Gard’s retirement ceremony highlights vital mission of military chaplains

Rear Adm. Rev. Dr. Daniel L. Gard

Rear Adm. Rev. Dr. Daniel L. Gard, left, Navy chaplain and president of Concordia University Chicago, is presented the Legion of Merit for his exemplary military service by Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben, U.S. Navy Chief of Chaplains, during Gard’s retirement ceremony at the United States Navy Memorial, Sept. 22, in Washington. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

By Pamela J. Nielsen

WASHINGTON — In the brief span of an hour that included the national anthem, an honor guard, speeches and awards, Rear Adm. Rev. Dr. Daniel L. Gard, Deputy Chief of Chaplains for Reserve Matters, ended a career of 28 years as a Naval Reserve Chaplain with his Sept. 22 retirement ceremony at the United States Navy Memorial.

Gard’s family, along with friends and colleagues, recalled his broad and dedicated military service, including mobilizations to the Office of the Chief of Chaplains for 9/11 Pentagon recovery operations, Washington, in 2001; deployment with the Amphibious Task Force East during Operation Iraqi Freedom; and as a member of the Joint Task Force–Guantanamo Bay, 2012-2013.

“Chaplain Gard’s influence in the civilian community was more than just ceremonial,” said Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben, Chief of Chaplains. “Time and again among his civilian colleagues, Dr. Gard has advocated for the service of military chaplains, our mission, what it is that we do, how we care for the sons and daughters of our country.”

Kibben also explained how diversity within the military presents some challenges for chaplains, as they minister to service members at home and abroad.

“In this arena, where faith intersects with the world, this is the reality in which we serve,” she said, noting that military chaplaincy is unlike the typical Christian parish where everyone holds similar beliefs. “There’s a wide representation of people across the Sea Services who believe a wide variety of things.”

The value of chaplains

“Whether active duty or Reserve service members, we all face day-to-day stressors of life and, in many cases, the fact that people are far away from home can provide an added challenge,” said Vice Adm. Robin R. Braun, Chief of Navy Reserve and a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Gorham, Maine. “Our chaplains provide that needed ear, the spiritual guidance and direction that is outside of the military chain of command — somebody who is independent that they can talk to. [Chaplains] are absolutely vital to our mission.”

Braun recounted how her home congregation prays for those who serve in the military every Sunday.

“We appreciate those prayers, especially for service members who are deployed in harm’s way,” she said, as she also recalled the church care packages that came to her for holidays. “Those little things mean so much when you’re deployed, so we very much appreciate the things our congregations do for us and for our families who are left back home.”

Rear Adm. Rev. Dr. Daniel L. Gard retirement ceremony on Sept. 22, 2016.

Those attending the Navy’s retirement ceremony for Rear Adm. Rev. Dr. Daniel L. Gard pay respect to the flag as the Honor Guard marches by. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

A broad perspective

Gard also serves as the president of Concordia University Chicago (CUC), River Forest, Ill. — a post he began over a year ago, requiring him to juggle service to his church and his country while also being faithful as a husband and father.

Dr. Gary Bertels, a member of the CUC Board of Regents and former Army chaplain, noted the value of having a military chaplain serve as university president.

“I think anybody who’s been involved in the military — the Reserves especially — you learn to appreciate a broad perspective … and have an appreciation for humanity, that all of these are redeemed by Christ,” said Bertels.

“I’m simply stunned that I have been able to serve as a chaplain in the United States Navy for 28 years. I see faces here who define what the Navy is for me,” said Gard, pointing to the high-ranking officers and shipmates from the chaplain corps and Religious Program Specialists, who — among their duties in assisting chaplains — provide physical protection during combat. “The privilege I have has been truly to walk with heroes. … I’ve seen young men and young women do absolutely incredible things.”

“We gain from the capabilities that many of these chaplains have as reservists; they bring a whole set of skills to us and we’re able to capitalize on that,” said Rear Adm. Brent W. Scott, who serves as the Deputy Chief of Chaplains for the Navy. “I can’t name one [LCMS chaplain] that has not been dependable, hard-working, very committed to the mission of the chaplain corps — so when you get someone of that faith group [LCMS] you can pretty well bet that they are going to be faithful to their faith. They are hugely dependable, loyal, faithful people in the day-to-day work of being a chaplain.”

Unsung heroes

Gard used his time at the podium to recognize and to thank some “heroes” that he says often get overlooked.

“They don’t wear a uniform, they don’t carry a weapon, they don’t get awards and very rarely does anybody say to them, ‘thank you for your service’ — these are our military families,” said Gard. “Some of these families have made a sacrifice that I know only too well as a chaplain, when their Sailors and Marines did not return home. These are heroes.”

Gard included his wife and children among the heroes, thanking them for their sacrifices during his nearly three decades of military service.

“You don’t get to see him as much, and so there’s not a lot of time to do with him what you’d like,” said Gard’s son, Caleb, before the retirement ceremony. “Like when he was in Cuba for nine months — there wasn’t anything you could do with him besides talk to him.”

When asked about what she was most proud of, Gard’s daughter, Hannah, a recent graduate of CUC, said, “All the post-9/11 stuff that he did — I was 7 — I was just really proud of him … for doing all that.”

Ministry to the Armed Forces

From the time of the Civil War through both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and current areas of conflict, LCMS chaplains have brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to those protecting the United States.

LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces (MAF) supports almost 200 chaplains who represent the Church on active duty, the Reserves, the National Guard and Civil Air Patrol.

Some chaplains serve on forward bases in harm’s way, others onboard ships maintaining vigilant watch over the seven seas, and others walk the flight-line on isolated air bases engaging service members on faith and family, as they load fighter aircraft for combat operations. These “pastors in uniform” provide Word and Sacrament ministry while enduring hardship, constant peril and danger.

Through MAF’s Operation Barnabas, congregations and chapters reach out to military families through witness and mercy at the local level, whether it is the families of loved ones deployed or by assisting those who have served to reintegrate back home with their family, their church and their community.

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Deaconess Pamela J. Nielsen ( is associate executive director of LCMS Communications.

Posted Oct. 7, 2016

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