am." I said, "No, I don't." He said, "Well, you did the service for me some 20 years, you know, before." So, I mean, that's really kind of the closest-- I mean, he went to find me. He hunted me out. I didn't even know who he was. I had forgotten the whole thing. But I do tell people that's probably the nicest wedding I've ever done. So weddings maybe should be done on Sundays during the regular worship services, you know? That would be unique. But anyway, after that, I was supposed to go to Kaiserslautern, Germany, and I did not.

Zarbock: By the way, the chaplain's name there, Burgin, is that B-E-R or B--

Roberts: B-E-R-G-I-N.

Zarbock: Okay.

Roberts: Or B-U-R-- I'm sorry, B-U-R-G-I-N. Max Burgin. He lives in Shelby, North Carolina. And my friend George Pejakovich is Montenegran. His name, Pejakovich, means son of Pejak, is a first-generation Montenegran.

Zarbock: You better spell that.

Roberts: P-E-J-A-K-O-V-I-C-H. Pejakovich. He was supposed to go to 5th Corps headquarters to be the admin guy, but the Lutheran chaplain at Stuttgart died on active duty. And so he was sent there, and I went to 5th Corps headquarters. And I spent 54 months there as the assistant Corps chaplain.

Zarbock: Isn't that an extended period of time?

Roberts: Well, I know, but the shortest tour I ever had in my six or-- my seven tours, was two weeks short of 36 months. My tour of duty at Fort Campbell was 44 months, six months at the chaplain school, 54 months-- well, what happens is, is I worked for one Corps chaplain for 18 months, and then another Corps chaplain came in and I just said, "I'll just stay here until you leave." And so we both left at the same time. And then from there I went--

Zarbock: What were your duties as admin?

Roberts: I actually was a trained comptroller, and I managed 22 chaplain non-appropriated funds in 10 different communities and bases, and I had oversight over accounting and procedures and policies to safeguard and account for the offerings that were given by people at worship services. And then I also controlled all the appropriated money that was given by the Corps commander to his communities and community commanders to run the religious programs. So all this was my job.

Zarbock: Big budget?

Roberts: Large budget, yeah. A million-some dollars.

Zarbock: And that was your responsibility?

Roberts: That was my responsibility to account for. I did a lot of procurement. I funded a lot of programs for the 10 communities in the central part of Germany. And I guess that's where I made my mark because it was not what I really came into the Army to do, but I can do it. But then I found out that no matter where you are, you can be a chaplain to civilians, soldiers, officers, people of all ranks. Really, no matter where you're assigned, even if you're just not what I call out of the gravel-sucking, you know, rock-picking, you know, tactical Army, down in the battalions and brigades and divisions, there still a valuable ministry that can be done. And so, after my 54 months in Germany, my wife and family moved to Washington, D.C., where I did a year-long residency in clinical pastoral education, and then I stayed on staff at--

Zarbock: Where?

Roberts: At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. And then I stayed on staff for a little less than two years, and the chief of the part of the ministry in pastoral care was Max Burgin.

Zarbock: Isn't this a little dissident to go from a bean counter to clinical pastoral education?

Roberts: Well, and the interesting thing was it was the first year the Army had decided-- Army chaplaincy had decided that they would select rather than take those few who would volunteer for clinical pastoral education. So myself and another person, another chaplain, Dave DeDanato, were the first two ever selected.

Zarbock: We better spell that.

Roberts: Geesh, you're asking too much. Dave, D A V E.

Zarbock: I'm okay, there.

Roberts: I'm sorry. D E N A D T O is I believe how he spells it. I think it's an Irish name, but I'm not sure. No, he's Italian. He and I were the first two selected. He went to the hospital at Fort Gordon, and I went to Walter Reed. And it's interesting, because when I graduated I was assigned as the 5th Corps chaplain, and I had two other chaplains that worked for me. And we had a great time, but that didn't last very long because I got promoted.

Zarbock: You're now a lieutenant colonel?

Roberts: Yeah. And I then started to serve as the admin guy because Max Burgin had also not served in Kaiserslautern, and he was the 3rd Armored Division chaplain when I was the admin guy, the assistant Corps chaplain, handling all the money and stuff. He was the 3rd Armored Division chaplain. So, I became his funds manager and his admin guy, which I did for two years. Now supposedly what happens after clinical pastoral education, you're supposed to serve a three-year utilization tour. I didn't serve a year. And so for the first time in my life, I needed to get out of Walter Reed, for a lot of reasons.

Zarbock: Would you care to share those?

Roberts: Well, working for Max Burgin was not the easiest thing in the world to do. And I don't want to disrespect him.

Zarbock: A demanding guy?

Roberts: No. Passive-aggressive-passive guy. And most people, one of the things they'll say about me is they know where they stand with me. Now, I may not be, tact may not be in my name anywhere, but I will tell you where we are with each other.

