U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains Makes Historic Visit to UIW

February 2, 2024

Every Feb. 3, the U.S. Military observes Four Chaplains Day. The day serves as an annual reminder of the work and sacrifice of those brave souls called to share God’s message or offer spiritual support in the U.S. Armed Forces.

On that day in 1943, the U.S. Army Transport Dorchester traveling from New York to Greenland was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Labrador Sea. The steamship was carrying 904 service members, including four U.S. Army Chaplains. In the time immediately following the blast, the four chaplains of various faith backgrounds worked to get others to safety, offered calming words and helped organize evacuations into lifeboats. When it became clear that there were not enough life jackets for those onboard, the four chaplains removed theirs, gave them to others, then linked arms and prayed together as the ship sank.

Chaplain Major General William Green Jr., U.S. Army chief of chaplains, shared this story at an event held on UIW’s Broadway campus on Tuesday, Jan. 23 as he presented the Right Reverend Bishop Dr. Trevor Alexander, UIW instructor and Protestant chaplain, with his Army challenge coin. A challenge coin is a heavy metal, often personalized, coin that is given from a superior to someone that has made a notable achievement, worthy of special recognition. These coins hold special meaning for their recipients. The exchange occurred in a room full of people gathered on campus to celebrate Chaplain (LTC) Bryant Casteel for his completion of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) Certified Educator Candidate Course.

Casteel’s tie to UIW is a unique one. Over the past two years, he’s worked closely with Alexander on a new program that brought U.S. Army Chaplains stationed at Brooke Army Medical Center to UIW to fulfill Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) certification requirements, with some even completing residency hours on campus by offering their ministry and counseling services to students. Casteel completed many of his certification requirements through his work with the University.

“I wanted to do my graduation gathering here,” Casteel shared of his decision to celebrate the completion of his certification on the UIW campus. “This place has shaped me … the University just embraced [our work].”

That work began with a simple conversation between Casteel and Alexander. It is now a full-blown effort and collaboration that Alexander looks forward to seeing evolve and grow, even as Casteel moves on to his next journey stationed overseas.

“We have some wonderful people who have helped us shape and craft this along the way,” Alexander shared. “And we don’t know what God is doing, but we know he’s doing something here.”

Major General Green’s visit to celebrate Casteel and the program he helped launch was a historic moment for the University. It was the first time the chief of the U.S. Army Chaplaincy Corps visited the UIW campus. The two-star general learned about the program, offered inspiring words of wisdom to members of the UIW community and shared his enthusiasm about UIW’s work with the Army chaplains.

“Everything I’ve heard here is just exciting,” Green said. “What has happened here is an example of what we say to our soldiers and our leaders about thriving in complex situations … and it has to start somewhere.”

“As I look here, I think what you’ve been able to do is carve out a niche that’s different than any other CPE program,” he said to Casteel during his remarks. “You drove up here at UIW and you walked into something different.”

Green is only the third African American to hold the position of Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Army. His presence on campus, as well as that of Casteel over the last two years, were especially moving for Bishop Alexander, a Black U.S. Army veteran.

“It wasn’t until the latter part of my years that I saw chaplains, I saw officers, that looked like me,” shared Alexander. “And when I saw Chaplain Bryant, I was just as proud as I could be."

Near the conclusion of the remarks, both Major General Green and Rev. Alexander issued an open invitation to those present, Rev. Alexander to his office in the Columkille Administration Building, and the Major General to his offices in the Pentagon, both gentlemen expressing their hospitality and openness to visitors, to their stories, and to all the possibilities in the future.

A full story about the CPE program and Major General Green’s visit will be published in the Spring 2024 edition of The Word Magazine.