SO WHAT DO YOU DO, CHAPLAIN, WHEN YOU ARE RETIRED?
Chaplain (Colonel) Dennis R. Newton, (Retired.)
So you ask yourself, what are you going to do when you retire from over 35 years of Active Duty ministry that stretches back to 5 January 1973. Well, you do need to do something. I’ve observed that those who just retire and do nothing usually don’t live much longer, or they are just miserable. As a chaplain I can’t really just tell God I’m not called to do things for Him anymore. I really think we are made with a purpose in mind and one of mine has always been to run and hike.
Let me share with you that there are many opportunities for retired Chaplains to minister to various elements of our population. General Cody, the former Vice Chief of Staff said to me, “Dennis, after you retire, you need to work with the Wounded Warriors.” Now as I told Chaplain (MG) G.T. Gunhus, when the former Vice gives you a mission, you need to think of it as God giving you a call. I see each of us as having training and experience that can’t be reproduced. You just can’t go out and find very many of us. We are unique in how we are equipped for ministry and whom we can engage in a close and meaningful way.
So my call brings me to the Warrior Hike (warriorhike.org for more details) I talked with Al Russell, my endorser, and suggested I should be endorsed as their first “Trail Chaplain.” I want the accountability and to have official status as I work with other organizations.
So what makes me qualified to do this? Well, I have literally hundreds of day hikes involving lots of elevation and altitude and several long section hikes on the Appalachian Trail. In all of this, I have continued to seek challenges and to improve my knowledge of the art of hiking. And I come from a family tradition that involves lots of out of doors activities.
What I came to realize over the last couple of years is I am serious about one of my life long goals – somewhere in the late 1960’s I became aware of hikers through hiking the Appalachian Trail’s 2180 miles and doing this in one season. It has always been in the back of my mind as something I really must do. It is one of the ultimate hikes. But it is also about other things. I think it helps us to learn how to be connected to others. This is kind of a community hike. Others, strangers, but trusted hikers, walk with you and help you finish your trip. This is about old time values because the communities around the trail help the hikers with rides to the store, advice, and places to stay when they are in town and ask for very little in return. It is also about learning your limitations. What can you do when you are tired, cold, wet and out of food but still must go on? As well as, what can you do to help those around you on your journey? You can’t do this hike on your own.
So this next Spring I will join the Warrior Hike (warriorhike.com) and hike along with the Veterans who are trying to walk off the war. This is a sort of PTSD therapy for many. As a trail chaplain I’ll do just what I did when I marched with the infantry – carry my stuff along side the troops and have some great conversations as we rest up in the evenings. Above all, give, and at times, accept help. We learn from Homer that the Greeks walked to and from war and that the long time it took to get there allowed the Soldiers to cool off and get over their hyper-alertness. It’s only been since the invention of the 707 jet airliner during the Vietnam era that we have been able to transport our military home in under 48 hours. This may be causing some of our issues since the returning warriors haven’t slowed down and are still ready to fight having hyper-awareness when they get home. In earlier wars there were always long walks and long transport times. These earlier warriors had time to adjust during those transition times. So with the Warrior Hike, the long 5-6 month hike decompresses the emotions and gives them a chance to process what they have experienced. It helps one to appreciate the things around. For example, I was hiking in NC in August and noticed I was taking pictures of flowers and the grand views because I was taking the time to look and enjoy.
Let me extend an invitation to get off the treadmill occasionally, slow down, and look around. Find something you are passionate about and take up a hobby or activity that you can continue to do after you get to this point in your career and remember we all need to do something or the nothing will take us down. And even more for retired Chaplains, we need to continue to contribute to the well-being of those around us. We have special skills that many have need for us to provide.
You can read my Trail Journal at www.trailjournal.com/trailpilgrim if you want to know more about how I hike and the equipment I use: See how I set up my 11.5 pound base pack at: http://www.drnewton.com/201408Packing/index.html