ATLANTA (ABP) — A Baptist chaplain has been awarded the Army's Bronze Star for “exceptionally meritorious service” while serving in Iraq.
Maj. Scott Sterling, an ethics instructor at the U.S. Army Chaplain School in Fort Jackson, S.C., received the honor in January. He was deployed with the 260th Quarter Master Battalion from Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah, Ga., last February and remained with the battalion until their return in November.
Endorsed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 2002, Sterling has served in the military for 16 years. He provided spiritual leadership for more than eight months to nearly 3,000 personnel serving in Iraq, including Army National Guard members, Army reservists, active-duty soldiers from various units and civilians.
“Even though I wasn't the actual senior chaplain, I served in that capacity,” Sterling said. “That entailed ministering to several thousand soldiers — as many as 1,600 soldiers at one time in my own battalion. There were several battalions of various sizes, plus civilians.”
The battalion arrived in Iraq shortly before the war began and was located in a desolate camp near the border between Kuwait and Iraq. As the war moved further north into Baghdad, the battalion also moved. Their final destination was Camp Cedar, just outside the city of Nazarea, in the shadow of the ancient biblical city of Ur — the birthplace of Abraham.
Sterling ministered at Camp Cedar for five months, coordinating religious services for all soldiers and civilians in the camp, designing a chapel that would facilitate worship for the various religious groups and providing Bible study every night.
“Most of what I did was basically what a chaplain does,” Sterling said modestly. “I had a tent set-up where I received soldiers day and night that needed counseling or care.”
But with only four chaplains and 3,000 people needing ministry, this was hardly a small task. Serving the National Guard and reservist soldiers presented special needs for pastoral care.
“There were many challenging issues — family things going on at home, businesses that were going under, school careers that were being interrupted and children that were going astray,” Sterling explained. This provided a constant stream of traffic through Sterling's tent — day and night, seven days a week — with little or no rest for the chaplain.
“Many nights at 11 or 12, I would get a knock on my tent flap from soldiers needing care,” Sterling said. “They [soldiers] had just gotten off the phone, or email, with a spouse or child and needed someone to talk to. Some soldiers even had suicidal thoughts and gestures that needed care, and we dealt with it.”
The Bronze Star is typically awarded to soldiers who excel by providing “outstanding leadership, mentorship, and spiritual fitness,” as the medal declares.
“When Chaplain Scott Sterling was going to be deployed, I called him. I affirmed that our prayer, care, and presence are with him,” said George Pickle, CBF's associate coordinator for chaplaincy and pastoral counseling. “He thanked our Council on Endorsement for endorsing him and shared that he would do us well. Now Chaplain Sterling has returned home and my response on behalf of the CBF community is, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant.'”
— Photo available from ABP.