I enlisted in the Army to 1) get out of Orange County, California and to 2) set myself up for success through what was then (in 2000) the Montgomery GI Bill. In Boot Camp, I even signed up for and paid for a “Kicker” to maximize my educational potential. When the towers fell, I was in the dentist’s chair at Ft. Bragg, NC and as soon as I could talk again, I started asking about deploying to Afghanistan. When it became clear that it wouldn’t happen before my discharge date, I decided I wanted to become an officer, so I enlisted at the first chance I had to pursue the Green To Gold program. I took my very first college class, “Introduction to Psychology,” as an evening course on post from Fayetteville Technical Community College. Before I PCSed (transferred) to Schofield Barracks, to be near my baccalaureate institution, Hawaii Pacific University, I took 7 CLEP Tests and passed all but one of them. In Hawaii, I was offered the chance to deploy and took it, delaying my education.
As if my 2004 deployment to Iraq wasn’t educational enough, I was still set on completing my bachelor’s degree. When my specialty (13F) was moved out of artillery batteries and made organic to infantry companies, we all got reassigned. I managed, however, to gain permission to continue taking night classes, this time directly from my alma mater, including a course on the New Testament. Those warm nights were integral to the story I share in Reborn on the Fourth of July, which you should get a copy of…
As a result of a spiritual awakening, I began to question my specific responsibilities as an artilleryman in an infantry company needed to be reassessed in light of my Christian convictions. in fact, the first theological book I read was John Howard Yoder’s What Would You Do?, while pulling duty at Pearl Harbor watching my unit’s vehicles while they awaited being loaded on ships to be sent to what should have been my second deployment. Instead of taking the typical pacifist route of requesting discharge, I asked to remain with my unit and deploy without a firearm. I was denied the opportunity to continue to serve alongside my friends and watched as they left for war, the most painful and difficult day of my adult life.
Four years later, I graduated at the top ten percent of my class and received my BA in Nonprofit Management magna cumm laude with a 3.87 GPA. My hard work paid off, completing the degree in under three years and spending each semester on the prestigious Deans List during which I also founded Centurions Guild. The next stop was Durham, NC, where I had been accepted into the competitive Master of Theological Studies program at Duke Divinity School, where I studied under Stanley Hauerwas, among others. I took more time than before, spending one year on an academic leave to convene the After the Yellow Ribbon and write my first book. In 2013, I wrote my thesis on moral identity through the lens of combat stress with Warren Kinghorn.
The itch to teach got under my skin, but the job market can be prohibitive, so I needed to know for sure if a college classroom was where I was being called. Luckily, I was offered a position as an Adjunct Professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Methodist University, adjacent to Fort Bragg, where I had begun my military service. The certainty of my call came when I had the privilege of teaching in the same place where I got my start, at the Education Center on base.
When I discovered I had more time on my GI Bill, and I was getting ready to get married, my partner and I looked into studying abroad to expand our theological horizons. After being accepted to all three programs I applied to, I enrolled in the Master of Letters in Systematic and Historical Theology at St Mary’s College, the divinity school of the University of St Andrews. There, I had the privilege of studying with NT Wright, one of the world’s foremost Biblical scholars. My thesis explored the impasse between pacifists and realists, via the correspondence between Richard Hays and Nigel Biggar, in order to point toward a theological middle ground, something I call a Martial Hermeneutic.