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NEWS | April 4, 2016

Drill Sergeant Trail Led Him to Chaplaincy

By 1st Lt. Heather Diffenderfer 98th Training Div. (IET)

God, family and country is not just a phrase. It has been a way of life for one Army Reserve Soldier that all started at an early age.

Immediately after high school, 2nd Lt. Craig Dowdy, 2/317th, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training) started serving God. As a missionary for the Word of Life Impact Team, he was able to travel, feed his hunger for religion and even meet his wife, Tiffany.

Pursuing further faith-based education after missionary service, Dowdy went on earn undergraduate degrees in both Theology and Pastoral Studies/Missions at Appalachian Bible College. However, that wasn’t enough for Dowdy as he sought to learn and serve more. So Dowdy made the decision to become a Soldier in the Virginia Army National Guard. The uniform quickly took the young Dowdy, then a specialist and a motor transport operator, to Balad, Iraq, in 2003.

After 15 months in Iraq, Dowdy said he found clarity on life. “Combat gave me an entirely new perspective not only on leadership, but on how I live my life.” Seeing the living conditions in Iraq and how the children were essentially playing in what Americans would consider landfills stuck with Dowdy. “It made me realize how much I take for granted. It brought into clarity that I was never meant to live this life for myself, and it made me develop a servant leader mentality.”

Serving is just what Dowdy continued to do when he redeployed too, it just required a change in uniforms eventually. When he decided it was time to start a family with Tiffany, he exchanged his combat boots for a badge when he joined the Lynchburg Police Department in 2006. There, Dowdy witnessed more struggle and hardship, but this time it wasn’t in a war, it was in his home town. “I have spent many times as a law enforcement officer speaking to the poor and broken-hearted whose only hope is about survival and how they will make it from one day to the next.”

Dowdy used these encounters to be an agent of hope in his community though. He would provide words of encouragement as he administered the law. Not an easy task, but Dowdy persisted. This ability to build people up in difficult situations caused a fellow officer to recruit Dowdy to become a drill sergeant with the Army Reserve. So in 2011, Dowdy put on the combat boots again. This time though, added the well-known round brown hat to his uniform.

As an Army Reserve instructor, Dowdy saw new opportunities to encourage people. “As a drill sergeant, I observed civilian's coming to basic training from all walks of life and every one of them had a story that led them to that place. It was up to me as a drill sergeant to mentor them in such a way that their training would sustain them as a Soldier throughout their military career.”

Dowdy said working with new troops gave him the chance to teach Soldiers how to ‘gear up’ and prepare for battle, but it also opened his eyes to another need—spiritual guidance for Soldiers. That was when he decided to become a chaplain. “As a chaplain, I will have the opportunity to teach Soldiers how to ‘gear up’ with the whole armor of God to help defeat the warfare that comes from things such as PTSD and combat related trauma.”

Going from missionary to police officer to drill sergeant to chaplain is not a common path, but it was God’s calling, according to Dowdy. “My time as a drill sergeant solidified God's calling in my life to be a military chaplain.”

The unique path to chaplaincy has provided Dowdy with a wealth of real-world experience that will make it easier for him to relate to Soldiers, said Dowdy’s mentor, Chaplain (Maj.) Lance Dixon, 3rd Brigade, 98th Training Division (IET). “Biblically speaking, his work as a police officer and detective has exposed him to the worst of humanity. However, he has been able to filter all that he has seen through a biblical worldview.” Dixon believes this spiritual filter gives Dowdy compassion and understanding that will make him excel as a chaplain. “He comes into the chaplaincy with previous ministry and life experiences that younger candidates simply don’t have.”

Regardless of the different uniforms Dowdy has worn over the years, he believes it has all been preparation for his recent commissioning and reassignment as a chaplain candidate. “I turned in my drill sergeant hat for a new journey in my military career that I am extremely humbled by and thankful for. May God get all the glory as He uses me in this vital assignment!”