Scott F. Kennaugh is a US Army chaplain. He is currently deployed on his second tour to Afghanistan with the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, US Army Europe. His wife Krista and their five sons are living in Germany where the unit is stationed. Scott graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from Michigan Theological Seminary in 2003, and is ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The flight is scheduled, but that doesn’t mean we know when it’s coming. So we stand by the gravel lot, necks craned, scanning for a dark dot against the blue, ears straining to hear the distant hum which will become the thump of rotors echoing off the mountainsides, deafening us as it arrives, hovering in a cloud of grit, to transport soldiers to their various destinations and missions.
Will it be soon, or do we break out a book to pass an extra hour? Any word on the radio? It's not canceled; keep waiting, watching, listening beyond our conversation for the droning echo. Arid brown peaks frame the expansive blue sky – which direction do you suppose it’ll come from?
A couple of Midwestern boys, neither of us at home in the arid highlands of central Afghanistan, we stand ready, eager for the mission, guarded about the flight. The only Religious Support team for paratroopers in four districts, my assistant and I spend our weeks among the troops balancing home base operations with travel to the Outposts, itinerant ministry in the combat zone being our core operation.
By the Constitution, it’s the free exercise of religion which bears aloft our deployment mission. Often troopers ask whether I must become an expert in all faiths in order to serve as a chaplain. NO. The cross on my chest not withstanding, my military mission is to support our soldiers of every confession. My Presbyterian commission is to lead Christian worship for our nation's servants of every stripe. As a chaplain, I stand as advocate for troopers of every faith, be they Roman, Hebrew, Buddhist, or Mormon, to provide for and sustain them. Some soldiers, by their ID on the chain, claim bias for blood type, number and name, yet state for their faith, ‘No Preference.’ For these I safeguard their own independence while standing by them during life's trials, prepared with a word of forgiveness.
By the Good Book, it’s the true exercise of religion that directs our support operation. Often we ask our nation’s sons and daughters whether the Lord they have known has met them in this remote land so far from home. In a debriefing room I celebrate Sacrament and prayer. Matt, my assistant, offers the troops a word, a hand, a listening ear. Petitions for safety are answered variously, now by an uneventful patrol to a common village, and then by a hit and run ambush that sets ablaze only an empty truck. Our preference is for the unremarkable days. Soldiers we’ve known from chapel at home arrive with growing faith; others seek out the still small voice they’ve not heard since going astray. A word of welcome by the community of faith allays souls chaffed by a hard life and combat.
A pair from Michigan and Indiana, we’re at home among our men in any far-flung territory. A few days on the ground, then off to the next FOB, or back to ministry at Base Altimur. Our calling is to attend soldiers on missions that bring them daily to the brink of eternity. We lead by example, by counsel and prayer, that by your life on the ground here you prepare for life ‘up-there.’
There is another promised flight we’ re waiting on, to carry us not across the sky but through it, beyond the blue spanned barren land, to the kingdom of promise at the wave of God’s hand. Yet we don’t know when it’s coming, so we keep after the work, one eye scanning for a white movement against the deep blue, one ear listening out for the distant roar which will echo off the mountainsides and deafen us as it arrives to make the final pick-up of soldiers prepared to reach that one eternally scheduled destination. Any sign? Not canceled. Keep making combat flights until the heavens open and we catch the Lord’s flight beyond this broad deep blue.
Read Scott's Journal, posted monthly on our Alumni Stories and Updates.