Zarbock: You know, you may have won a prize for master of understatement when you say that.

Roberts: Maybe. I'm not sure. It's not a prize I was seeking. So what happened then was is I called up my friend Cliff Weathers, who had been the Corps chaplain I'd served for three years, and said-- he was working at the Chief of Chaplains' office. I said, "Cliff, I need to get out of here." Now, I didn't ask for a job anywhere. I just said, "I need to get out of here." And he knew why I needed to get out of there. And so I was moved before my three years were up at Walter Reed. I was moved to Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Virginia, one of the Army's best-kept secrets. And I served there for the Training and Doctrine Command chaplain, I served as his force structure and mobilization officer. That was my job.

Zarbock: What did that require?

Roberts: Well, force structure is how does the Army build its forces. And my primary job within Training and Doctrine Command, was to ensure that we had enough chaplains and chaplain's assistants within our installations that had trained, like, the artillery school, the infantry school, the armor school, the quartermaster school, the transportation school, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the ordinance school, the engineers school, all those installations where these triage institutional training places were as well as basic training and advanced infantry training, had enough chaplains on the installation side of the house to provide religious support to the Army community.

Zarbock: Enough chaplains right now, or in the event that military force is expanded?

Roberts: No. Right. Well, both. That was my job. It was and/or both.

Zarbock: So it's an auditing of current population and the projection?

Roberts: Yes. And also I was responsible for ensuring that the tables of organizational equipment, which gives people, like chaplains and chaplain's assistants, all our tactical units had chaplains in them. And so I worked very hard and had a modicum of success of changing the standard by which chaplain and chaplain's assistants are assigned to battalions. It used to be-- and it's strange form that the Army uses-- it's like a battalion-sized unit, there is 250-some-- 200 and-- I think it's 525 members, or a portion thereof. A portion thereof is like half, all right. So I got them to rewrite the standard so that it was any numbered or lettered battalion in the United States Army or Army Reserve, which meant that units which had never had a chaplain or chaplain's assistant would now have one. And so I was able to help do that.

Zarbock: Let me probe, again. You said any battalion that was numbered or lettered.

Roberts: Yeah.

Zarbock: What letter would be used for a battalion?

Roberts: Well, I'm not sure, but we may have com-- we used to have combat teams, A, B, C, D, E.

Zarbock: I got you.

Roberts: They were battalions, and so what you have-- it's like writing a legal document.

Zarbock: Sure. Cover all bases.

Roberts: It's like signing a release, you know, or hold harm agreement, because the Army might start having combat team A, B, C, D again. So, I put numbered or letters in the language, and actually I had people smarter than I been doing this for years, civilians, who kind of led me through this anyway, but. And it was really because they knew-- the good news was we're on the same floor they were, and I went to see them every day just to say, "Hi, how are you? How are things going? What's going on?" You know? So you get to know a lot where, if you have that personal contact, when it really comes time to do the hard thing they say, "Well, you know, what value added chaplains are. We see one every day." Good, bad or indifferent. And a lot of what chaplains do is twofold. Like, what I do is, a lot of it's personal relationship, but the other part of it is you have to live the common life and you have to speak the language, you have to know the customs and the tradition and the history of not only those people you are serving but of the organization in the whole. I mean, you have to know that. And you have to know what their mission is. So I then was-- had an interim, about 7 months where I was the TRADOC chaplain is a lieutenant colonel.

Zarbock: The what?

Roberts: The Training and Doctrine Command chaplain is a lieutenant colonel, because they couldn't get the European and 7th Army chaplain to come over and take over, because the commanding general wanted some other chaplain, and the Chief of Chaplains wanted a guy named G. T. Gunn, who's-- and so G. T. finally came, thank God. And he came, and I then became his deputy. And my replacement was a guy by the name of Doug Carver, who is now the current Chief of Chaplains. And so he took over my job, and I took over kind of being like the chief of staff and overseeing the other four chaplains or three chaplains that worked there. And so I served him, and I got promoted again. And at that point in time, was when I got a call from the Pentagon, from the director of training-- what in the heck is it? P-- P-P-D-T. It has to do with everything but chaplain personnel. It has to do with doctrine and chaplain force structure. And who was the director at that time? George Pejakovich. And he said, "I'm going to be the next commandant of the school." And I said, "I'm very sorry." I said, "I have no desire to go to the school. I didn't like it when I was there, and I don't want to go back there on staff." And he says, "I want you to be my-- I need you to be the assistant commandant. We're moving the school, and I need you-- someone I trust, you know, to help me." So I said, "Only for you." Now I'd been at Training and Doctrine Command now for 46 months, another long tour, and so I moved to Fort Monmouth without my family, and my primary job was to oversee the design and moving the chaplain school from Fort Jackson to-- I mean, from Fort Monmouth to Fort Jackson, which I did.

