Timothy McConnell (WCAS95), a Presbyterian minister and a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserve, was on the verge of resigning his commission earlier this year when he got word that his unit was being sent to Iraq. It took all of them by surprise. The 80th Division Institutional Training, a unit of mostly drill sergeants and other instructors, had been mobilized for combat only once since World War II. Now they are helping to train the Iraqi army and police forces. (While most of the 80th Division IT had deployed to Iraq as of press time, McConnell is scheduled to join his unit by the end of the year.)
McConnell, husband of Abigail Cox McConnell (J94) and the father of two small children, had just finished his second year of a doctoral program in religious studies at the University of Virginia when he got the call that he would be going to war. “It's going to be hard,” McConnell says. “But now the ministry needs are much more poignant and fulfilling. I recently finished an interview with a 44-year-old lieutenant colonel who wanted to be baptized before going to war. These are rich moments for a minister, and I'm grateful for them.”
His training included studying the Iraqi culture, some basic language skills, recognizing and surviving improvised explosive devices, instruction in driving a variety of military vehicles and training as a combat lifesaver — treating combat-related injuries.
Having worked as a trauma chaplain in a New Jersey hospital, McConnell says he “saw things that I never imagined I could stomach. I know I'll see things like that again and again over there. There are places that only a minister can enter. There's a point where the medical personnel withdraw, and only a pastor can make a difference. Those are privileged moments where the Word of God shows up in mighty ways.”
McConnell knows that he will have to call on all his resources during his time in Iraq. “I hope to bring these soldiers peace in the midst of warfare, courage in the face of death and destruction, a love for what is beautiful and right in the middle of a war-torn landscape, and I hope to help them return to a life of order,” he says. “War is not beautiful, and I will never glorify it. God can overcome even in times of war. We'll be happy when it's over, and, like all soldiers, I'll pray my children never see such a day again.” — T.S.