At Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Jeremiah Cates, a chaplain with Regular Baptist Chaplaincy Ministries, 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.
Some of the soldiers are injured and wounded, either stateside or downrange. They 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 some 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, says Chaplain Cates, was to “promote self-confidence and personal resilience, equipping soldiers for life after trauma, and spirituality in the midst of adversity.”
Each soldier has a different story, but they all have one thing in common, Chaplain Cates told John Murdoch, director of Regular Baptist Chaplaincy Ministries: They all have various (and multiple) medical diagnoses that require a minimum of six months of intensive and professional medical treatment. Some of the soldiers are dealing with cancer (some have a terminal diagnosis), some have been injured in training accidents stateside, and a few have been injured or wounded downrange.
“A blessing of being a chaplain to my soldiers is that God gives me the opportunity to come alongside each of them and their family and walk with them for a little way on their journey,” Chaplain Cates says. “Most of my soldiers arrive here in shock. Whatever has happened probably came unexpectedly and has turned their world, their plans, their dreams upside down. All of this has a profound impact on marriages, family, the future, and spiritual faith.”
Each Soldier in Transition applied to participate and was recommended by the company commander and first sergeant. The Wounded Warrior Project, a national civilian organization, funded a majority of the trip’s expenses, along with the generous financial support of many Fort Bragg chapel congregations, local church congregations, and individuals.
Scott Rigsby, the guest speaker on this retreat, lost both his legs in a vehicle accident as a teenager. Though never in the military himself, he comes from a family of veterans. Scott shared his testimony of knowing Christ as his Savior and how God has “worked all things together for good” in his life. He shared how he was able by God’s grace and strength to be the first double amputee to complete the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. The author of Unthinkable, Scott challenged the group to “do the unthinkable through God’s grace and power.”
Some of the guests commented, “It helps me to see I still have some growing to do. God is not done with me yet!” “This trip showed me that I can do things if I look past the fear and have a little faith.” “This experience built up my spiritual faith in God. I can do all things!” “It just let me know my God is faithful to His word. If I trust Him, I can do all things.” “I want to spend more time doing things with my family. I want to continue to learn about Jesus and the Lord. I will continue to place my faith and life in God’s hands.”