By Roger Drinnon
An LCMS military chaplain who responded to a suicide and hostage situation in 2015 was honored for his actions with the Army’s highest noncombat medal in a March 14 ceremony at Fort Benning, Ga.
Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Christensen, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment chaplain, was presented the U.S. Army Soldier’s Medal for risking his own life to save the life of a suicidal, machete-wielding soldier and two others being held hostage by that soldier.
According to a Fort Benning press release, Christensen, whose home congregation is Trinity Lutheran Church in Kalispell, Mont., was called to a situation Feb. 28, 2015, where a suicidal soldier was armed with multiple knives and machetes, creating a serious threat. When the troubled soldier grabbed one of two other unarmed soldiers and put a machete to that soldier’s neck, drawing back and beginning to swing, Christensen rushed the suicidal soldier at great risk to his own safety.
As Christensen subdued and restrained the assailant, one of the other soldiers was able to get the machete away so everyone was safe.
“Chaplain Christensen put the welfare of others above his own and risked his life by stepping in front of a soldier swinging a machete,” according to the press release.
‘The real story, the true story’
“Nothing but fear and, I believe, the work of the Holy Spirit moved me into a position where I could physically control the soldier,” said Christensen. “Chaplains go wherever we’re needed the most, regardless of the risk. Chaplains meet people at their weakest and most vulnerable conditions. Sometimes, we’re able to provide comfort and counseling, but sometimes we’re called on to stand in the way of violence.”
At the time of the incident, Christensen was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. The assailant reportedly was tormented by a history of abuse from his father which culminated in the violent outburst that night.
“The real story, the true story and the story that matters is that chaplains serve God and country [in this capacity]. I believe that God in the person of Christ Jesus was willing to meet us in our weakest and most vulnerable conditions,” Christensen said during the ceremony. “While providing us with comfort and counseling, He stood in the way of violence by suffering violence in our place. For me, this Soldier’s Medal will always remind me of the One who voluntarily gave His life in order to save [all] our lives. My prayer today is that the soldier who held us hostage that night will experience the love of a Father who never abuses His children.”
“This chaplain saved two soldiers’ physical lives, while also sharing the mercy of God in Jesus Christ with this troubled young man,” said Chaplain (U.S. Navy Capt. Ret.) Craig Muehler, director of LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces. “It is not a minor thing that in this soldier’s darkest hour, a chaplain was called to be there to intercede physically and spiritually at great personal risk. This is what military chaplains like Chaplain Christensen do — they bring mercy and compassion to our nation’s military personnel, conveying a message of hope.”
Lt. Col. Franklin Baltazar, commander of the Army’s 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, applauded Christensen’s actions, adding that those actions were an indication of the chaplain’s commitment to preserve life, including the life of the suicidal soldier.
“Without a doubt, Chaplain Christensen mustered an extraordinary amount of personal courage that evening, and he stepped in to do what is right, despite the risk, uncertainty and fear of losing his own life,” said Baltazar. “His personal faith and values were imprinted on his actions.”Watch the medal presentation ceremony See photo gallery Learn more about LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces
Roger Drinnon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of Editorial Services and Media Relations for LCMS Communications.
Posted March 21, 2017