Retired Army Colonel Kenneth Sampson talks about the "make-or-break" decision that shaped his career--and the unique ways chaplains help soldiers.
Nov 23, 2015
Those who serve our country benefit from training, equipment, and the support of their fellow service members, but there’s something else that helps them get through tough times—hope.
It’s the military chaplains,who give soldiers that much needed bit of hope to persevere during trying times in their service, says Colonel Kenneth Sampson (Ret.) "Just by your very presence and the symbol you wear on your collar, you're making a significant reminder of that which is holy."
That holy reminder could be the very comfort soldiers need to remember that God is with them—especially during a deployment. Early in his service, Chaplain Sampson remembers being asked to leave his wife, his 5-year-old son and his 2-year-old daughter for a year in order to serve the troops deployed to a base in Korea.
Even for Sampson, who says that he served as a military chaplain for more than 30 years “to show the generosity of God,” that decision was challenging. “The decision to go to Korea was a real make-or-break moment for me. I felt if I’m going to stay in this calling, I have to accept this deployment, like all other soldiers do, so I said yes. And it was the most fulfilling part of my chaplaincy.”
Chaplain Sampson was stationed in a demilitarized zone of about 7 miles on the border between North and South Korea. On Sunday mornings, Chaplain Sampson would have services at Camp Greaves for the troops and on Sunday nights, he would be escorted around to the various guard posts to meet with the soldiers, talk with them pray with them and spend time with them.
“I felt the soldiers seemed to grow spiritual strength just from being able to talk to a chaplain.”
Chaplain Sampson was very familiar with Guideposts founder Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s ministry and teachings and often incorporated Peale’s encouraging words into his messages for the troops.
“When I’d read Dr. Peale’s booklets, Thought Conditioners and Spirit Lifters back at the chapel of my first duty station at Fort Ord in California, I thought, ‘there must be something to these books,’ since they were the only booklets in the chapel. I started reading them and knew they would be good to uplift a soldier in even the toughest situation. So I’ve used those books [in my ministry] ever since.”
When his year in Korea was coming to a close, Chaplain Sampson was escorted around a final time to say his goodbyes to the troops. “One soldier from a guard tower practically jumped down the steps to give me a big hug when I left. I didn’t know him well, but he was just so thankful for the presence of a chaplain during his deployment.”
After he’d returned from Korea, some years into his chaplaincy, Chaplain Sampson became known for his expertise in the field and was contacted by Pablo Diaz, the vice president of Outreach for Guideposts, to join with Guideposts as a military liaison and write a free inspirational booklet of his own for the troops. The result was Resiliency, a booklet on how soldiers can “spring back when hit with adversity and remain flexible during the ups and downs of military life.”
“My hope for Resiliency was that soldiers would be able to feel God’s spirit through the book and use it to show there’s very much a religious dimension to what resiliency looks like. You can use biblical principles to stay strong, no matter you’re going through.”
Even in retirement, Chaplain Sampson continues to work with active duty soldiers, veterans and retired service members to help restore their faith in times of hardship. In November, during Guideposts’ Veterans Awareness Month, Chaplain Sampson joined Diaz in a field visit to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to provide hope and inspiration to the troops there.
On why Chaplain Sampson continues to share Guideposts with the soldiers he meets, he says,
“So many of our veterans know Guideposts and know who Dr. Peale is. These booklets resonate with them and stand out. It’s a publication you can hand to anybody and not be afraid that you’re going to be stepping on anybody’s religious toes or atheist toes. You just know there’s going to be an encouraging, inspiring, uplifting word for everybody who reads them.”