When speaking of military chaplaincy, there may be no more respected figure than AG-ordained minister and chaplain, Major General Thomas Solhjem, the 25th chief of chaplains of the United States Army. AG U.S. Missions concluded its series of spotlights with Solhjem’s testimony — and an unannounced guest who may have surprised many during the closing Friday evening service at General Council in Orlando.
Solhjem grew up in rural North Dakota, and as a teen he admits he was very rebellious.
“I joined the Army . . . to get away from my surroundings,” Solhjem stated in a video interview. It was a God-ordained decision.
In the Army, Solhjem encountered a Christian, a “man of God,” as he called him. Through that relationship, he came to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior.
But one day, as he was sitting in chapel contemplating what it meant to serve the Lord, he audibly told the Lord that he would do anything. “It was like something happened in that prophetic utterance,” he recalled, “and I knew from that point on that I was going to be an Army chaplain.”
Although some may think of a chaplain as one whose duties are limited to sitting safely behind a desk, conducting counseling, praying, and holding chapel services, Solhjem sets that thought to the side.
“We go where the soldiers are and we go where it’s most difficult,” he said. “It’s an adventure.”
Later he shared that when soldiers do things such as jump out of planes or go into combat, the chaplain is right there with them. He gave a combat zone illustration he experienced in Afghanistan when the helicopter’s door gunner was shot in the head and how he served his team through that difficult day.
Solhjem, who became an AG chaplain in 1988, explained that it is a chaplain’s responsibility and obligation to care for the soul of the Army — every soldier. “We are asking the soldier to lay down their lives, if necessary, for their country,” he said. “We owe them everything to ensure that they’re taken care of spiritually.”
However, unknown to many in the auditorium, the evening had a surprise guest. Just prior to Solhjem coming to the stage, Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director and 70th U.S. Secretary of State, came out and greeted the audience and was briefly interviewed by General Superintendent Doug Clay.
Pompeo, who accepted Christ while he was a cadet at West Point, spoke of the ministry, importance, and effectiveness of the chaplaincy, with Clay noting that Pompeo was responsible for starting a chaplains corps in the CIA that continues to this day.
“The chaplain that was serving the academy and the chaplains that I worked with during my time in active duty, were so important to our young service members,” Pompeo stated. “They were often in difficult places across the world . . . those chaplains . . . did glorious work for the people of my military team.”
When Clay asked about the importance of his faith in public office, Pompeo made it clear that he depended on God for wisdom and courage to make good decisions. “[Faith] forms every single thing that I’ve done,” he said.
Responding to Clays concluding question, Pompeo spoke an encouraging word to church leaders, stating that he believes the things that will change America are not going to come through government.
“It will happen through pastors and community leaders all across America reclaiming our Judeo-Christian heritage — this will be the thing that will transform the United States, so I’m counting on each of you to get that right,” he said.
Manny Cordero, senior director of Chaplaincy Ministries, and AGUSM Executive Director Malcolm Burleigh then interviewed Solhjem on the GC21 platform.
Solhjem explained the reason he became a chaplain was in response to God’s call. “When God calls you and He shapes your identity and He gives you gifts,” he said, “You have no recourse but to properly employ them as He directs you.”
He made special mention of his wife, Jill, noting that it’s the family that comes with the chaplain that makes the chaplain and enables him or her to do the things — endure hardship, suffering, and separations — in order to be where soldiers are.
“Chaplains serve this great nation,” Solhjem said, referring to both military and non-military chaplains. “They’re there in the darkest night of the soul in people’s lives, they’re there in moments of celebration, and everything in between.”
Responding to a question posed by Burleigh, Solhjem said what veterans and active-duty personnel need from the Church is to be loved. “Many bring broken pieces from their experience,” he admitted, “but they have so much to offer and they are ready to serve.”
Solhjem brought his time to a close as he told a story of George Washington, how his understanding of the place for and purpose of chaplains in the military continues today, as chaplains care for the soul of the Army, bringing light into darkness and hope into hardship.
Photo: General Superintendent Doug Clay (right) interviews Mike Pompeo, 70th U.S. Secretary of State.