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Face of Defense: Truck Driver Takes Road Toward Chaplaincy

By Ina Stiewitz
Special to American Forces Press Service

HEIDELBERG, Germany, Dec. 3, 2009 – For Army Spc. Andrey West, the Lord has worked in mysterious ways.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Andrey West assembles a drum set for the praise and worship team at Patrick Henry Village Chapel in Heidelberg, Germany. U.S. Army photo by Ina Stiewitz

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

At the age of 40, he found himself enlisting in the Army, something he previously had no intention of doing. And after serving two years as a motor transport operator, he now is on the path to becoming an Army chaplain.

When West returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq with a unit based in Mannheim, he was reassigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Europe, and was given special duty as a chaplain assistant for the Heidelberg garrison.

This, however, was not West's first encounter with the ministry.

One of the things West and his wife, Judy, shared when they met in Chattanooga, Tenn., was a heart and a desire for a relationship with God. After marrying in 1987, they moved to Oklahoma, where they attended a Bible training center.

"Andy decided that he was going to focus on youth ministry, because that's where he came to know the Lord," said Judy, now the chapel coordinator at Patrick Henry Village Chapel. "I graduated in the teacher's area, and we stayed there for 14 years [and] learned a lot about ministry, the church and how to serve."

With their shared passion, the Wests never stopped thinking about working in a church or maybe starting their own church one day.

After 9/11, the Wests’ personal business - offering maintenance services for printers, copy and fax machines - felt the shock economically. Andrey felt he needed to do something with his Bible school degree.

"Things were breaking apart. We got kicked out of our nest, and it was time to do what we have been trying to do, and what was in our hearts to do," his wife said. "We packed up everything with our four kids and moved to Maryland - to the unknown world."

The Wests tried hard to establish a new life in their new home in Annapolis.

"The doors just kept closing and closing," Judy said. "We were really fascinated, though, with the military there in Annapolis. We just loved to go out there and watch the Blue Angels fly. We loved to hear them marching and doing other things."

Lots of local churches ministered to the servicemembers there, and the Wests tried to get involved in one of them. Meanwhile, while checking into other opportunities, Andrey found the Army was accepting recruits up to 42 years old at that time.

"I thought, 'Lord, if I can do ministry, even as enlisted, I'll just do that,'" he said.

In 2007, he enlisted in the Army. Both Wests come from families with military backgrounds, and Judy had been to Germany as a child when her father was stationed in Giessen and Baumholder.

"She always wanted to come back to Germany," West said. "It's just how the Lord worked it out: I enlisted in the Army, we came to Germany, I got assigned in Mannheim, and then we ended up living in Heidelberg."

After almost a year on active duty, West deployed to Camp Liberty, Iraq, for 15 months. While he served downrange, his wife took a position as the Patrick Henry Village Chapel coordinator and got to know Army Chaplain (Capt.) Michael Griffith, Heidelberg’s Protestant chaplain, and Army Chaplain (Col.) Jerry Jones, U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg chaplain. They guided her in the right direction for her husband to become a chaplain.

"West was downrange, and his wife, Judy, approached me at the candlelight service a year ago at the [Patrick Henry Village] chapel," Jones said. "She told me that her husband was interested in becoming a chaplain."

When he got back from Iraq, stacks of paperwork and a list of steps awaited him, Andrey said.

"I was able to get reassigned to Heidelberg, and the [company] commander was willing to assign me to special duty," he said. "Between everybody being so supportive and everybody working together, kind of made it happen for me."

Andrey now is preparing himself to become a chaplain candidate. To do so, he must have a bachelor's degree. Then he can apply to be commissioned as a second lieutenant and then proceed to the Chaplain Officer Basic Course.

Only after all the requirements are met - a 72-hour master's degree program, ordination in a recognized faith group by the chief of chaplains office, and the Chaplain Officer Basic Course - can he become an official Army chaplain.

He now has 96 hours toward a bachelor of arts in religion and ministry, and is scheduled to complete his degree in May.

West works at Mark Twain Village Chapel and volunteers at Patrick Henry Village Chapel. He supports memorial services or services that happen during the week, supports the chaplain, learns administrative duties and helps with community relations events.

He teaches Sunday school and serves on the parish council at Patrick Henry Village Chapel as the services coordinator. Sometimes, he is an usher or plays music as well, pitching in wherever help is needed.

"Working in the chapel gives me an opportunity to learn how the Army chapel works, because we volunteered in civilian churches all of our lives," Andrey said. "There are similarities and there are differences, and it's good to see those."

Jones said serving as a chaplain assistant will put West ahead of the game when he goes to the chaplain course.

"He'll already have that exposure to what supervising a chaplain assistant is all about, because he'll know everything a chaplain assistant is supposed to do," Jones said.

West said he plans to apply for his ecclesiastical endorsement as well as his chaplain candidacy in the process of finishing his bachelor's degree.

"I think being a chaplain will be a lot of work, but at the same time, it will be fulfilling, because it has always been my desire since I gave my heart to the Lord," he said. "I expect deployments in the Army, and I watched the chaplains in the deployed and in the garrison arenas. I have been around soldiers that needed help, and I helped the guys from my unit coming to me for counsel."

West's story, Jones said, represents what chaplains believe to be a good number of servicemembers who may feel the call of God to come into the ministry.

"If you are a person of faith and you're paying attention, God will put sign posts along the way in your life - could be people, could be circumstances, could be any number of things - and to pay attention to those could direct you into another career," Jones said. "And for the West family, it is going to be the chaplaincy."

(Ina Stiewitz works in the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Wuerttemberg public affairs office.)

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