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Chaplain builds relationships, supports New Horizons team

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Clouse, right, plays on a seesaw with Belizean children while they wait with their parents to receive medical care during a New Horizons Belize 2014 medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE, April 11, 2014, in Progresso, Belize. Clouse is supporting service members of New Horizons Belize 2014 as the team's chaplain. He is charged with meeting the spiritual needs of the more than 400 U.S. military members deployed in support of the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar/Released)

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Clouse, right, plays on a seesaw with Belizean children while they wait with their parents to receive medical care during a New Horizons Belize 2014 medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE, April 11, 2014, in Progresso, Belize. Clouse is supporting service members of New Horizons Belize 2014 as the team's chaplain. He is charged with meeting the spiritual needs of the more than 400 U.S. military members deployed in support of the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Kali Gradishar -- Emotionally stirred by the events of 9/11, a man in seminary graduate school found himself wondering where his calling in life would lead.

"I remember where I was," said U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Matt Clouse of his whereabouts on Sept. 11, 2001. He was visiting his mother and heard the news announcement on TV.

"Like Pearl Harbor, as a nation people wanted to respond," he said. "There was a response of, 'What can we do' and 'How can we get involved?' For many, the answer was to join the service."

For Clouse, it took six months to decide that joining the service was the right path for him.

"When I was praying about that, I wrestled with the idea of my calling. I felt called to be a minister; I just didn't know in what way," said Clouse, a native of Muskogee, Okla. "Then six months later, I enrolled in the chaplain candidacy program.

"I have a number of family members who have been in the military," he said. "There's a family way of doing things sometimes, and I've always been patriotic."

Since that time, Clouse has had opportunities to travel the world in uniform to support military operations. He has supported service members as far as Korea, Greenland and Guam. He has also been stationed at air force bases in Oklahoma, California, Alaska and Texas serving as a chaplain.

His home station is Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, but the chaplain currently finds himself in Central America supporting service members of New Horizons Belize 2014 as the team's chaplain. New Horizons is a multi-faceted exercise that provides mutual training opportunities amongst Belizean, Canadian and American forces in health care and civil engineering capacities.

Clouse is charged with meeting the spiritual needs of the more than 400 U.S. military members deployed in support of the exercise.

With the assistance of his chaplain's assistant, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Darrell Williams, Clouse implemented a weekly worship service, jumpstarted men's and women's book studies, provided counseling, and advised the New Horizons task force commander on the team's spiritual needs. The duo verified available worship services in Belizean communities for U.S. service members to attend if the weekly service provided by the chaplain was not in line with their beliefs.

"I really enjoy this. I get to support the New Horizons team: the RED HORSE and medical teams, the staff, and our sister service components," said Clouse. "It truly is a joy to provide my services to them.

"Relationship building. That's what I do. I have to build a trust and maintain a trust through genuineness," he said. "That's what makes this worthwhile. I hear some people say they appreciate what I'm doing, and that's enough for me."

Clouse has discovered that while there are many challenges in his field, there are also many rewards. Regardless, he said he is sure he's on the right path.

"It's an interesting place to be. I don't have command authority. Instead, I am a supporter for people as they go through their individual journeys," the chaplain explained. "I view the military as a mission field -- a place where we can invest in our people.

"In the military, we have people of multiple faiths and multiple associations, and we have people with different religious exposures and people with no exposure to religion at all. I love it that way," Clouse revealed. "Some missionaries go outside the U.S., but I believe missions can be internal, too. This is my missional calling."


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