New AFN chaplain uses airwaves to share faith with U.S. troops worldwide
April 3, 2005
MANNHEIM, Germany — He still sees himself as a battalion chaplain in a war zone, though he finds his recent change of venue a bit harrowing, too.
Center stage, it seems, can make even the hardiest and most faithful of individuals nervous.
“I’m not here to preach to people,” said Army Capt. Jay West, the new American Forces Network broadcast chaplain. “That’s not my calling. But [the airwaves] are a wonderful way to share my faith with people.”
Two weeks ago, West and his producer, Mary Cochran, launched two new Sunday programs on AFN Radio: “Promises” and “The Rock.” Those shows and West’s daily radio segments, “Touch of Grace,” reach servicemembers in 56 countries across the hemisphere, a reach few chaplains ever grasp.
“All of the chaplains bring their own personality to all of the programs,” said Cochran, who has worked with several of West’s predecessors. “So [the format] really changes completely.”
In February, West succeeded Army Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Johnston, who, along with his wife, Julia, anchored a two-hour Sunday morning staple called “Praise Patrol.” Now that West is behind the mike, “Promises” airs Sundays from 8-10 a.m. on the AM dial, and “The Rock,” which is for a younger audience, airs from 3-5 p.m. on local FM stations.
“We’re not as much talk,” West said. “We’re more into the music.”
The West Virginia native doesn’t have a studio sidekick, but he is reaching out to military leaders, asking them to share stories of faith with the listening audience. The two-minute segments, what West and Cochran call “The Stonewall Series,” provide guests the opportunity to discuss how they balance faith, family and service.
People tend to treat God as if he were “a piece of field equipment” that gets stored away for future use, West said. The assumption is that the “asset” is at our beck and call, something West calls “playing with one’s faith.”
But war, he explained, has a way of curbing those tendencies.
“There are times when you stop playing, like when you deploy,” said West, a member of the United Methodist Church. “When you go downrange, life changes. Everything familiar is stripped away. For most of our soldiers, that’s their first time in combat.”
Prior to joining the Army, West served eight years as a cop in the Air Force National Guard, separating in 1993. He also earned a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia State University, taught high school for 1½ years and spent four years in seminary school.
Before joining AFN, West served as a chaplain with the 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, at Fort Campbell, Ky.
West said the goal of his radio and television ministry is to enhance people’s spiritual fitness and readiness. The challenge, he noted, is to be as pluralistic as possible, reaching out to men and women of all faiths.
“It’s who we are as a corps,” West said. “We’re a diversified corps.”