Zarbock: Let's pause here just a minute. Again, for historical purposes, this videotape should continue on long after you and I are--

Roberts: Finished.

Zarbock: -- not around here anymore. This was a significant change in policy and procedure, isn't it?

Roberts: Right. Well, this was something that was--

Zarbock: What preceded and what do you--

Roberts: Well, what happened, was is that under BRAC, the Base Closure Realignment Committee, had recommended that we, the chaplain school, move out somewhere else. And, of course, who helped that? Good old Max-- Strom Thurmond. Strom Thurmond was the guy who said, "The chaplain school needs to go to Fort Jackson." And the reason that's important to know, is because he's a strong supporter of the military and he knew that the cheapest place to train soldiers, regardless of anything, is Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It's cheaper to train a soldier there than anywhere else in the United States.

Zarbock: What makes it cheaper?

Roberts: The economy, the available work force. It has-- you don't have to-- everything is-- all the ranges and all the things that you need to do in basic and AIT are all right there. All the infrastructure is there. And so it was through base realignment and closure, BRAC, that the chaplain school was moved. Now, why did that happen, besides Max Thurmond. There's always a reason for everything, and it always has to do with money. The major stakeholder at Fort Monmouth is Communications and Electronic Command, which is part of AMC, which is the Army Materiel Command, better known as millions of civilians command because most of the people in it are civilians. It's commanded by a four-star. But one of their sub organizations is SECOM. They were renting a building from the GAO for $14.1 million which was just awful.

Zarbock: Per what?

Roberts: Per year.

Zarbock: $14 million per year?

Roberts: $14.1 million of our taxpayer money. And guess what GAO was paying in order to administer it? They were getting $7 million. And so the Army says, "We're getting out of this GAO contract," and so what they did is they're going to take Communications and Electronic headquarters and put it in the chaplain school, which originally had been the old Army signal school, which had moved to Fort Gordon. So--

Zarbock: Now, under what? Under walnut is the pea? Can we move this?

Roberts: Probably not? I don't even know where the pea is or the walnuts at this point. But that's just kind of a little brief history, simplicity as we-- kind of the dynamics that went into the move, the chaplain school. The chaplain's school's, I think, 18th or 19th move, was to Fort Jackson. We have never had-- we, being the Army chaplaincy-- has never had a school that was designed for the instruction of chaplains and chaplain's assistants until the move to Fort Jackson. We've always had someone else's building. And so on December 22nd of 1996, 22 trailer loads worth of stuff, we closed the school, turned in the keys and left. And we started instructing in a light wheeled vehicle maintenance facility that had-- we had received $1 million or Fort Jackson received $1 million to convert into a temporary chaplain's school. So what stands at Fort Jackson is partially because I was able to have a part in getting it there and designing the building there.

Zarbock: What was your role in the designing of the building?

Roberts: I was the point of contact between myself and Ventulett--Ventulett and Stainback, who were the architectural engineering firm out of Atlanta. We had Steven Clem and Bob Balke. Steven Clem was the interior designer, and Bob Balke was the architectural guy, the principal, and they were marvelous, a world-class firm. And so George Pejakovich as the commandant and myself as assistant, we sat down many times and we would envision, what is our vision that we want to give the architectural engineering firm so that they can take our concept? We wanted some place that was light, open, airy, that chaplains and chaplains would pass through, be trained, and go out to serve soldiers and their family members. And so with and sometimes mostly without the help of the Corps of Army Engineeers, the school was finally designed. Now, the interesting thing is that the installation post commander, who is a two star general named Lighting Joe Bolt, had been my neighbor at Fort Campbell. He was a battalion commander. And I'd had a relationship with him and his wife over the years, and all he cared about is what did the building look like on the outside. Well, who cares what it looks like on the outside? We care about what happens on the inside. And so that's why it has 11 foot ceilings, big doors, large windows. None of them open, because if they open then they'll turn the air conditioning off. You know, twice a year, when it's turned off. We wanted the feel of a Fortune 500 company, which I think it has a good feel to it. We wanted earth tones. If you've ever been in the applied-- we call them chapels, but applied learning laboratories?

Zarbock: Yes.

Roberts: And you've seen what that looks like, with the old stained glass from the old school in there with kind of a cathedral look, you know, that's all part of the vision that George and I gave to the architects. And so my job was to take that vision and then ensure that their plans came up with it. And what's unique about that school, is that both the instruction for enlisted men, NCOs and officers, is exactly the same. There's no change. There's no difference, which is not true in every school. So--

Zarbock: Again, for the sake of the tape, other units are going to join the-- what's the official title of that school?

Roberts: It's the United States Army Chaplain Center and School. What makes it the center is because that's where we do combat developments for the Army chaplaincy. That's where we write doctrine for the chaplaincy.

