OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (ABF) — Chaplain Hal Roller recently retired as commandant of the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School after a 28-year career that included numerous military honors, such as the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. But teaching other Army chaplains was particularly rewarding, Roller said.
Roller, 58, became commandant in March 2002, overseeing operations of Army chaplain education. He was based at Fort Jackson, S.C., where all Army chaplains go for training. “It was like being the president of a seminary,” Roller said. As commandant he worked with “those called to the profession of chaplaincy,” he said.
Being a military chaplain is unlike any other ministry position, Roller said. “Everything the soldiers do, everywhere the soldiers go, chaplains are part of them. If troops jump out of an airplane, there's a chaplain jumping out of the airplane,” said Roller, who has completed 26 jumps.
Roller felt led to military chaplaincy during his service as an infantry officer in Vietnam. Upon his return, he entered Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he received a master of divinity degree in 1974.
Roller was a pastor in Florida when he applied for active duty as a chaplain. He was told there was a two-year waiting list. But the Army called a week later and wanted him.
His military chaplaincy began in 1976 and included numerous assignments. Roller and his family relocated 14 times during his career, including three overseas assignments in Germany, Korea and Belgium.
He was battalion chaplain in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. During this assignment, he commuted to Vanderbilt University, where he earned a doctorate of ministry in 1982.
One of Roller's most defining assignments was brigade chaplain of the famous 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N.C. “There was a camaraderie there,” he said. “Getting to know soldiers in a personal way and providing pastoral care enhanced my sense of calling.”
George Pickle, associate coordinator for chaplaincy and pastoral counseling for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said Roller “has distinguished himself in every assignment in his military career. Roller is one of 414 chaplains and pastoral counselors who receive their required endorsement from CBF.
Roller and his wife, Sherry, have been married 31 years. He said she was integral to his ministry. “Sherry and I have seen the calling as a team effort. She has been very active wherever we were stationed,” he said.
One of Sherry's priorities was ministering to spouses and families of soldiers. At the chaplain's school, she started a post-training program that invited spouses to learn about military chaplaincy. “It was a popular program,” Roller said. “We'd have spouses travel from Nebraska, Colorado and Texas.”
The Rollers retired in Overland Park, Kan., to be near their two children and four grandchildren. But he won't end his ministry. He plans to do interim pastoral work, teaching and pastoral counseling. “I'm going to do 'dabble ministry,'” he said. “A little here and a little there.”