Conversation: Robert Burt
TPExtra: Listen to our podcast with Rear Adm. Robert Burt.
Rear Adm. Robert F. Burt is the Navy Chief of Chaplains. A
seven-year veteran of Naval service prior to becoming a chaplain, Burt has
received the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), Navy
Commendation Medal (two awards) and various service and campaign awards. He is
an ordained minister of the Open Bible Churches. Burt recently visited with
Editor Ken Horn.
tpe: What led you toward ministry and chaplaincy?
BURT: After nearly three years at the University of Oregon I
decided to join the Navy. A lot of my friends were in Vietnam and serving at
that time. I was enlisted in the Navy seven years, and God gave me a burden for
military ministry during that time. I saw the impact the chaplain had on the
entire ship and I felt God was saying, This is what I want you to do.
tpe: What assignments led to this current position?
BURT: I began my chaplaincy service in the Navy in 1981. I
ministered in Puerto Rico for three years then went to sea on the USS Arkansas,
a nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser. I served in a training command and
did some recruiting for Navy chaplains before returning to sea on the USS
Kansas City. We were in the middle of Desert Storm by then. I next went to
Submarine Base Bangor and rode all the Trident submarines there. I grew to
understand the different personalities of the different communities in the Navy
— aviation, submarines, surface.
I served as a regimental chaplain with First Marines at Camp
Pendleton and was two years with Fleet Marine Force Pacific before moving to
Chicago and the training center there. All the recruits now who come into the
Navy go through Great Lakes, so you get to minister to all these new sailors
and it’s an awesome opportunity to help them get themselves established
spiritually right at their inception into the Navy.
More recently I was the Chaplain Corps Detailer where I
helped detail every chaplain to their next assignment. It was a good job and I
got to know so many chaplains in the Corps. From there I went out to be the
Pacific Fleet Chaplain, which is really one of our most demanding jobs in the
Navy Chaplains Corps, and while there was selected to be the new Deputy Chief
of Navy Chaplains, Chaplain of the Marine Corps. I did that for almost three
years and then fleeted up to be the chief in 2006.
I’ve served as a chaplain 26 years now. My son-in-law
commented the other day (he’s been a firefighter for 16 years), “Dad, I don’t
know how you’ve maintained your passion for what you’re doing.” I took it as a
high compliment he could see my love for this ministry today that I had when I
tpe: What is involved in serving as Chief of Navy Chaplains?
BURT: I serve the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of
Naval Operations by overseeing the recruitment, training and equipping of
chaplains. We have 860 authorized billets [jobs] for active duty chaplains and
we have almost 400 reserve chaplains. My job is to keep those billets full.
I’ve visited Assemblies of God Theological Seminary as part of that search for
recruits. We have our chaplains’ school at Newport, R.I.
I would encourage anyone looking for opportunities to
minister as a chaplain to pray about it and let God guide you. Most seminaries,
including Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, have programs that prepare
you for military chaplaincy or actually any institutional chaplaincy. I don’t
know how ministry could be any more exciting.
I do a lot of traveling and get to see chaplains in service
around the world. Our chaplains are doing such a great job. Navy chaplains
serve Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, so we have the sea services. It’s an
unbelievably exciting position.
Our nation in its early stages was concerned enough about
the spiritual welfare and growth of our people in uniform that our forefathers
mandated chaplains be present in the Army and the Navy. We’re in all the
branches, and we’ve been doing this now for 232 years.
tpe: How can we support our military, military families and
BURT: Wherever I travel I encounter people who will go out
of their way to approach me and say, “Thank you for your service.” The
chaplains and service members I’m with often wear their uniforms in the
airport, and people come up all the time to thank them. The cards, letters and
gifts people send to our Marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors serving overseas
I believe support right now for our young men and women in
uniform is phenomenal. These young Americans are putting their lives on the
line to defend freedom — not only in this nation, but around the world.
This nation has demonstrated tremendous support for our military personnel and
Churches can play a very supportive and helpful role. When
there’s a family and someone deploys, the ones who stay home need support.
We’re finding great support in our churches and community organizations.
tpe: How has the Lord helped you during your recent battle
BURT: About a month after I had assumed the position of
Chief of Navy Chaplains I had a physical. Biopsies confirmed cancer in my bone
marrow and they estimated about 65 percent of my bone marrow was affected. I
began with a drug treatment immediately. After four months another bone marrow
biopsy showed the cancer down enough to where an intense chemotherapy and stem
cell transplant was the next step. They took my good stem cells, gave me a day
to rest and then hit me with an intense chemo treatment. They reinfused my stem
cells. At my six-month checkup they gave me a clean bill of health.
It was probably the most challenging event in my life. As
chaplains we are constantly encouraging our people to have faith, use faith, be
empowered, know that God is with you. Paul talked about the grace of God being
sufficient and that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. I found out
firsthand that truly the grace of God is sufficient for the day. When I was
struggling I asked God to give me the strength for just that day; I didn’t need
it for the next day or the next week or the next month. “See me through today,”
I would pray, and God was so faithful.
When we live day by day trusting God for all the little
things in life, then when the big things come along our faith is multiplied to
the point we know God is going to take care of us.
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