Zarbock: And who will-- there are going to be additions?

Roberts: There's going to be two additional co-located schools, the Navy chaplain school from Newport, and the Air Force school which is down in Alabama somewhere, I believe, is coming to be co-located at Fort Jackson, screaming, yelling and kicking. But they're coming, because it's been mandated by law, and they'll get a brand new facility.

Zarbock: You know, how peculiar-- back to the push and pull of politics-- that political leaders in Rhode Island, for example, would be able to block the movement from Rhode Island or the Alabamans being able to block the movement out of.

Roberts: Well, the interesting thing about probably both of those locations, is that's not the major population served by Newport. That's Naval OCS. That's the Navy War College. It's intermediate schooling for the Navy. And the same thing where the Air Force chaplains are trained; it's not the only people who are trained there. You're talking about, in all three cases, a very small branch. I mean, the Army has more chaplains than maybe the Air Force and Navy put together at this point because we have almost 1,500 chaplains on active duty.

Zarbock: You know, there's something about this mammoth sea change in facilities in history and all the rest that reminds me of a remark that was once made by Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill was approached by a gaggle of people who wanted to ask him questions about socializing medicine in England. And the final question was: What are we going to do about the physicians? And he said, "We'll stuff their throats with gold."

Roberts: [laughs] That's right.

Zarbock: Well, I wonder if that might have been a little bit of a help with the move of Navy and Air Force?

Roberts: Well, I think what happened was, I just think they were directed to do it by law. "You will move." Now they'll get a new facility. The chaplain school as it stands cost $8.1 million, and we did it for $100,000 less than the cost-- than we were given. But I think, really-- and you had before we came upstairs we had talked about the Chaplain's Museum-- we had a huge museum at Fort Monmouth, huge. We were not authorized to museum in the Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson. We were only authorized storage space for our artifacts. So Ventulett, Stainback, Roberts and Pejakovich said, "How-- we're not going to get money for this now, but we may get money for it in the future. Let's carve out space." And, of course, our museum folks said, "You can never put a nice display in the space you're going to give us." "Well, why?" They had all the space they wanted. There's a lot of things that we had to send to Anniston, Alabama for permanent storage. But I said, "Through creative storage, we can get almost every artifact that you want to keep, and someday display, or for historical within the space you're allocated, and still have enough space for display, where you can depict your history. All we're talking about is how you're going to display it, and what size the displays are going to be to tell the chaplain's story." It's important to tell the chaplain's story, because we don't tell it very well. We're so busy doing, that we don't tell it. The issue is is that if you ask commanders of soldiers that chaplain's have served, they will never know our name. "I had this wonderful chaplain and his name was-- geez, I thought I'd never forget it." Or, "That chaplain just wasn't so good."

What makes the not-so-good chaplains not so good, and the good ones so good, is soldiers know if you really care and love for them and if you're there to serve them, rather than be served by them. If you live, like I said before, the common life, if you go to the field when they go to the field, if you go when they go and come home when they go, and you get hot and cold and damp and wet and sweaty and, you know, all the things that soldiers do, and muddy and wet, you know, they know that you're one of them. If you don't, you're not. That's the bottom line. And I think the other interesting thing is that for years-- for years-- both George and I have tried to impact how the Army trains chaplains, not chaplain's assistants. In the Army, basic training or, if you go to West Point, beast barracks, or if you go through ROTC to get your commission, it's called ROTC summer camp basic and advanced, is a rite of initiation. The Army chaplaincy didn't have one, and so what we did is we re-wrote how we train chaplains.

Zarbock: What year was this?

Roberts: We started it in 1994, and we instituted it with the first class in 1996.

Zarbock: And what were the significant changes? What existed before and what--

Roberts: We looked at what is a common thread that people in basic training and basic ROTC and beast barracks get? They get all the common skills-- communication, first aid, obstacle course, a confidence course, night infiltration course. So we took the program of instruction out of ROTC basic summer camp, which is also the same thing you get in the first four or five weeks of basic training, we took out weapons qualification and throwing a hand grenade and all that stuff and we kept all the stuff that's individual tactical training of the soldier, day and night survival skills, camouflage, land navigation, communication, obstacle course, confidence course, gas chamber, NBC training, all that stuff, and then we had NCOs, drill sergeants, train them out of the Army Reserve, train them for their initial entry training. They were formed out outside where they lived. They all lived in one building. They learned how to march. They learned how to salute. They learned how to wear the uniform. They were inspected in ranks every morning. Now, they did get weekend passes. Their rooms were not inspected. And then we incorporated more field training. In the former basic Army chaplain's course, I think you went to the field for three or four days. We have them out in the field for a total of 10 days.

Zarbock: In the field?

Roberts: In the field, living in--

Zarbock: Under canvas?

