At Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Jeremiah Cates, a chaplain with Regular Baptist Chaplaincy, is ministering to a unique band of soldiers. He recently led several Soldiers in Transition, along with their family members, in a visit to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta to swim with sharks.
Each Soldier in Transition has a different story, but they all have one thing in common, Cates told John Murdoch, director of Regular Baptist Chaplaincy: they all have various (and multiple) diagnoses that require a minimum of six months of intensive professional medical treatment. Some of the soldiers have cancer, with a few having a terminal diagnosis; others have been injured in training accidents stateside; several have been injured or wounded either stateside or downrange.
“Most of my soldiers arrive here in shock,” Cates says. “Whatever has happened probably came unexpectedly and has turned their world, their plans, their dreams upside down.”All of the soldiers come from Active Duty, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard units. At Fort Bragg they are assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, with some living in a 250,000-square-foot complex that opened in April 2012 adjacent to the Womack Army Medical Center. Here soldiers receive the medical care they need.
For several of these soldiers, their therapy entered a whole new realm when, wearing scuba gear, they slipped into the Georgia Aquarium’s Ocean Voyager exhibit and swam alongside such aquatic life as whale sharks, zebra sharks, sawfish, and bowmouth guitarfish. The mission, Cates says, was to “promote self-confidence and personal resilience, equipping soldiers for life after trauma, and spirituality in the midst of adversity.”
Each Soldier in Transition applied to participate and was recommended by the company commander and first sergeant. A majority of the trip was funded by the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project, along with the generosity of many Fort Bragg chapels, local churches, and individuals.
Scott Rigsby, the guest speaker on this retreat, lost both of his legs in a car accident as a teenager. The author of Unthinkable, Rigsby challenged the group to “do the unthinkable through God’s grace and power.” Though never in the military himself, he comes from a family of veterans. He shared his testimony of knowing Christ as his Savior and how God has “worked all things together for good” in his life. He also shared how, by God’s grace and strength, he was the first double amputee to complete the Hawaii Ironman triathlon.
One guest said that the trip “showed me that I can do things if I look past the fear and have a little faith.” Another commented, “It helps me to see I still have some growing to do. God is not done with me yet!” Yet another said, “It just let me know my God is faithful to His word. If I trust Him, I can do all things.”
For Cates, a particular blessing of being a chaplain is that God gives him the opportunity to come alongside soldiers and their families “and walk with them for a little way on their journey.”
Melissa Meyer is associate editor for Regular Baptist Press.