After a Changing of the Stole ceremony the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) has a new command chaplain.
The ceremony took place after a prayer luncheon organized by the USACAPOC(A)’s chaplain’s office Nov. 20, 2019 at the USACAPOC(A) headquarters on Fort Bragg, N.C. The event’s theme was “In all things, give thanks.”
The incoming command chaplain is Chaplain Lt. Col. Richard James, who comes to USACAPOC(A) from the 100th Training Division (Leader Development) at Fort Knox, Ky. He replaces Chaplain Col. Bruce Sidebotham, who has been the command chaplain since 2017. Sidebotham, who joined the Army in 1981, is retiring.
“You’ve just done a tremendous job as the chaplain of the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command,” Maj. Gen. Darrell J. Guthrie, the USACAPOC(A) commanding general, said to Sidebotham.
Transferring the stole — a long, plain, black cloth worn around the neck — is similar to a command's leadership passing the unit's guidon during a change of command ceremony. The Changing of the Stole demonstrates the responsibility for spiritual leadership and pastoral care has passed from one chaplain to another.
The historical basis of the ceremony draws its tradition from the Bible. Second Kings, Chapter Two, described the transfer of the spiritual leadership of Israel from the Prophet Elijah who passed his mantle to his successor.
Sidebotham, in his last day in uniform on duty, also was the featured speaker during the prayer luncheon.
He spoke about “God’s deliverance,” discussing aspects of Biblical history, United States history and his personal history in which he cited divine intervention.
In one example from his own family history, Sidebotham talked about his grandfather, who immigrated to the U.S. from Europe during World War I.
He got a job working nights in the T. A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant, a munitions factory in Sayreville, New Jersey where laborers loaded artillery rounds with TNT, the chaplain said.
One day, Sidebotham’s grandfather said God told him to quit his job. So, he went to the plant and resigned before his shift.
Two and a half hours later, at about 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, 1918, the plant exploded. It was one of the largest man-made non-nuclear explosions in history, according to the Library of Congress website.
The accidental explosion started fires that set off multiple explosions devastating the plant and nearby buildings in the town, killing about 100 people, the website stated.
Explosions continued until the following morning. The nearby cities of Sayreville, South Amboy, and Perth Amboy were evacuated and a radius of over 10 miles around the plant was deemed unsafe.
The fires burned into a third day. U.S. Coast Guardsmen stationed nearby were called in to aid in rescue operations.
After surviving the explosion, Sidebotham’s grandfather became an evangelist.
Sidebotham encouraged those assembled to keep sharing these kinds of stories of divine intervention with their families and friends.
“Think about your own life, and tell these stories to one another,” the chaplain said.