FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Army Col. Christopher Archer couldn’t even spell chaplain when God planted the seed of ministry in his heart. He was just a 5-year-old boy who’d come to know the Lord in a Sunday school classroom and whose parents thought he was too young to be baptized.
The call to preach waned in Archer’s teens, then led him to Point Loma Nazarene College on a surprise path to military chaplaincy. He saw himself ministering to youth and gradually growing into the role of senior pastor, not nurturing troops’ souls through two simultaneous wars. But God ushered him there anyway through the encouragement of other chaplains, and by providence and desire, Archer is now the Defense Logistics Agency’s command chaplain.
“I asked for this assignment because I wanted to come here and learn how religious supply works from the broader Department of Defense perspective. One day I’ll go back to my own service with all that I’ve learned to affect the system that meets warriors’ needs in a positive way,” he said.
In today’s COVID-19-inflicted environment of social distance and telework, Archer’s first concern is building a community in which DLA employees can support one another.
“I hope to help people make connections that will strengthen their lives. Scripture tells us ‘two is better than one.’ When there’s two together, there’s someone to pick you up, someone to help you defend against the things that are trying to take you down,” he said, referencing Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
Archer comes to DLA from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he managed assignments for 500 chaplains throughout U.S. Army Forces Command before he was promoted to colonel and became FORCOM’s deputy command chaplain. He served three tours in Iraq and deployed as a hospital chaplain in 2005 to Angola in central Africa, where soldiers provided medication, glasses, clothing and vaccinations in addition to performing dental work and surgeries.
On 19-hour convoys to outlying areas of Angola, Archer prepared troops to see poverty so extreme residents drank from puddles of water on the ground despite the threat of dysentery and other diseases.
“You could see the shock on soldiers’ faces, and some of them were pretty upset about it. Some of them had never actually been outside of the United States before or had never gone to the part of town where people were truly homeless,” he said.
His counsel stemmed from experiences he’d had as a teen repairing buildings, digging outhouses and sharing Bible stories with people in Mexico during spring breaks.
On a Department of State mission in Pakistan following the 2005 earthquake, Archer ministered to troops and patients in a mobile surgical hospital the U.S. State Department gave to the Pakistani rangers, and he again spent hours on the road to provide religious support and build a spiritual community. He remembers sleeping on top of vehicles in the Pakistani mountain ranges during the 27-hour trip and taking soldiers’ place behind the wheel because they were so fearful of losing control on the mountainous hairpin turns.
“Experiencing that with them and sharing those tough moments helped us connect, and that made soldiers feel like they could come to me and talk and get the care they needed,” he said.
Many people face multiple issues by the time they reach out to a chaplain or it’s recommended they see one, Archer continued. Hospital chaplaincy taught him to focus on listening to the person’s words, reading their body language and not opening the conversation with a specific agenda.
“If I have a mindset that I’m going to do something for another person, I’m not being open to what that individual needs,” he said, adding that he allows others to lead the conversation. If a particular theme repetitively pops up, Archer will help the person recognize it as something that might be worth deeper discussion.
“God wants one thing for me: to be available in the moment for whatever the crisis is that the individual is going through. That individual will continue to seek after what they’re trying to get to, and it never has to be forced by me,” he said.
Though Archer said he’s still assessing religious programs available to DLA employees under the constraints of COVID-19, he and his assistant, Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Soto, will continue offering access to the McNamara Headquarters Complex Meditation Room and weekly Bible studies that are open to new members with an email to DLAChaplain@dla.mil. And as travel restrictions lift, he will visit major subordinate commands to evaluate employee needs and desire for religious support there.
As DLA chaplain, Archer also oversees the agency’s religious supply support to DOD. He will work with DLA Troop Support to ensure the services continue receiving over 500 religious items ranging from holy books to sacramental supplies. His goals include partnering with service chaplains to determine whether new items should be offered as well as ensuring backorders are filled for a chaplain’s kit designed for use in field or combat environments without a nearby church, synagogue, mosque or temple.
Archer is scheduled to complete the U.S. Army War College’s two-year distance education program in July. After that, he looks forward to rediscovering a joy his studies placed on hold: golf.