PORTRAITS OF CAPITAL AIRMEN: Arlington Chaplain faces unique challenges, experiences

  • Published
  • By Capt. Christian L. Williams
  • Air Force District of Washington
I am Christian LaPaul Williams and I am a captain in the United States Air Force. I work for the Air Force District of Washington as a Chaplain at Arlington National Cemetery, Va. Arlington has a unique mission and I am proud to serve here. It's truly a life changing experience.

When I first heard of Arlington National Cemetery I immediately thought of honoring veterans and fallen comrades. I didn't realize the true significance of my role in comforting their families as well. Also, I didn't comprehend how challenging that would be.

Sure, as a chaplain I believed that I was capable of speaking with and providing comfort to the families. I'm certainly able to highlight the sacrifices of the veterans and active duty members for the just cause of freedom. I also know how to comfort the families with the knowledge that the Air Force is their extended family.

But one day I performed a service that challenged me in a way that I had never been challenged before.

I was assigned to a service that required me to give a committal for a stillborn baby boy, whose father was an active duty member. He and his wife had three other children who were 8 years old, 6 years old, and 18 months old.

I contacted the family to extend my condolences and see if there was any information that they might want me to share at the committal. The parents only had one request - to make the committal service kid friendly. I pondered how to fulfill this unique request.

I began to conduct research, to no avail. Then it dawned on me that I needed to go back to my foundation, which is my faith. I prayed and asked God to help me to minister to this family, particularly their children.

My faith in God, through my answered prayer, gave me what I needed to minister to this family. I kneeled down in front of the children at the service, and asked them to tell me their favorite character. The oldest told me "a princess." The middle child said "Star Wars." The youngest pointed to an iPhone with a picture of Elmo on the screen and said "Elmo."

The two oldest children, at my urging, then gave me more specific names of their heroes as it relates to these characters.

Afterwards, I pointed to the white marble stones surrounding the gravesite and explained that the stones represented our nation's heroes.

I told them we were there on that day to honor another hero. I asked them if they knew to whom I was referring and the 8 year old, with tears rolling down her red cheeks, said "my brother." I agreed with her, and told them that heroes always showed up when they were needed, and that their brother was watching over them.

With my voice cracking and full of emotion I said that their brother will always remain in their hearts and whenever they needed him - their hero - would always show up. The family and I then grabbed hands and prayed as I gave the final committal of their stillborn child.

This ministry opportunity has changed my life forever. Now, I fully understand my mission. I am humbled and proud to serve on the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.

My name is Capt. Christian LaPaul Williams, Chaplain at Arlington National Cemetery, USAF.