By Luciano Vera
Chaplain, Lt. Col. Bradley A. West, 57, 24 years of service, born in Bridgeton, New Jersey.
After 24 years of service as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army, WSMR Chaplain, Lt. Col. Bradley A. West and his wife of 36 years, Susan West have decided to retire. Chaplain West has served all over the world and as a small town guy he says the community here at White Sands has changed his life. “The power that people have on other people whether good or bad helps to shape our experiences and who we become. It’s been such a wonderful experience here. I’ve been at all the big posts in the Army and as a small town guy it’s nice to be able to finish my career here at White Sands and truly see the impact.”
How did you decide to join the Army?
Growing up, after abandoning the idea of being a cowboy, I always knew I wanted to be a Soldier. My father served in the Army and he struck a deal with me. My parents required me and my two brothers to do a year of Christian College before doing anything else. I got the calling to minister and I continued with my college education and I decided I wanted to go to seminary school. While I was at seminary school a tall skinny chaplain in uniform talked to me about serving in the Army. I joined the reserves and was part of a program where you had to pastor in order to go active duty.
What are some of your memories while serving?
I loved being a battalion chaplain. You do everything with them (the Soldiers). You train with them, live with them, and really get to know them and really help. My favorite time was being a family life chaplain at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I woke up every morning excited to get to work and make a difference. I’ve had those experiences at every assignment but I’ll always remember being a family life chaplain at Fort Bragg. I got to work with airborne and special forces troops and their families.
What would you say was your biggest challenge?
Biggest challenge was going from being a family life chaplain to being back on the line with a brigade combat team. I loved it because of all the preparations but it was a huge learning curb. We were scheduled to go to Iraq but that changed when we were assigned as one of the first brigades in the Afghanistan surge. We lost about 35 Soldiers there and over 270 wounded.
How did you deal with notifying families who lost loved ones?
It’s hard to look at the house and know that you have to go in there and say the words that will change that family’s life forever. That was tough and as pastors and counselors we are taught to deal with strong emotions, but that is something I will never forget.
Why are you choosing to retire?
Well, I’m trained as a family life chaplain and have a Ph.D. in marriage and family counseling. That is my passion. I love helping Soldiers and families who are having problems. Family life chaplain assignments are limited and I was passed up for one of two positions. I was given my next assignment in Fort Bliss, Texas but after discussing it with my wife and praying on it, we made the decision to retire and continue helping families, veterans, and couples in Oregon.
How did you end up assigned at White Sands Missile Range?
I was doing administrative duties at Fort Bliss when I got an assignment to come up here. The chaplain who was up here, who was my friend, committed suicide. I had just made Lieutenant Colonel and I was asked if I could come up here. We had chaplains available here to assist and minister. The religious program here was decimated and there were a lot of disenchanted people here at White Sands. When they asked me if I would come up here I told them I was dealing with my own feelings of having my friend take his life. So, I wasn’t sure about coming up to WSMR and dealing with other people’s issues as well. My boss at Bliss told me, ‘you are going to WSMR.’ I tell people WSMR is the best job I ever turned down. It was really God’s doing. The chief of chaplains selected me because of my family life background.
Best advice you have gotten?
I was told early on don’t look at the chaplaincy as a career. You stay in it as long as God wants you to stay in and then you get out. Always be prepared for what you’re going to face next.
Best advice you have given?
God doesn’t waste anything in your life. There are always things you’re going to gain no matter where you are or what you’re going through that are going to help you for the rest of your life. A chaplain told me once, chaplains are meaning makers, we help people make meaning of the things that take place in their lives.
How has your wife helped you throughout your career?
Starting from the beginning in Germany my family couldn’t come with me until after a few months of my arrival. Susan got everything packed up and flew to Frankfurt, Germany with our kids. That was the start of her Army career. I’ve known her since I was 10 and she was eight. We have been married 36 years, 35 of those years she has handled the finances. That first year I managed them and didn’t do so great. I never had to worry about things at home. That is a huge thing for a service member. She has been a great support. As you get up there in rank there is a role your spouse takes in the chapel and in the unit. She has always been very involved. The military is a two person career. It requires two people to be successful in the military, if you have a family. My success in the military is due in part to Susan.