Army Chaplain Completes Ranger School at Age 41

U.S. Army Chaplain, Capt. Ryan Mortensen, assigned to 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT, 25th Infantry Division, meets with local school children to learn about the difference in American and Thai culture during a humanitarian aid mission in Lopburi province, Thailand, Feb. 16, 2015. The mission was carried out as a part of the joint-training operation Cobra Gold 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock/Released) Cobra Gold 2015 150216-A-SE706-168

Army Chaplain Completes Ranger School at Age 41
By Debbie Gregory.

Army Chaplain Completes Ranger School at Age 41

By Debbie Gregory.

Capt. Ryan Mortensen is the kind of person who loves a challenge. The 41-year-old is one of only 1,600 chaplains in the U.S. Army, and he is now one of only 20 chaplains who have completed the rigors of Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Mortensen called his accomplishment “a small miracle.”

He joined the Army Reserves while serving as a school teacher in Saipan, 120 miles north of Guam. He earned his master of divinity degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.

When Mortensen and his family, wife Erin, sons Elijah and Micah, and daughter Isabella were stationed at the Army’s Schofield Barracks, he came into contact with soldiers wearing the Ranger tab, and he started asking questions.

They told him to forget attempting Ranger School at his age.

“Any time somebody tells me I can’t do something, I get a little bug in my head thinking I can do it. Once I learned the Rangers were the elite of the elite, it really got my attention.”

Mortensen had to fight for permission to carry a weapon, which chaplains aren’t normally allowed to do. But he prevailed and was allowed to enroll in the school.

Ranger school is challenging to hopefuls half Mortensen’s age. Asked if he ever wanted to quit, Mortensen said:

“No, but did I ever pray that God would let me have an accident, break a foot and go home honorably? Yeah.”

Fast forward two years, when Mortensen got the word that he needed to head to Fort Benning. He had a graduation ceremony to attend. His own!

His first call, late at night, was to his family in Hawaii.

Firstborn son Elijah answered the phone.

“He asked if that was me, then asked what was going on,” Mortensen said. “I told him, ‘Daddy got a go; Daddy is a Ranger.’ He screamed, ‘Daddy is a Ranger!’ I heard my other two kids screaming, and Erin ran over and grabbed the phone. That was so special.”

“This is an amazing, eclectic life I have lived,” he said. “Can you believe it? I earned the Ranger tab.”

Now, Mortensen must put his new distinction and the experiences it took to earn it to use.

“If I have the opportunity to use this tab to show the love of Christ and his mercy and giving people hope,” Mortensen said, “I am excited about that.”

Priests Needed to Become Military Chaplains


By Debbie Gregory.

The Archdiocese of the Military Services is looking to increase the numbers of priests serving in the military. Though Catholics account for roughly one quarter of all U.S. service members worldwide, there are slightly more than 200 Catholic chaplains.

“For God and Country” was a retreat sponsored by the archdiocese, the endorsing agency for Catholic chaplains. Military chaplains provide pastoral, spiritual and emotional support for service personnel, including the conduct of religious services at sea, on bases or in the field.

Deacon Mike Yakir, chancellor for the Archdiocese of the Military Services, said there are some sacraments that only a priest can provide.

“If you’re a Marine … going out on a patrol the next morning, and you think you might not come back and you want make confession, only a priest can do that,” Yakir said. No other church official and no chaplain of another faith can offer a Catholic that sacrament.

Constant change is part of the every day life and work of Catholic chaplains in the military. Unlike a priest in a civilian parish, chaplains in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard must work with a constantly changing group of people.

In 2006, training materials obtained by U.S. intelligence showed that insurgent snipers fighting in Iraq were urged to single out and attack medics and chaplains, on the theory that those casualties would demoralize entire enemy units.

A Defense Department Inspector General report last year said that Catholic found the demands of meeting the needs of their units and performing services for their own faith group at large made for a difficult workload.  But it is a personal ministry of presence, caring for the needs of Catholic military personnel and their families.

If you talk to most any of the priest-chaplains in the military, they will tell you they would not trade this ministry for any other. The rewards are great. And those they minister to are open to spiritual growth. As those in our military do the difficult work of protecting our freedom, Catholic chaplains walk beside them, providing the spiritual and emotional strength they need.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.