DAYTON, Ohio — After the accidental burning last year of Qurans by U.S. troops in Afghanistan sparked deadly rioting, an Air National Guard chaplain from Springfield stepped in and potentially saved countless American lives.
For his effort, Lt. Col. Jon Trainer received the prestigious Bronze Star — a medal given for heroic or meritorious achievement in connection with operations against an armed enemy.
And he did it with a PowerPoint presentation.
Trainer, who’s now in the running to be named Chaplain of the Year for the entire Air Guard, was in the third month of his voluntary deployment to Afghanistan last February when U.S. troops at Bagram Airfield mistakenly burned copies of the Muslim holy book.
The ensuing outrage claimed more than 30 lives, including two U.S. troops and two U.S. military advisers.
Within 48 hours, Trainer developed a PowerPoint presentation on the proper handling and disposal of Islamic religious material that was seen by every American — military and civilian alike — in Afghanistan. The presentation then was distributed to the U.S. for use in all pre-deployment training.
“This entire mission,” Trainer said from his office at the Springfield Air National Guard Base, “could be undermined by an action like that.
“All that good work. You realize how quickly that work can be undermined.”
Trainer, a Westerville resident and nondenominational Christian pastor who’s been chaplain of the local 251st Cyber Engineering Installation Group since 2000, also sought to prevent any future problems by covering what constitutes Islamic religious material in the first place.
“When a Muslim writes down even a few verses from the Quran on a piece of paper,” he explained, “that immediately gets that same protected status.”
Ultimately, he said, it became an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of culture to U.S. troops and to show Afghanis that the U.S. could respond swiftly to their sensitivities.
“It’s pretty unusual for a chaplain to receive the Bronze Star,” said Col. Wade Rupper, Trainer’s acting commander at the Springfield Guard base. “He was a vital guy at the right time.”
Trainer, 51, will find out on April 1 if he’ll be named Chaplain of the Year.
A win would be in keeping with the 251st, which recently won its 11th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award since 1973.
Trainer’s Bronze Star recommendation also credited him with overseeing the training of more than 36,000 deployed personnel in the Army’s Ask, Care, Escort suicide prevention program.
In addition, he performed all the duties expected of a chaplain, leading worship services at a cramped base in Kabul and conducting marriage counseling — often with the loved one’s spouse connected via Skype.
“It’s one of his gifts from God, to be able to relate to people,” Rupper said.
Trainer volunteered for his deployment, which ended last June, just so he could relate even more to his flock.
“People here were deploying on a regular basis,” he said. “I felt it was my turn. It becomes a credibility issue.”
During his four years in the Air Force Reserve in the 1990s, he deployed twice with the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. But he hadn’t left the U.S. in uniform since the War on Terror began.
Now, he’ll have to wait 18 months between deployments before he’s able to volunteer again.
“I’d go back if I could,” he said.
Trainer, who would like to volunteer to serve as chaplain in Antarctica next, didn’t even join the Air Force until he was 34.
“I began praying about it, and God opened some doors,” he said. “Before I knew it, I was raising my right hand. A little bit of age is good for a chaplain. It gives you some credibility.”
Trainer, a married father of two whose daughter attends Cedarville University, believes his dual role as a civilian and military pastor makes him stronger at both.
“It’s helpful for my church family to get rid of me once a month,” he joked, “and it’s good for me to be immersed in this culture.”