Roberts: Well, and of course, you know, the interesting story about that, is enlisted soldiers, when you get your field gear, you get a half a pup tent because you're supposed to-- well, what are we going to do with female chaplains and male chaplains? I mean, what happens if, you know, you only give them a half? Well, the interesting thing is, officers get a whole pup tent, so it was a non-issue. So male and female chaplains went to the field, pitched their own pup tents, didn't have to sleep together in the same pup tent. It's an easy solution. It's always the simple solutions that work. It's not complicated. So, I mean, there's like issues like that that we had to deal with to keep them out in the field longer, but they need to because if you're going to be with a unit, they live in the field. They train in the field. You have to go out there and know how to live and survive and keep clean and field sanitation, and what's your mission, and how am I going to provide ministry? And so that's what we did. We even had them go out on the night infiltration course and climb through it with machine gun fire and, you know, C-4 blowing up, just like every other soldier. Do they like it? We don't care whether they like it, and I'll tell you why we didn't care. You want to join-- our kind of mantra was, "You want to join us." You have volunteered to be a chaplain in the United States Army. If you want to be a chaplain in the United States Army, this is what you must do. This is the standard you must meet. And they're not our standards; they're Army standards.

Zarbock: Now, give me the technical language, the night infiltration--

Roberts: Oh, night infiltration course, yeah, that's where you climb under barbed wire?

Zarbock: You're crawling underneath that?

Roberts: You're crawling underneath barbed wire with, you know--

Zarbock: Machine guns are firing over your head?

Roberts: Over the top of your head, and there's blocks of C-4 that are exploding, throwing dirt up in the air.

Zarbock: It's a wonderful experience.

Roberts: Everyone should do it at least once, and they do, which they'd never done before. And why? Because at Fort Monmouth, the closest place you could train is Fort Dix. Fort Dix is an hour and a half bus ride, and a hour and a half back. They can actually march in 15 minutes to their bivouac site. And the other thing, is is that when you're dealing with people who've never been in the Army, and all of a sudden they find themselves just like a chaplain candidate who is actually a second lieutenant who are seminary who have never worn a uniform, don't know any of the military customs, traditions, language, history, and you have them out at 5:00 in the morning, running, you know, and doing PT at Fort Monmouth, they don't see anybody else doing it. But at least at Fort Jackson, there are hundreds, thousands, of soldiers doing the same thing you do, so you're not saying, "Why, in-- " if I wasn't a chaplain and an Episcopal priest, I'd say, "Why in the hell," but I am, so I'll say, "What in the heavens are we doing out here by ourself?" There it's not an issue. Everyone's doing it. And so it creates an environment that's conducive to physical training and learning Army skills. And so it's a kind of win-win situation.

Zarbock: You really are a designer.

Roberts: Well, maybe a schemer.

Zarbock: What's the difference?

Roberts: It's only what gets-- well--

Zarbock: It's what gets done.

Roberts: It's what gets done, yeah. I am a designer, yeah, in some respects. Yeah. (Tape Change)

Zarbock: Tape No. 2, Malcolm Roberts, III. This is the 9th of November, 2007. We're at New Bern, North Carolina, and I'm Paul Zarbock. Well, I have a question to ask. At any time during your military career were you ever ordered, or was it a very broad hint, or was it as subtle as a nudge and a wink to do something that was in violation of what you hold to be your personal standards?

Roberts: Never, not by anyone, by another chaplain, not by another commander, any level of the United States Army.

Zarbock: You were always given...

Roberts: Latitude as both a commander, as an armored cavalry officer, and commander which I commanded one armored camp troop and three other companies at Fort Knox, or as my time as a chaplain. To do anything that was contrary to Army regulations or statutory law, never. Now, I certainly had a lot of chaplains I knew that ended up at what we call the long tour at Fort Leavenworth, for money and other things, but I have never personally ever been asked to compromise any value, any Army regulation or any federal law.

Zarbock: In all of the interviews that I've done, I think there have only been three of four incidences. I'll cast him in the role of the accuser, the accuser has later universally been found to be misinformed and all have apologized rather sternly but at least said, "Well, I guess I stepped over the line with it." It is a rarity. So, in this almost preferential social role that you played as chaplain, what is the situation with efficiency reports? I would think--

Roberts: Well, the good news is, is that I've always had a commander or a senior chaplain who thought I did a good job. One of my first efficiency reports that I ever got was a battalion chaplain. The brigade chaplain wrote in the last line of it, "and he's a good friend of mine," and that was quickly taken out. Max Burgin probably gave me the most vanilla-colored OER efficiency report that I ever got. I mean, it just was vanilla. I couldn't expect any more from him anyway, so it was all right.

