Two weeks ago, we introduced you to Ed Choi, one of our lead pastor residents. This week, we have the story of Ed Choi’s service as a chaplain in the U.S. Army with the 1-26 Infantry Battalion—the hardest hit unit since the Vietnam War.
By 2001, Ed Choi had been married for seven years and had been serving in ministry for twelve. That’s when he felt God’s call to serve in the armed forces.
“I sensed a calling to the military as a chaplain,” he explained.
Choi signed up with the US Army, which brought both opportunities and hardships. The poignant downside was obvious: separation. Choi was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, spending a total of 40 months in combat zones. He called those deployments away from his family one of the most challenging parts of service.
“I was deployed to Iraq twice,” said Choi. “The hardest thing about my first deployment was the long separation from my family and having my wife Kathryn dealing with our three children who were 8, 6, and 2 years old at that time. The hardest thing about the second deployment was not only it being 15 months long but also the casualties my unit sustained. I served with the 1-26 Infantry Battalion, which had more casualties than any other unit since Vietnam.”
As a chaplain in combat, Choi’s regular duties involved conducting services, providing counseling, and traveling many miles to care for soldiers.
“The most difficult things that I had to do were memorial ceremonies in honor of our fallen soldiers, visit the wounded, and provide pastoral care to the soldiers who were grieving over the loss of their fellow soldiers.”
Choi sustained injuries of his own in June of 2007 while serving soldiers in Adhamiya, an exceptionally dangerous neighborhood in Bagdad, Iraq. It was a hot summer morning and one of the platoons from Charlie Company 1-26 Infantry Battalion was hit by a deeply buried IED (improvised explosive device), which destroyed the Bradley armored vehicle (30 tons) and killed five soldiers who were riding inside. Choi was ordered to meet the rest of the platoon to provide pastoral care and counseling to the surviving soldiers.
“I was in an armored Humvee with three other soldiers and on our way to link up with the platoon, we were also hit by an IED. By the grace of God the IED hit the front of the Humvee where the engine block is located and not where the passengers were sitting. Thank God no one was killed in that blast but we were all wounded. Due to the blast I loss consciousness, sustained wounds to my legs, and got a concussion. The medics wanted to send me back for wounds sustained in combat but I refused and received approval from my commander to stay. As a chaplain I just couldn’t leave my soldiers in combat, and as a shepherd I couldn’t abandon my flock.”
After returning from his second deployment in Iraq where he conducted 24 memorial ceremonies and provided over 200 hours of grief counseling in addition to being wounded, Choi was diagnosed with PTSD with symptoms of grief, survivor’s guilt, and anger.
“Today by the grace and the strength of God,” he said, “I’m doing very well. I’m being healed from it and it has made me a more compassionate minister of the gospel, especially toward those who have been traumatized due to sin and suffering. My favorite verse of scripture is ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9a).”
The story of Choi’s Army unit is recorded in a book called They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq by Kelly Kennedy, who also authored Blood Brothers, a four-part article about 1-26 for the Army Times.
Throughout his deployments, Choi served Jesus wherever he could.
“With the troops, the opportunity to share the gospel was truly amazing. The services that chaplains conducted were usually filled with Soldiers.”
Choi found that soldiers were open to the gospel during counseling sessions and when they interacted with him on a daily basis.
“Soldiers love to have a Chaplain around.”
Army life is over for the Choi family, but has left its mark in a few ways. For one thing, Choi’s time in the army helped him to develop the ability to minister in a multi-cultural environment. And he developed a soft spot for all those who serve.
“There’s a saying in the military that goes, ‘You can leave the army but the army will never leave you.’ I will always appreciate those who have served and will serve in the military, knowing the hardship. I do not miss the times away from my family, but what I will miss is the soldiers I have had the honor to serve as their chaplain.”
Among those currently serving is Choi’s oldest son, Titus. After finishing high school he decided to join the Army as a Reservist to help pay for college.
“My wife and I are really proud of him,” said Choi.
Looking back on the hardships of military service, Choi is absolutely certain of God’s provision and grace.
“Through it all, God’s grace and strength have been sufficient.”
Stay tuned for the final story about Ed Choi, where he talks about all his travels and how these experiences in different cultures affect his ministry.
The application for the 2014 Lead Pastor Residency will open mid-January 2014. For more information, go to marshill.com/residency.