DLA command chaplain retires after 34 years of service to Army, God

By By Beth Reece DLA Public Affairs

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Death haunted soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division’s 6th Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, the night before they crossed into Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. The chance of Saddam Hussein unleashing chemical weapons on the troops was real, and it was Army Chaplain Richard Quinn, then just a young captain, who prayed alongside them in the sand.

“We all thought we were going to die. That evening, the battalion commander brought out a body bag and made sure we all knew how to work it with the liner and everything. We had 200 of them,” said Quinn, who has been DLA’s command chaplain since January 2014.

The fear drove one soldier to ask Quinn for an immersion baptism. The best Quinn could do was sprinkle the sergeant with water from a canteen and promise to baptize him in the Main River in front of his family and friends when the unit returned home to Germany.

“I thought that was a great answer, but this sergeant first class looked at me and said, ‘What if I never get back to Kitzingen?’ That troubled me. His preparation for eternity was hinging on that baptism, but I couldn’t do it like he wanted,” Quinn said.

Years later, he was sent to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to develop products his fellow chaplains needed to meet troops’ spiritual needs. His first creation: the field immersion baptismal liner, a six-foot garbage bag that could be placed in a hole and filled with water for immersion baptisms.

It is one of many accomplishments Quinn will be recognized for during a ceremony marking the end of his 34-year Army career June 11 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex. He will also be lauded for making sure deployed troops had kosher meals for Jewish feasts and assisting DLA Disposition Services with the disposal of religious items in Afghanistan, an achievement his assistant, Army Staff Sgt. John Edmisten, called one of Quinn’s biggest contributions to the agency.

“As we de-scope our footprint in Afghanistan, Chaplain Quinn has helped make sure religious materials there are handled properly, so we avoid a potential international incident like what happened in Bagram in 2012, when Qurans were incinerated,” Edmisten said.

The call

God called Quinn to ministry during the last semester of his senior year in high school. He’d already been accepted to college and planned to major in biology, but his life changed course as he was driving to Edison Community College in Fort Myers, Florida, to take a test that would earn him college credits for a science class.

“I felt the call of God while driving, strong enough that I turned the car around and went back home. I got dressed and went down to the church, where I was the president of the youth group at the time,” he remembered.

Quinn’s mother had been prodding him to go to Bible college for years. His dad, a Marine Corps platoon sergeant and one of a handful of survivors of the Battle of Iwo Jima, was a nonbeliever until he became so physically ill with a bleeding ulcer that he was drinking a bottle of Maalox a day and popping antacid tabs like Tic Tacs.

“My dad was standing in the shower one morning when he felt God call him to faith. He didn’t know what to do, so he went to talk to a retired radio evangelist who lived across the street from us,” Quinn said.

The next morning, his father stood before the congregation of the local church and announced he was following the Lord. By the time Quinn was seven, his father was healthy again and working as a plumber in migrant labor camps near their Florida home.

“His heart went out to the Spanish, so he got permission from the labor bosses to set up church services. He went around knocking on doors and inviting people in pidgin English and Spanish to come to the cafeteria, where somebody else played music and preached. He never preached himself, but he would take me with him. That’s how I was first introduced to ministry,” Quinn said.

Choosing military chaplaincy

Quinn graduated Southeastern Bible College in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and music. He and his new bride, Margene, moved to Hawaii, where she taught elementary school and he was the youth pastor at the Kailua Church and Christian School, just outside Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station. Many of the children Quinn pastored had parents in the military, and several were Marines who’d done back-to-back deployments to conduct training exercises in support of Subic Bay in the Philippines. The island nation was under martial law; violence and unrest were rampant.

“Some of the guys were coming back pretty spiritually messed up. Subic Bay was a nasty, dastardly place, and what I got from the six guys from our church who went was that they were getting no support from their chaplain. It was a rough time. That’s when I decided to join the military to be a chaplain and take care of service members and their families,” he said.

Quinn entered active duty as a first lieutenant at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1985. One month later, during the Iran-Contra scandal, he was left standing alone in the middle of a drop zone in Honduras, a couple of miles from the Nicaraguan border where his unit was training rebel groups. It was supposed to be a two-day visit for command leadership, and Quinn had neither toothbrush nor a change of underwear.

“They ditched me,” he said, laughing at the memory. “I wasn’t sure what they were thinking at the time, but that’s how I ended up serving as a battalion chaplain in the jungle.”

Being an Army chaplain got better with each assignment, Quinn said. He loved caring for the souls of soldiers and their families, whether it was in the post chapel or on the battlefield. Early on, he discovered that ministering to the military meant he had to wear two hats: one as a man of God, the other as a competent officer.

“I learned to participate and be part of the organization and understand their lingo, whether it was an armor, infantry, field artillery or sustainment support unit. It gave me some credibility and helped me discover how to introduce spirituality in palatable ways to people who are not spiritually inclined,” he said.

Quinn’s favorite assignments are those he had after becoming a colonel. He served as the post chaplain at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, with 650 people in his congregation and at least one event happening in the chapel every day of the week. Later, while assigned to the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, he oversaw more than 80 chaplains and chaplain’s assistants in Kuwait and Afghanistan. Being their supervisor and mentor was one of the most rewarding parts of his career, he said, especially because it was in a combat environment with steady memorial services. The assignment allowed Quinn to see soldiers being baptized in the baptismal liner he created, and he monitored the transfer of ecclesiastical supplies from Iraq to Afghanistan.

The final stretch

Coming to work at DLA in the final years of his Army career has given Quinn the chance to begin a revamp of the ecclesiastical supply system, something that hasn’t been done since he helped create it in the late ‘90s as a combat developer. The system contains more than 800 items, some duplicates, others that have never been ordered.

“When it was stood up, we just went through religious supply catalogs and picked stuff out. So the same items that were put in as placeholders are still there today, even though they’ve never been ordered in 20 years – things like vestments, furniture, literature,” he said.

Quinn and his team surveyed chaplains and chaplain’s assistants throughout the services to determine what they really need. A complete scrub of the current system should be completed early next year, he added.

The chaplain has also helped energize Bible study classes held at DLA Headquarters every Thursday during lunch.

“The energy he brought, plus the historical background and insight he provided, has been great for our Bible study classes. He’s inspired me to do additional research when preparing for lessons,” said Bryant Dunston, a DLA Human Resources employee who has led the group since 2001.

“He also challenged us to interpret the Bible outside of our denominational persuasions. That’s been refreshing for all of us,” he added, “because in the workplace you have people with different beliefs and backgrounds.”

Dunston and Edmisten both said they will miss the chaplain and his gregarious personality when he’s gone.

“This is my first experience working with a chaplain colonel, and he’s made it enjoyable. He has a story for nearly everything. It’s been fascinating to listen to him share those stories and tips he’s learned from his 30-plus years in the Army,” Edmisten added.

With retirement comes a new quest for Quinn. After finishing several home construction projects at his dad’s house in Florida, he plans to return to the area with his sights set on the U.S. State Department.

“The State Department doesn’t have a chaplaincy, and after talking with some of the folks that were in the U.S. Embassy when I was in Kuwait, I just feel they need a chaplain’s support. So when I come back, I’ll start making trips to Capitol Hill to see if I can drum up support for a State Department chaplaincy,” he said.

Quinn hopes to create a corps of 15 chaplains for the State Department. His retirement ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. in the Kabeisman Conference Center.