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Memorial Day is for families, too, says retired chaplain

Lane Stockeland wears civilian clothing since moving with his wife, Valerie, to a home in North Hudson last November. The retired U.S. Army chaplain spent 27-plus years in the military. Photo by Randy Hanson1 / 2
Chaplain Lane Stockeland preaches in Hope Chapel on Camp Victory, Baghdad, in 2007. He was the officer in charge of the chapel during his year-long tour in Iraq. Submitted photo2 / 2

The reason for Memorial Day certainly is to honor the memories of all those who have given their lives in the nation's wars and military campaigns, says retired Chaplain Lt. Col. Lane Stockeland.

"And you honor and remember the family of that military member, and those of the family who remain, because they need our support," he adds. "It's often the families of the military person that have really difficult challenges."

Stockeland speaks from experience. In 27-plus years with the U.S. Army, he was twice deployed overseas for a year at a time. And he and his wife, Valerie, and their two children made frequent moves about the country as his duty assignments changed.

"It is not easy to move, to uproot, every two or three years -- especially for the wife and the family," he says. Val, his wife of 31 years, stuck with him every step of the way, no matter how difficult it was.

When Stockeland was away in Korea and in Iraq, he had the camaraderie of fellow soldiers. His family didn't have the same tight support group.

"All I'm trying to say is as we remember Memorial Day, we do certainly want to honor the lives and memories of all those military personnel who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. That's what Memorial Day is all about," he says. "But we also want to remember and keep remembering their families."

The way to honor and show gratitude for the service of fallen military personnel, he says, is to be fruitful citizens.

"In my personal opinion, we have an obligation ... to keep alive what they stood for because they didn't sacrifice their lives for nothing," he says. "They sacrificed their lives for honor, integrity, family, home, the American way of life."

Stockeland also encourages people to thank veterans and current members of the military for their service.

"To me, that is a little bit of what Memorial Day is all about. It's more than just a day off with a barbecue," he says.

The Stockelands moved to North Hudson last November in anticipation of his retirement two months later. They settled here to be close to their daughter, Alicia, a registered nurse at a St. Paul hospital, and other family members. (Their newlywed son, Christopher, lives in Nashville.)

Stockeland, 57, says he had a wonderful and unexpected career as an Army chaplain.

Growing up

He grew up in the Binford, N.D., a town of about 300 people located a little more than 100 miles northwest of Fargo. There were 13 students in his 1973 graduating class at Binford High School. One of them was his twin sister, Linnea.

"It was a real nice upbringing," Stockeland recalls.

His father was a welder for Melroe Manufacturing, the company that makes Bobcat front-end loaders and skid steers. His mother took care of the six children in the family and worked occasionally at the Farmer's Union Co-op gas station and general store.

He played high school baseball and basketball and was active in his family's church, Trinity Lutheran, which was across the street from their house. He and his brothers were the janitors at the church.

Stockeland and his twin sister followed their older brother to Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle, a two-year college, after graduating high school. He then went to Northwest College of the Assemblies of God in Kirkland, Wash., graduating as a licensed minister of the denomination in 1978.

He met Valerie after returning to North Dakota to serve as a pastoral intern at an Assembly of God church in Bismarck. They married in 1981.

Stockeland tried a number of things before finding a career in the Army. He pastored a home-mission church in western North Dakota for two years, worked at a Montgomery Ward department store in Bismarck and went back to college for a teaching certificate in social studies.

It was his father-in-law, a Postal Service worker from Bismarck, who asked him if he had ever thought about joining the military.

"And I had never even considered it," says Stockeland, who was 30 years old at the time.

He enlisted Aug. 16, 1985. After basic and advanced individual training in New Jersey, he served his three-year enlistment as a chaplain assistant at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. That experience led him to pursue a commission as a full-fledged chaplain.

He attended the Assemblies of God's seminary at Springfield, Mo., as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve and entered active duty as an Army chaplain on Oct. 28, 1991.

Airborne chaplain

He remembers his first assignment as the Airborne School chaplain at Fort Benning, Ga., as one of the highlights of his chaplaincy career.

Having gone through Airborne School himself as an enlisted soldier, Stockeland would parachute with the troops in training.

"Every Monday morning before jump week I would go down and get them fired up and talk about faith and trust ... then I would go and jump with them," he says. "I've got dozens of stories just about that. It was thrilling to be able to be right there with those soldiers. And when they saw the chaplain go out, they knew everything was going to be OK."

He was the Airborne School chaplain for two years.

Chaplain's role

A military chaplain is a minister in uniform, with the three-fold mission to nurture the living, care for the dying and honor the dead, Stockeland relates.

Chaplains do everything that the pastor of a church does -- lead worship services, preach, administer sacraments, lead Bible studies, perform weddings, conduct funerals and provide counseling.

"We do a tremendous amount of pastoral counseling," he adds. Soldiers and members of other branches of the military experience a broad range of problems -- personal, financial, marital, family issues, life-choice issues, stress.

"The chaplain is often the first person they come to just to have somebody to talk to," says Stockeland.

"The unique thing about Army chaplaincy is that unit chaplain goes wherever his or her soldiers go," he says. "So when they go to the field for training, that chaplain is there."

He remembers making coffee for his soldiers at 5 a.m. on a cold hilltop in Korea. It builds camaraderie and relationships to experience what your soldiers are going through, he says.

An Army chaplain is typically assigned to a battalion of 500 to 900 soldiers. While on post, the soldier may attend another home church on or off post, but the battalion chaplain is still there to serve him or her.

"If there is a crisis, if there is a death, if there is a suicide, normally that unit chaplain responds," Stockeland says. "Eventually, the local pastor will get involved with ministry, but the initial response is by the chaplain of that unit."

Stockeland mingled with his soldiers as much as possible.

"You get talking to a soldier and 20 minutes later they're telling you -- hey, I'm having a hard time with this," he relates.

Career highlights

Other highlights of Stockeland's career included serving as the officer in charge of Hope Chapel on Camp Victory, the huge coalition forces compound in Baghdad, Iraq, and almost four years as the chaplain recruiter for the western half of the United States.

A Christmas Eve service in 2007 in Saddam Hussein's former Al Faw palace is one he will never forget, he says.

Hundreds of people attended the service, gathering on three or four levels of the palace, he recalls. The Marines from the Pacific Ocean island country of Tonga sang "Little Drummer Boy" the most beautifully that he has ever heard it performed.

The service closed with the traditional candlelit singing of "Silent Night."

"To experience that -- in that worship setting -- in Mesopotamia, where the Old Testament began, and we are singing about the birth of Christ, was just amazing," he says.

Stockeland says that recruiting chaplain candidates at colleges and seminaries throughout the western United States was "a tremendous privilege and honor."

What's next

Stockeland has been substitute teaching in the east metro. Next fall, he'll enter a hospital chaplaincy training program at a Twin Cities hospital. He hopes to find employment as a hospital or hospice chaplain when he completes the program in August 2014.

Stockeland says he's looking forward to meeting people in the Hudson area and contributing to the community in any way he can, including occasional speaking in local churches.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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