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NEWS | Oct. 25, 2006

Heavenly armor

By Staff Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa Florida National Guard Public Affairs

FORT MCCOY, Wis. - The congregation of Crown Point Baptist Church felt if their pastor’s body armor couldn’t protect him in Iraq, maybe a hundred or so Bible verses would do the trick.

Before deploying to the Middle East as a chaplain with the Florida Air National Guard, Crown Point Baptist’s senior pastor Steve Thompson received a unique “blessing” from his Jacksonville, Fla., congregation: the members took black markers and autographed the inside of his Interceptor body armor vest with a more than a hundred Bible verses.

“On the inside everybody wrote their favorite scripture verse,” Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Thompson explained while training at Fort McCoy, Wis., in preparation for the upcoming deployment. “A few of them were kind of worried about me. I shared with them that any bullet that tried to get to me would have to go through the armor, and through their prayers, and through God’s word.”

Thompson, 54, is soft-spoken, and even in the chilly October weather in Wisconsin wore a near-perpetual smile while talking about his congregation. He said he knows pretty much all of the verses they wrote by heart, and proved it by quoting the most common verse scribed on his armor – Philippians 4:13 – without missing a beat: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”

This will be Thompson’s first overseas deployment in 22 years of military service. He is deploying with Florida’s 202nd RED HORSE Squadron, and will help tend to the spiritual needs of those Air Force engineers while they help repair runways, roads, and other structures in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. RED HORSE is an acronym for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers.

Thompson described the chaplaincy service as one of the military’s most important jobs, especially in a combat zone: “We get to minister to troops during some special times, like when they might have crisis (back) home. We support and encourage commanders and leadership to make sure the morale is high, and we are able to help people do their jobs successfully and get back home.”

But what will make his own deployment go by much easier will be the support he receives from his Crown Point Baptist congregation – perhaps most importantly helping Thompson’s wife in his absence. Thompson said she not only has to cope with his own absence, but their son is a captain in the U.S. Army and is also on his way to Iraq shortly. In addition, their youngest son is in officer training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and could possibly deploy with U.S. Army Reserves to Iraq.

“She could potentially have two of her sons there – plus me – so that is a lot of stress on her,” Thompson said. “The church has been incredibly supportive. They are enthusiastic and ensured me my wife will be well-taken care of so I can concentrate on what I’m doing here, helping our people.”

Thompson explained that providing spiritual support to deployed service members of many different religions is quite different than ministering to his own congregation in Florida.

“The people in (my) church are very homogeneous,” he said. “I’m a Baptist preacher and the people in my church are primarily Baptist. We come from the same doctrine of thoughts, so the ministry emerges out of that.

“Here it is very different,” he added. “We have lots of different denominations. I would imagine that if you were to open up an encyclopedia of religions that we’ve probably got every box checked here.”

According to Thompson more than 100 Airmen from the Florida-based 202nd RED HORSE will merge with nearly 20 other active duty Air Force, National Guard, and Reserve units during their deployment.



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