Chaplain Paul Soderquist
May 2021. I served in the Navy twice. First, I enlisted for four years. Later, I served six and a half years as an officer--a Chaplain. But then I was involuntarily terminated from my employment with the Navy. Technically, it was a medical retirement. The point is, it was painful. Involuntary job termination was painful. I didn’t want to leave that work. I had felt called by God to that work, and Gail joined me in feeling that call. But I was being forced to leave.
I became angry, although I didn’t show it. I know I’m not the only one who can hide feelings pretty well when I try.
In addition to the medical issues, part of the anger I felt was due to my failure to be promoted to the next Navy rank. While nobody’s perfect, I always felt I was a pretty good Chaplain. But if you don’t get promoted in the Navy, they eventually send you home. That’s the law. You can’t just stay and stay and stay without advancing in your career path--it’s not allowed. So, there was that...
The medical reasons for my medical retirement had to do with rheumatoid arthritis and hypothyroidism. I guess the Navy didn’t like that I had those conditions, and that I had to take pills for those conditions. Arthritis over time is just plain hard on the body, of course. The military wants you to be pretty healthy. One doctor wrote, “He will have difficulty with ladders.” That’s Navy-speak for stairs. And it was true. I would have had a hard time climbing up and down those weird Navy “ladders” had I remained in the military. It was getting next-to-impossible to meet the physical fitness standards expected of me.
Anyway, we had 40 days to pack up our things and get out of military housing. It seemed as if there were a thousand things to get done. The clock was ticking. We didn’t exactly know where we would go from Long Beach, California. Or what I would do next. Our two children were very young. Peter was only in kindergarten. We would need to find him another school.
My last day in the Navy was November 30, 1988. Right around then, Gail’s parents Roger and Edna were enjoying the winter warmth in Arizona, so we went to visit them on our drive out of Los Angeles. Thank God they let us stay in their home in Minnesota that winter until we could find more permanent living arrangements.
In time, I came to believe my involuntary termination from the Navy was actually a gift! After all, it gave me insight with parishioners who were going through similar things. It gave me insight with parishioners cut from their jobs or careers. It increased my compassion, my empathy, for people who faced significant circumstances not in their control. It helped me understand men and women who were angry about things in their lives they didn’t fully understand, things hard to accept.
My involuntary termination from the Navy was a gift that keeps on giving. It allows me to relate to people who are hurting for any number of reasons. This heart of mine that had turned angry became, over time, by God’s grace, a humble heart that could only be grateful.
My ministry continued. It just wasn’t in uniform anymore.
Paul Soderquist is Chapter Chaplain for Disabled American Veterans East Valley Chapter 8 in Mesa, AZ. He is active is ministering to our flock of disabled Veterans and their families, for which we are greatly appreciative.