In the whole scope of things, it really doesn't make a difference. I have written a lot of efficiency reports for chaplains and chaplain assistants. And even in my capacity as assistant commandant, I wrote the efficiency report for the headquarters and headquarters company first sergeant who was a chaplain's assistant, and also his company commander who was normally an HE officer.

So, I have written efficiency reports, a lot of them on chaplains. And there are two very hard ones to write: the very good ones and the very poor ones. And I have had, unfortunately, the opportunity to call one of the chaplains that I was supervising when I was a brigade chaplain-- we were both captains, I had not yet been promoted to major-- and showed him copies of two officer efficiency reports, and said he had to make a decision which one he wanted, the good one or the bad one. Unfortunately, he got the bad one and he is now out of the Army. He got out, he never made major, and he probably should never have stayed in the Army as long as he did.

But my philosophy is, is that just like my first battalion commander, he says, "One rotten apple spoils a bunch." And what you come to realize, hopefully sooner rather than later, is that you represent more than yourself. If it was Mal Roberts, the ordained Episcopal priest in his nice little collar and black shirt and blazer in gray pants and black loafers serving soldiers, that would probably be one thing, but you are wearing the uniform, you are an officer, and you are endorsed by a denomination. So you represent officers, you represent the Army chaplaincy and you represent your endorsing agent, not necessarily in that order. And so you need to be squeaky clean, because you are more than yourself, and plus you're a representative of God. Maybe that should be at the first.

I mean [laughs], and people say, "How could that chaplain have faith?" or "Look what that chaplain did." I mean at both spectrums. It's always a spectrum of the bell curve. It's either the very good ones or the very bad ones. The kind of average ones are just okay. And, you know, if you ask me, on a scale of one to ten, what kind of chaplain I was, maybe I was a five-and-a-half or six, I mean in my own view, because you can never do anything perfectly. Nothing made by human hands is perfect, eternal in the heavens, it's just not.

But the most important thing that I probably have accomplished, is not building buildings or designing stuff. It's probably the mentoring, coaching, teaching, training of junior chaplains on how the Army chaplaincy and the Army works. That's what I really did for most of my time as lieutenant colonel, and the rest of my last six years is to take young captains and majors, and help and share with them what it takes to be successful. Now, successful to most chaplains is getting the next promotion on time. Success is not promotion. Success is your faithfulness to your call and service, of which they would say, "Yes, but you're a lieutenant colonel," or "Yes, you're a major," or "Yes, you're a full colonel. You've made it." The rank isn't what you're there to do. The rank is bestowed upon you so you can serve at higher levels because someone thinks you have the capability-- well, the whole board thinks you have the capability to do that, and so you're selected. You've got to seek happiness, as we say in the Army chaplaincy. There's a sequence number for promotion, you know, on time every time. Happiness is not that. Happiness is in service. Happiness doesn't come from something external like what you wear on your shoulder, because what chaplains wear is at least is their rank, but they also wear a cross or the crescent or the Star of David. I mean you wear-- that's who you are. It's not who your rank is-- what your rank is. So I kept preaching the same sermon and mentoring those who I was responsible for supervising in the ways of the Army and the Army chaplaincy, so that they could be successful. And for those that clearly demonstrated the potential to serve at higher levels of responsibility will at least get that opportunity, and so far it's worked out pretty well.

Zarbock: Off-camera, you mentioned, it seems to be in this general rubric. Off-camera, you mentioned you served with some very well-known individuals.

Roberts: I mean, I can run through this. My first battalion I can-- I mean, I'll give you just the quick litany. I'm just trying to do it in less than a minute because I can talk fast because I'm a fast-talking carpet bagging Northerner [laughs]. I-- my first battalion commander was a guy named Thomas W. Johnson who I reported into as an armored cavalry officer, because my branch transfer had not yet taken place. I reported to him on the 21st of November, and my branch transfer was taking place like on that Friday. Well, the installation chaplain just about had a freaking cow [laughs], but you know: orders are orders.

So, I reported to an armored cavalry officer, and I said, "I will be your chaplain on Friday." He says, "No problem, chaplain. Go meet Mark Sousa, the Brava company commander. He's an armored cavalryman, too." So I went down and saw Mark Sousa. I mean, we were set. He was a great commander. My next commander of that battalion was okay. He wasn't the same commander.

I've actually seen Tom Johnson since then. He lives in the western part of North Carolina. I spent a great time with him, and his first wife who died of cancer. He's remarried. She's wonderful. The interesting thing our battalion has for us a supply logistics officer and I became close friends. In fact, the second battalion commander ordered that we not be seen in public together and [laughs] because there's always a cloud of smoke. And so I'm his son's Godchild. I just performed the ceremony for his-- marriage ceremony for Sergeant Tim Roy and his wife. He's an MP dog handler at Port Meade. So I have built relationships, but that's-- so then I went over and became a 3rd brigade chaplain and Ward Lahardy was the brigade commander. Lieutenant Colonel Wall, Rich Wall was the battalion executive officer. I'm still life-long friends of theirs and their families. I still participate in their life. One lives in Tappahannock and the other one, Rich Wall, lives out in Seattle, so I don't see him and his wife as often.

