Shepherding — a sacred duty

After some two decades in uniform, U.S. Army Chaplain Keith Shurtleff plans to retire in the next year or so.

There’s much this lifelong Church member will miss when he leaves the military. As a patriot and soldier, Brother Shurtleff will remember his daily service to his country. As a chaplain, he will miss the “one-on-one” interactions with soldiers and their families seeking spiritual support, perhaps a prayer, a listening ear or a trusted confidant.

One of 65 Church members serving as an American military chaplain, Brother Shurtleff enjoys the sacred duty of shepherding soldiers from a wide variety of religious backgrounds. His job has taken him to military posts throughout the world and a combat zone in Afghanistan. His own gospel testimony has grown while teaching sermons from the scriptures and worshiping with fellow soldiers eager for blessings.

“As a chaplain, my main mission is to provide religious support to military personnel of all faiths,” said Brother Shurtleff. Counted among such personnel may be Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Latter-day Saints and Protestants — along with men and women who claim no faith.

It’s a chaplain’s duty, he explained, to preserve the personal religious freedoms of all he serves.

After fulfilling a mission to Venezuela, Brother Shurtleff earned a law degree from Brigham Young University and joined the Navy as a military lawyer. He read a newspaper story about Church members serving as military chaplains. He contacted Church headquarters and inquired about becoming a chaplain. He was later granted the required Church endorsement and was appointed a chaplain in the Army.

Change is a constant in the military. During his chaplain career, Brother Shurtleff has been stationed in Germany, Korea and at several other U.S. military bases. In 2007, he was deployed in Afghanistan. Sometimes his wife, Nina, and their eight children have joined him on his military assignments. But other times he has been away from his family.

Still, he’s enjoyed the fluidity. He jokes that his children get a little anxious after living in one place more than a couple of years.

Brother Shurtleff is currently stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas. He also serves on the high council in the Salina Kansas Stake. His assignment at Fort Riley is largely administrative, so he has few opportunities to offer sermons. But he continues to provide spiritual counseling to all who knock on his door.

“The soldiers want to discuss a lot of their personal issues — fractured families, divorce, grief and sometimes the trauma of war,” he said.

He is also asked to facilitate religious opportunities for, say, Muslim or Jewish soldiers by putting them in contact with clergy from their respective religions.

While a military chaplaincy is not a Church calling, Brother Shurtleff and fellow LDS chaplains are set apart after receiving Church endorsement.

“We do feel that [serving as a chaplain] is a mission,” he said.

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