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FROM READERS: Chaplain's service influences development of military support program

Monday, September 17, 2012 | 10:00 a.m. CDT
As the state chaplain for the Missouri National Guard, Col. Gary Gilmore's experiences while deployed have influenced the formation of a new program partnering local congregations with military members in need of assistance.

Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

A soldier’s journey is laden with a unique set of experiences often influencing the direction of their careers. For Colonel Gary Gilmore, an early call to ministry helped define his own journey as a military chaplain and influence the formation of a new program to help service members in need.

Spending many of his formative years in Minnesota and South Dakota, Gilmore’s family eventually relocated to the Kansas City area, where he graduated from high school in 1975.

Gilmore had become involved in mission trips during his senior year and began to feel the clarion call of ministry in his future.

“The military was the furthest thing from my mind,” he said. “I really felt as though the Lord was beginning to pull things together in my life.”

He enrolled at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, spending the next four years working to complete his bachelor’s degree in divinity. He later transferred to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at Fort Worth, Texas, earning his graduate degree in 1983.

The young graduate returned to Missouri and received his first calling as pastor for the Waverly Baptist Church, spending seven years serving his first congregation.

“I began searching for better ways to connect with people in the community,” said Gilmore, of the work with his first congregation. “I came to the understanding that it was easy to stand behind the pulpit, but I wanted to model the role of a pastor and really become engaged.”

In pursuit of his new aspiration, Gilmore learned the National Guard unit in nearby Lexington had an assistant chaplain’s position available. With an emerging interest in becoming involved with the military ministry, Gilmore decided to visit with the state chaplain.

“He (state chaplain) asked if I would be willing to deploy if I were called upon to do so,” Gilmore said. “He only wanted chaplains willing to make that type of commitment.”

Affirming his dedication to the military mission, Gilmore was commissioned as a part-time chaplain in 1987 and assigned to the unit in Lexington.

In his full-time ministry, he moved to Mt. Vernon becoming the pastor for a local Baptist church while continuing to serve as a part-time chaplain with the Guard.    

Climbing through the ranks in his military career in 1998, Gilmore became the brigade chaplain for a unit in Warrensburg in 1998, but the direction of his career soon took a sharp turn.

“When 9/11 occurred, I knew that my world had changed,” Gilmore said. I just wasn’t sure how.”

The commitment he had made to the state chaplain several years previous soon came to fruition when he was deployed to Dougway, Utah, in 2004 to support an artillery unit assigned to provide security for a weapons depot.

Throughout the deployment, Gilmore served as the task force chaplain performing religious services and coordinating support functions through the post chapel.

The following year, Gilmore returned to his church in Mt. Vernon, but resigned his position the following year to focus on a career with the military.

He went on to serve several months as the temporary garrison chaplain at Ft. Leonard Wood, but in 2007, was again mobilized a second time—this time for a tour in Iraq with the 35th Engineer Brigade.

Though still involved with the performance of weekly religious services, Gilmore also supervised chaplains of other faiths, worked with combat stress teams and helped counsel service members experiencing relationship complications.

“There were a lot of folks who wanted to get on the plane and leave Iraq,” Gilmore explained, “but, because of relationship problems, they didn’t want to get off of the plane once they arrived home.”

Returning from deployment in 2008, Gilmore was appointed as the state chaplain for the Missouri National Guard—a position he still holds. Based upon some of the concerns Gilmore identified regarding the reintegration of service members returning from a stressful deployment, Gilmore worked with the adjutant general to establish “Partners in Care”—an initiative between the Missouri Guard and local congregations willing to provide support to military members in need.

“I have 20 chaplains…and there are 114 counties in the state,” Gilmore said. “There’s just no way we can reach all our geographically dispersed service members who may be in need of assistance.”

Gilmore added: “And it’s not about proselytizing or converting individuals. We know there are congregations out there of every denomination ready to support these individuals in need. This is a way they can help them back on their feet as a ‘thank you’ for their service.”

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer. 


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