Summer/Fall  2000
Volume 5 Number 1
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Chaplain Promoted to Army Colonel

by Stephen Faller

Jeff Young has been an Army chaplain for twenty of the twenty-two years since his graduation from Princeton in 1978. He is a chaplain and a soldier, battling in two kingdoms for one Lord. But the two kingdoms have never been confused because, he explains, "the cross has always outranked my rank. The cross is right above the heart on our uniform."

Young has served the army in troop, staff, school, and chapel positions, from Hawaii to Germany, and has been decorated numerous times. These days he lives stateside, near his job at the Pentagon, with Monika, his wife of more than twenty-five years, a registered nurse. They have two children, Nicole, 22, and Andrew, 19. (Apparently the military bug is hereditary; on May 20, Nicole was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.)

Now Young prepares for a new distinction. In January the U.S. Army Promotion Selection Board announced that he would be promoted to the rank of colonel. The promotion will take effect in 2001.

Chaplain Jeff Young awaits promotion to the rank of colonel.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Young graduated from Ohio State University in 1975, where his military interest began. He excelled in the ROTC program where he was commissioned a second lieutenant as an Army ROTC distinguished military graduate.

It was about this time that he began to think about the ministry. "My hometown pastor [in Bloomfield, New Jersey] was the Reverend Dave Newson … who planted a lot of seeds while I was in college. He was the most critical influence in my life for considering ministry. He raised questions with me about life in the church. With a lot of letters going back and forth, I felt the call. The church was very supportive of my call."

This call brought him to Princeton in 1975. After graduation he served in central Maine, with Mission at the Eastward (MATE). MATE is a Presbyterian mission field that united ten Maine towns in Christian service. Young was also the pastor of North Turner Union Presbyterian Church in North Turner, Maine.

While pastoring he kept pondering his ROTC experience and started to explore the possibility of a military career. He joined the Army Reserves in the Maine National Guard in Portland, and for one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer he was their chaplain. One afternoon in 1980 the phone rang at his home in Maine.

This "call" was from an agent of the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains in military personnel headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was an ecclesiastical endorsement and a request for Young to become an active-duty chaplain. After much prayerful consideration with his wife, Young accepted.

Chaplaincy is a special kind of ministry. "Basically, I minister to soldiers and their families," Young explains. It is a unique population to serve: mostly men, mostly young people, racially diverse, and sometimes the completely unchurched. He counsels them about getting married. Or he talks with them as they adjust to military life—moving from an individualistic culture to a culture that emphasizes the group. Coming into the army they must learn the values of teamwork, the merits of discipline, the fruits of functioning as a unit, and the benefits of taking orders.

Young adds, "I spend a lot of time talking to soldiers about questions of faith. I always was curious. I had a lot of questions growing up and they do, too."

Between 1996 and 1999, Young served as the personnel actions officer for the army’s chief of chaplains. He was in a sense a pastor to pastors. "It was a position in which I had to rejoice with those who were rejoicing, and also to be with those who were in pain about not being selected for certain opportunities," Young explains.

In November 1999 he was transferred to a new position: the chief of operations of a new team known as the Directorate of Ministry Initiatives (DMI). The DMI is tackling new initiatives of the chief of chaplains office. Young explains, "One of our key missions is to resolve any faith group under-representations in the army chaplaincy." Because of the military's emphasis on religious freedom, Young has been seeking to bolster under-represented groups. The most critical shortage is Roman Catholic chaplains. The army, mirroring the culture, faces the most critical shortage of Roman Catholic priests in its history. Without priests, Catholic soldiers cannot receive the sacraments.

As a colonel, Young will face his most distinguished mission yet. He will serve as the installation chaplain, which means training others to do what he has done. "It means going from a direct, hands-on form of ministry to a more indirect approach," he says. "It will be a great opportunity for me as the head chaplain in one area to supervise and mentor young chaplains and chaplain assistants." In doing so, he will indirectly touch the lives of thousands of soldiers around the world, supporting those who serve their country with their lives. 

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