Zarbock: Tappahannock is...

Roberts: Tappahannock, Virginia, or Kilmarnock I guess it is. In Fifth Corp. Headquarters, I served with a three-star general named Paul S. Williams, and he had gotten himself in a lot of trouble when he was the commanding officer at Fort Hood at one of the divisions, by telling chaplains that their sermons were too long. They should be able to preach in ten minutes. He didn't get in that much trouble. So I sent him a dictionary that I inscribed to him with the words for every ten minute sermon ever written [laughs], as a going away gift. And he was replaced by Colin Powell, who served as the corps commander for a little less than 18 months before he was called back to Washington, D.C.

Zarbock: What was your role vis-a-vis?

Roberts: I was the assistant corps chaplain but he's also an Episcopalian, so I became-- and he and I and his wife Alma all worshiped at Christ the King, which was just off the Cape Abrams compound and had been built by-- I don't know if the Rockefellers built it, but there are seven-- in Europe there are seven English speaking churches: Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Rome, Florence and I don't know where the other one is, but they were all built by wealthy barons so that they could go to Europe and attend an English-speaking Episcopal church.

Zarbock: What was General Powell like?

Roberts: Just like you see him. He was a true leader. Probably the most-- I've served on several committees with his wife, Alma. I tell you a story about his son, because he was also in the Army. He is a good leader. I spent a lot of time with him besides on Sundays, I mean; you'd just get called up to his office and he'd just talk and chat. You know, he was a great leader. He was a good leader. He treated people fairly with mercy and compassion. He is not a yeller or a screamer. He's a thinker, and he clearly knows where he wants an organization to go and how they're going to get there. I mean he probably is not given enough credit. But on December 2nd, I want to say 1986, we were at the 5th Corps. It was a Christmas ball then, it's probably now a holiday ball, and he was called outside. And the next-- on Monday morning, the corps chaplain was not there, we all got-- so I represented him. We all got called into a meeting because I had a deputy corps chaplain who didn't want to go anywhere and do anything, so I was kind of the meeting guy when a corps chaplain we miss, Cliff Weathers, at the time, he said, "You know I left the ball and I received a call from the President, and he's asking me to go to Washington, D.C. to serve as the national security advisor?" and he said, "Do I really...?" he said to the President, "Do I need a lawyer?" [laughs] because the story is, and I don't know whether it's gospel truth, part truth, not true, is he's the one who provided all the arms as a two-star general working at the Pentagon for Ron Conkler. And he said, "I did it because I was directed by the highest authority, command authority in the United States.

Zarbock: Again for the purpose of this tape, would you define and explain what you're talking about?

Roberts: Well Iran Contra affair was probably best exemplified by Oliver North's testimony in front of Congress about his role in providing weapons to foreign armies like Iran, in secret, which he did. He went to jail. Colin Powell just said, "Do I need a--?" [laughs] who actually got the weapons to give to them, because that's what his job was, at that point in time. And he asked the president, "Will I need a lawyer because of my participation in it?" and the president said, "No." And so he left us very shortly after that. So I left 5th Corps and where did I go? I went to Walter Reed. It's in my clinical past education, and I was assigned into orthopedic ward. And you can always tell that the sickest people are in Walter Reed, because there are two rooms on one side of the nurse's station and two parallel halls at the nursing station. There are two rooms here and that's where they always put the sickest patient.

So I see this on the board, those are the days before HIPAA, of Powell. And I said, "Powell, well, I'll just go in there," and that was Michael Powell. It was General Powell's son who has been an Army cavalry officer in Germany at the same time I was there-- well, he was still there. I had met him and his sister at Christ the King Episcopal Church. And his driver had fallen asleep on the autobahn, and his jeep had rolled over and crushed him. And so I, every Wednesday his father would come, and we would do communion together, the Lord's supper. And I kind of just picked up my relationship with them there. But I said, "You know, Michael, how long have you been here?" "About three weeks, " he said. He was in terrible pain. I mean he was just-- his pelvis was smashed. His leg was smashed. He was lucky that he lived. And I said, "Well, have you ever seen-- have chaplains been visiting?" He said, "You're the first one I've seen in three weeks," since he'd been there. So...

Zarbock: How well did he recover?

Roberts: Well, he recovered, he recovered well. I mean he just was...

Zarbock: Stayed on active duty.

