NEWS | Sept. 28, 2021

VDF chaplains provide support at Fort Pickett chapel

By Spc. Holden Russell | MTC Public Affairs

Virginia Defense Force chaplains volunteered their time to conduct Sunday services at the Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett Bulla Chapel throughout the Summer of 2021 in order to provide religious support to Soldiers conducting training on the installation.

“The VDF chaplains are a great asset for MTC and our transient training units,” said Col. Timothy D. Pillion, the MTC garrison commander. “This is one of our busiest [annual training] seasons and having the VDF Chaplains augment our organic Chaplains allows us to provide support to our units that we would not otherwise have the ability to offer. We certainly appreciate their time and efforts.” 

During fast paced and hard driving training, a Sunday chapel service can be an “oasis from personal, professional and operational stress,” explained Maj. Brett Johnson, the Virginia National Guard full-time support chaplain.

“It’s a time in which Soldiers are able to sit and hear a message that strengthens their spirit and enables them to refresh in God,” he said.
 
Johnson explained military chapel services just don’t happen by themselves, and it takes planning and requires an ordained chaplain to be present and available. He said for the past two summers, VDF chaplains have volunteered their own time to partner with the VNG Chaplain Corps to ensure that units without chaplains training at MTC  have access to a chapel service every Sunday from May through the end of September.

Maj. (Va.) Joseph Capps and Capt. (Va.) Dane Gay, two of the many VDF chaplains who rotated through the chapel during the summer months, held a Protestant chapel service July 18, 2021, at Bulla Chapel, and afterwards sat down to talk about the importance of services for Soldiers of faith.

“I know that when the Lord wants to work in me and through me, even if it is for one person, for one moment, thats how important it is,” Gay said. “We have seen when this place [Bulla Chapel] is packed to the gills, and then we come in and there is one Soldier here, and that's ok. To me it's that important. I live 40 minutes from here, and spend my own money on gas, cause we are volunteers and unless we get activated on state active duty there is no monetary benefit.”

Capps explained why it is important for Soldiers of faith to go to military specific services.

“We can identify with them and they can identify with us,” Capps said. “It's not just us giving a service, it's knowing that even though we are in a VDF uniform, most of us have walked the walk and for them to understand that this person went through this, and even though it was 20 years ago they made it, and they are telling me that I can make it as well.”

Gay said the word that keeps coming to his mind is perspective.

“The difference between a military chapel service and a civilian chapel service is always perspective, and it's on both sides,” he said. “It's the perspective of the military chaplain that understands the Soldiers, the Sailors, the Marines and can speak to them, and where they are at, and understand them, not speak at them or above them. But it's also the perspective of the Soldiers looking at the chaplain and going this person knows, because we all have those shared experiences.”

Johnson said the VDF Chaplain Corps partnering with the Virginia Army National Guard Chaplain Corps resulted in “the heart, soul and spirits of countless Soldiers being renewed and sustained by the active presence and ministerial skills sets of Virginia Defense Force chaplains.”
 
He further explained VDF chaplains are force multipliers for spiritual resilience who have consistently provided a spiritual oasis in the form of chapel services that strengthen and sustain Soldiers in their faith, promoting resilience which positively impacts their unit training and attainment of mission objectives.
 
“We are very grateful for the unfailing commitment and ministry impact of the VDF Chaplains and for our enduring partnership with them on this annual training religious support mission.

About VDF Chaplains:

In order to become a chaplain in the Virginia Defense Force, a candidate must have:
- a baccalaureate degree of not less than 120 semester hours from an accredited college or university
- a graduate degree from an accredited college or university in theological or religious studies in the area of study as their religious orders requires
- at least a total of 72 semester hours in graduate work in these fields of study with 36 credit hours in a field related to theology

Chaplains must provide a resume of ministerial education and experience that shows a minimum of four full years as the leader in charge of a faith community as the senior pastor, priest, rabbi or other minister of a congregation along with a written endorsement from their congregation stating that they will support their service as a VDF chaplain.

They must also provide a valid ordination to a religious orders that enables them to serve as the pastoral leader of a congregation regularly meeting in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and they must complete a VDF background check and have a favorable interview and endorsement from the VDF command chaplain.

For more information on how to become a VDF chaplain, contact chaplain@vdf.virginia.gov.

About Bulla Chapel:

Bulla Chapel is the last chapel currently in use at the Virginia National Guard Maneuver Training Center at Fort Pickett, and it was dedicated May 24, 2011 to Chaplain (1st Lt.) Thomas McNeill Bulla who died from combat wounds in World War I. Bulla was born near Fayetteville, North Carolina, on January 4, 1881. Soon after he graduated from Union Theological Seminary he moved to Emporia where became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in 1911. Bulla volunteered to become a chaplain after a request by the colonel of the 4th Virginia Infantry, an element of the Virginia National Guard, and was appointed in the rank of first lieutenant.

During the early opening days of the Allied operation known as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that began Oct. 18, 1918, Chaplain Bulla repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire by moving across “no man’s land” helping wounded Soldiers to safety. On the morning of October 15, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry was the lead element for yet another attack in the area known as the Molleville Farm. It was during this assault that Bulla, again helping wounded Soldiers, was struck by enemy fire and mortally wounded. He was evacuated to an Army hospital at Petite Mejoy where he died of his wounds on October 17.

About the VDF:

The VDF is authorized by Title 44 of the Code of the Virginia as the all-volunteer reserve of the Virginia National Guard, and it serves as a force multiplier integrated into all Guard domestic operations. The VDF reports to the Adjutant General of Virginia as part of the Virginia Department of Military Affairs along with the Virginia Army National Guard and Virginia Air National Guard. Members of the VDF volunteer their time for training and are only paid when called to duty by an authorization from the Governor of Virginia.