PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Four years ago, Sgt. Jonathen Bailey was a pastor in a small community in Syracuse, N.Y., in the middle of a professional and spiritual battle. At the time, he had a wife and four children to support, so he leaned on his faith, his spiritual mentors and his parishioner for the support needed to make one of the best decisions of his life.
“The reason why I joined the military is because it is the one sector of society that I care the most about, but had done the least for,” Bailey said.
Now a sergeant on his second deployment and serving as a chaplain’s assistant with the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division in Afghanistan, Bailey is using his faith, his love of helping others and his experience to service that very same part of the community.
“I came in late because, prior to enlisting into the Army, I was a pastor in the upstate New York area. Syracuse was our home base. Even though we were in upstate New York and several hours away from where 9/11 struck, I was still dealing with the aftermath of it, years after it happened,” he said. “There was always some life, business and Family impacted, or something in the community that was impacted by 9/11.”
Bailey said it was at this time, his goals in life were changing.
“During this time, I was having personal and professional goals that were changing and altering. My ministry was changing; my approach to helping people was changing. So, I went from working within the four walls of the church, to being out in the community,” he said.
The impact Bailey said he was making in the community opened him up to different professional opportunities that could incorporate his faith and community outreach platform.
“I was asked to change my role in the community, even though I was known as a pastor and made a name for myself doing that,” he said. “I was being asked to consider joining one of the county commissions, to put my name in the hat to become the commissioning agent in youth or consideration for the Human Rights Commission.“
Those two roles in particular were attractive to him, he said, because he thought they would supplement what he was already doing in the community. However, he was passed over for the commissioning agent in youth position. He said he became doubtful of his future.
“I went through one of those seasons of saying ‘God what are you doing?’ I believe I was called to this community and called to do this. I was asked by this community to take this position, but then I get passed over for the position,” he said.
After numerous setbacks in his professional and personal life, Bailey decided to take another approach to provide stability.
“What brought me to a place of me joining the armed forces was when I was doing research for another job for a chaplain’s role in the prison system,” he said. “I always had a great rapport with prisoners and had a lot of ministry experience with them. While doing the research I ended up on the Army’s webpage.”
While reading the webpage, Bailey said he realized he needed a lot more academic preparation to become an Army chaplain.
“I started out in the ministry very young and already had my own following and license, but there was a lot more schooling I needed to meet the Army requirements. I thought I couldn’t come in as a chaplain, but I could come as a chaplain’s assistant,” he said. “So, after a lot of thought, I took my decision to my wife. We were married going on 16 years at the time.
When I took it to her, I thought she was going to throw a plate at me or something. We already had four kids at the time, and we were already doing a lot. She was actually very supportive, and that was a go ahead for me.”
After he received the support of his spouse, Bailey said he went through periods of uncertainty about his new goal of serving his nation.
“From there, I started doing more prayer and more research. I started talking to a lot of people that I look to for counsel. I actually talked to someone in (Washington) D.C. that had something to do with recruiting,” he said. “When I spoke to the recruiter and told him what my interest was, there was actually a pause on the phone. I said, ‘Hello sir. Are you there?’ He said no one had asked about that job in two years.”
Bailey said he knew his decision would change his life.
“It was a life altering decision; something that at my age ... I knew would have to be for the long haul,” he said. “Something that I know would be rewarding in serving others in a sector of society with a unique set of needs.
“A sector that experiences things completely different from other people based off the sacrifices they make. It was something I said I’m going to do for the rest of my working years.”
Bailey said he is happy with his decision, which, he said, has been one of the most rewarding decisions he’s made – only second to becoming a husband and father.
“This is how I got to this place. It‘s exciting because I got through my basic training and Advanced Individual Training phase. I got to my first duty station – Fort Riley, Kan.,” he said. “It’s been a privilege to serve Soldiers and enablers in Iraq. Now, I’m privileged to be on my second deployment helping Soldiers. It’s very personal and very powerful.”
During times of grief, his professionalism, devotion to his service and strength in his faith have been instrumental to the Soldiers of the 2nd Bn., 16th Inf. Regt., also known as the “Ranger” Battalion.
“This is the reason why I’m here, no doubt about it,” he said. “This is when my role comes in – to be a ministry of presence. We are with the Soldiers when they are going through things. We’re Soldiering and experiencing all the things with the Soldiers. When we have the opportunity to memorialize Soldiers, it’s our chance to help the Soldiers focus on what matters the most – honoring that person’s memory, their accomplishments and getting through the process of bereavement.
“Only the military does this to the degree of excellence, when it comes to taking care of its own. It is a beautiful process, even though there is loss and grief involved. For that alone is why I’m here,” he said.
Now at the age of 41, the father of five said he realizes he couldn’t have gotten this far without the support of his Family.
“This is a Family experience,” said Bailey, sending a personal note to his Family. “Lisa Anne, you are the most powerful person I ever met and truly virtuous. It’s because of you I am maturing as a man and experiencing life at this high level. I’m thankful for you. For my children, you help me. I learn from you and enjoy you. I’m proud of my children, proud to be a father, but, most importantly, their father.”
By Sgt. Gene Arnold
4th IBCT Public Affairs
Sgt. Gene Arnold | 4th IBCT
Sgt. Jonathen Bailey, a 41 year-old father of five from Syracuse, N.Y., serves as a chaplain’s assistant assigned to the 4th IBCT, 1st Inf. Div. in Afghanistan.