Being in the U.S. military requires a certain level of toughness; however, being an LDS chaplain in the military requires more than just toughness.
Growing up in Hyattsville, Md., Gabriel Hess’s dreams were of being an actor and attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Hess even had other ideas about his future career, but none had anything to do with the military.
Hess grew up in a family with two younger brothers in the Washington, D.C., area. He had been home schooled until BYU admitted him as a freshman.
“I’ve got a great family, ” he said. “[My parents] make a perfect balance between being involved in my life, [and] making sure I’m taking the right course of my life and letting me go.”
In the early summer of 2006, Hess stumbled across the word “chaplain,” a word that has led his future in a totally different direction.
After discovering the word chaplain, Hess researched the meaning of it.
“They are religious people, usually a priest or a pastor for their faith within the military,” Hess said.
The more Hess learned about chaplains, the more interest he had in finding out more about LDS military chaplains. Coincidentally, the Washington Post Magazine had a story about chaplains on its front cover a few days after he first saw the word. That story was not the only sign that being a chaplain would be in Hess’ future.
Hess’ decision to be a chaplain surprised not only his family but also his friends. Rebekah Barnes, 24 and a Maryland native, and Hess have been good friends for 10 years.
Barnes said she felt Hess’ decision was a little weird when he first told her.
“It was the week right before he went on his mission, and he told me,” Barnes said, “and it was right when I had decided to do philosophy as well. So we were able to become closer friends because of that.”
Barnes said she felt amazed while hearing Hess talk about being a chaplain because she realized how much he cares for other people.
“He really impressed me,” Barnes said, “and I can imagine him being the person the soldiers go to for spiritual guidance.”
Even though Hess’ parents support and trust him, his mother had some reservations about his choice.
“She wants me to go to the Air Force,” he said, “because it’s safer, which is true, and better living conditions, which is also true.”
Cindy Chamberlain Hess, his mother, from University Park, Md., said Hess might have gotten his interest in politics from his father, who was a political science major.
Moreover, being home schooled gave Hess the opportunity to explore other subjects such as politics and science earlier than other kids.
“[The Washington Post] used to have a section call the Horizon,” his mother said. “And I think it was about six full newspaper pages of exploration of politics and science, and he used to read that when he was very young.”
Hess has been researching other religions for more than four years, his mother said. So his parents were not surprised when he told them about his decision to be a chaplain.
After going through an airborne school in Georgia, Hess was injured and began to understand more of how much spiritual strength and help are needed in the military. He said he felt closer to God than any other time of his life during his hard time in the airborne school.
Currently a senior majoring in philosophy at BYU, Hess is planning to pursue a master’s degree after graduating. However, getting a master’s degree is just one of the prerequisites for being a chaplain.
“You have to have an ecclesiastical endorsement signed by the Church,” Hess said. “[And] you have to be temple worthy and be sealed in the temple.”
He said when an LDS chaplain is called, both the husband and wife are called to serve as a team.
“If you are interested in being a chaplain,” Hess quoted a speaker from one LDS chaplain seminar that he went to, “you should feel that God has called you to become a chaplain.”