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YPG's new chaplain has long years of experience
With two deployments in Iraq and years of experience as an overseas missionary, you might think Maj. Loren Hutsell would find Yuma Proving Ground an underwhelming post. But after nearly two months, Hutsell has proved an interested, dynamic and engaged chaplain.
“I'm excited to serve as a community chaplain,” said Hutsell. “Up to this point I've always been attached to a specific unit, so this assignment is almost like going back to being a pastor.”
Serving at YPG also brings him closer to his roots: Born to American missionary parents in Paraguay, Hutsell and his two brothers and two sisters spent the majority of their childhood in South America.
“I used to speak Spanish better than English. It has been 25 years since I used it regularly, though, so my vocabulary isn't what it should be. I enjoy the culture immensely and it is fun to be in a place with a culture I haven't experienced for a while.”
Hutsell's family moved to Honduras when he was 7, and he attended high school in Ecuador. His early adulthood saw him doing missionary work in civil war-torn El Salvador, where he helped run immunization clinics and build housing for refugees while sharing the gospel.
Back in the states, Hutsell attended a Presbyterian seminary in California before graduating from Northwest University. It was at the latter school where he met his wife of nearly 23 years, Heather, in the library.
“Whenever I'm talking to single soldiers looking for a date, I tell them to go to the library,” said Hutsell with a smile. “I did, and it worked great for me.”
Having been raised in South America and lacking any firsthand experience with the American military, Hutsell's path to the Army took longer than most who serve. Though impressed by a chaplaincy orientation he attended at Fort Lewis in 1991, it was nearly eight years before Hutsell took the plunge.
“I always felt that I would be a missionary. But my perception of missionary work growing up was being like my parents, doing church work in a foreign country. I struggled in my life trying to find a place to fit.”
He began his military career in the Navy Reserve in 1999, and though he enjoyed the experience, he was moved to join the Army after four years.
“I wanted to make serving as a military chaplain a long-term ministry. The Army had many more opportunities in this area than the Navy.”
His first assignment was to a multiple-launch rocket systems field artillery unit at Fort Sill, Okla.
“It was a wonderful introduction to the Army. The field artillery community works hard but knows how to relax and have fun as well. Serving with them really brought home that the Army isn't a job, it is a life.”
In 2005, Hutsell followed the unit to Iraq, then served in a second deployment there four years later. He was assigned to combat support hospitals in Tikrit, Mosul and El-Assad, where he saw the consequences of war in a constant stream of wounded and dying soldiers and civilians.
“The last deployment was one of the most difficult experiences I've had as a minister. You never knew what kind of wounds you were about to encounter as the MRAPs came rolling up. But there were also incredible moments of doctors, nurses and medics saving lives at the last moment. I saw amazing medical ministry by fellow soldiers, and it was a real honor for me to be part of that team.”
Despite the hardships of war, there were also moments of uplift and redemption. When several soldiers requested that Hutsell baptize them during his first deployment, the unit's motor pool made a baptismal font out of empty crates lined with heavy plastic. Uniquely, Hutsell used local prayer rugs as part of the ceremony and afterwards gave them to each soldier as a memento of the day.
“I consider myself a nondenominational Christian,” said Hutsell. “I think it is my mission to enhance what unites us, not what divides. There is a place for denominationalism, but I want to take a more incorporating approach to the Christian faith.”
Hutsell says this belief is influenced by his own experiences in childhood attending religious schools of different denominations and the realities of American demographics.
“A great many Americans have many different encounters with churches and religious backgrounds throughout their lives. Oftentimes we marry someone from another religious background. It is important to find a place to come together.”
Hutsell encourages YPG personnel to attend services and look to the chapel as a place for personal and spiritual guidance.
“On Sundays, I don't even think about what denomination people I meet are, I'm just thankful that we're all brothers and sisters in Christ. I don't judge people by what faith they are from; I like them for who they are.”