Roberts: He was medically discharged from active duty, but then he went to law school and he became the head of the FCC, which he was a past chairman of the FCC. I don't know what he's doing now. And then, as I shared with you before probably the next person that I knew well who has unfortunately made the news, was Kevin Kylie, the surgeon general of the Army who just resigned over the alleged care and treatment of soldiers at Walter Reed, which unfortunately, in my personal opinion, was politicized, which had nothing to do with more than the lowest level of leadership failing to provide health and welfare inspections to ensure that the soldier's rooms were clean and free of dirty pizza boxes and cockroaches and other things that attract bugs and lead to not good health. But I served him as a command chaplain as-- when he was head of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command which is a 21-state area with ten medical facilities and the largest...

Zarbock: Is he out of the military now, resigned?

Roberts: He's in the process of retiring, because you have to get the physical and all that other stuff. It just takes time.

Zarbock: What was his rank?

Roberts: Three-star general. When I served him, he was a two-star general. I saved, in my last tour at Walter Reed, I served three two-star generals, and everyone was different as the other, but it's-- they're all good folks. I was--I regularly was dual-headed. I was the command chaplain for this 21-state medical command, and then I was the chief of the department of ministry and pastoral care at Walter Reed, so I had two jobs rolled into one. Well now, the good news is the command chaplain's job was not-- was easy, because I was responsible for the pastoral care that these hospital and medical centers-- the patients and staff and family, received. And that's fine, unless you're talking to like a place like Fort Drum, where you have to make sure that the installation chaplain is one of the staff that's assigned, and the command of the hospital knows that he's got a chaplain, so I said that they can call him. So once you get that initial coordination done, it's pretty easy, and then you go to-- at commanders' conference, which we had once a quarter, you just talk to all the commanders and say, "How's your pastoral care? Do you know who your chaplain is? Have you seen him? Are you talking to him? Do you want one to come there?" I mean, you just ask about three of four questions and it's all-- it all just works out. And then those chaplains-- those hospitals which have chaplains, like Fort Bragg, you go and visit them and say, "What can I do for you? What do you need? How can I help you?" You know that's, it sounds complicated, but it's not difficult. It's not rocket science.

So, you know, all those commanders from Colin Powell back down to my first battalion commander, were all good leaders. And most of the chaplains that I had as corps chaplains or trade off chaplain-- train and doctrine command chaplains, were all good. Al Brough, Roy Mathis, was a trade-off chaplain, and then G.T. Gunn. And of course I had known Roy Mathis, because he'd been a 3rd Arm Division chaplain after Max Burgin, and I was still the corps chaplain. So it was easy; actually, he came after I was there. But all of them were, you know, people of-- men of faith, had great values and weren't yellers and screamers. Not that I don't like yellers and screamers; however, that seems to be one of the predominant leadership styles in the corporate world these days, as well as in the armed forces. And, you know, my philosophy is that sugar always works better than vinegar. So I've had a long and happy and fulfilling career, if you want to call it a career, but service in our country as armed forces, the Army. And I have lots of wonderful memories. I have more good memories than bad memories. I can't think of a bad memory I've had. One or two bad incidents, but no bad memories [Laughs.]

Zarbock: You know, off-camera, I had alerted you that a question I was going to ask, was looking back at the sweep of your life, from coming-of-age to your decision to enter the ministry, and your decision to enter the military, and your experiences within the military, what credo have you developed for yourself? If you're led to the wall blindfolded, and said, "Okay, chaplain, you've got a few minutes to say what?"

Roberts: My last words in front of the firing squad?

Zarbock: Exactly.

Roberts: Well, I think there's, you know, I think service is kind of perfect freedom. Some of the most unhappiest people I've ever met in my life, civilian life or military, are those who are what I call joy suckers. They just take, take, take, take, take, and never give anything. I can't understand why they're unhappy. They're like Oreck vacuums. They're like my shop vac [sucking noise], you know, and it never fills them up, because they're just-- they haven't found the key. And so, you know, it's in service. You know, you get more out of serving than you do being served. You really do. I mean, people say to me all the time, "I can't do anything for you." My job is to serve. It's in serving that I fulfill. Now, my wife is a server who's a caregiver. I'm not a caregiver. I'm a pastoral caregiver, but I am a server. Now, I am not like that Boy Scout who's going to help you across the street if you don't want to go, because see caring and serving isn't in the giver. It's in the receiver. It's kind of like going into a room of a sick person and beating them over the head with religious literature and Bibles, you know. If they don't ask me to pray for them, I'm going to say, "My prayer for you is..." If they say, "Pastor," or "Mal, will you have a prayer with me?" I will always say, "What would you like me to pray with you or for you about?" It's kind of like saying, "Paul, I wish I had a million dollars to give you," whereas I become the giver of it. It's more important that I give, rather than saying, "I wish Paul and his wife had a million dollars." So my credo is, probably is, service is perfect for you.

Zarbock: Pastor, you are an inspiration and I thank you for the time you made to be here.

Roberts: [Laughs.] My pleasure.

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