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Commentary | Aug. 29, 2012

Chaplains have been serving Alaska service members for years

By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ted McGovern Alaska Army National Guard

Many of you have driven the Alaska Highway - either in transit to Alaska from the Lower 48, or traveling on vacation through Canada to get to beautiful Southeast Alaska.
As my wife Jennifer is from Haines, we drive the highway at least once a year to visit family.

I have come to love that drive, with its stunning views and majestic landscapes.
For me, it really brings Psalm 19:1 to life: "the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands."

On this drive, one of the things that always gets my attention are the churches along the way.

Pictured here is Our Lady of the Way Catholic Church in Haines Junction, Yukon Territory.
This church was made by using one of the Quonset huts from highway construction days and transforming it into a beautiful place of worship.

Of similar style is Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Beaver Creek, YT.

Both of these churches are windows to an earlier era in our Alaskan history.

The Alaska Highway has been heralded as one of the great feats of engineering in the twentieth century.

Built in 1942 as a military supply route from the lower 48 to Alaska, it covered more than 1,500 miles.

On Nov. 20 of that year, after eight months of work, the first truck rolled from Fairbanks, Alaska to Dawson Creek, YT.

Seven U.S. Army engineer regiments (more than 11,000 American Soldiers) were employed on Operation Alaska Highway.

A local Yukon group described the highway as "built through Canada's wilderness by a welcome invasion army of U.S. Soldiers."

And, just like today, where Soldiers deploy, chaplains are right there with them.

Pictured above is a worship service conducted right on the job site by an engineer unit chaplain.

Army chaplains ministered to Soldiers by providing worship services like this,
as well as counseling, visitation, encouragement and religious education throughout their unit's area of operations.

The chaplains' ministry was supplemented by the Rev. Bert Bingle, a Presbyterian minister who began the Alaska Highway Ministry in 1942.

He travelled from Fairbanks to Whitehorse ministering to people in the construction camps and Army posts along the way.

Long after American troops left the highway zone in November 1942, Rev. Bingle and others continued their ministry to civilian construction workers who kept improving the highway into the major transportation artery that it is today.

As I reflect upon the Alaska Highway, I am reminded of our role today as chaplains.
That role is the same as those chaplains who ministered to Soldiers during construction in 1942.

We are here for you - Alaskan Soldiers, Airmen and their families. You are our mission.
We provide worship service opportunities, religious education classes, counseling, visitation, encouragement and support.

The next time you drive the Alaska Highway, I hope you will take a moment and peer into these windows to the past, and appreciate your military heritage.

I also hope you will be able to see in your life inspiring people and moments that God has placed along the highway of life.

May the Lord bless you today.