From Parish to Pentagon

One alum's inspiring career as a pastor and Navy chaplain

Rear Admiral Gregory Horn

Just days before Rear Admiral Gregory C. Horn was set to retire from his 25-year career with the Navy Chaplain Corps, tragedy struck.

On September 16, 2013, as Horn attempted to fly into work at the Navy Pentagon in Washington DC, the Ronald Reagan National Airport was shut down. A gunman had gone on a rampage at the Washington Navy Yard and several had been reported wounded. By the time Horn was able to fly in that night, over a dozen people were dead or injured.

As the Navy Chaplain Corps's 17th Deputy Chief of Chaplains for reserve matters, Horn's work is mainly administrative and focused on supervising and managing personnel. But from his office, Horn helped mobilize chaplains from the Pentagon to the Navy Yard located six miles away. On Tuesday, September 17, chaplains were going out on individual casualty calls to families of the deceased as far north as in Pennsylvania and as late as 1:30 in the morning, Horn recalls.

"The chaplain is the one who's there to hold the families' hand, to look them in the eye and to help them understand their grief, and hopefully begin to process it to see some hope on the other side," Horn said in an interview last week. "It's a very special function of what we call our 'ministry of presence.'"

Part of Horn's responsibility is also to make sure the chaplains themselves are receiving care. For the chaplains working in the Pentagon, he says, their main duties are writing policy and programs, or working on force structure. Suddenly with this tragedy, they were face-to-face with people who had seen someone killed or wounded or were in fear for their own lives.

"If our chaplains assigned to battalions or ships are out there in the ocean or on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq, they're in an environment where they expect someone's going to get hurt, so they're prepared for it," Horn says. "Our folks here at the Washington Navy Yard-it's not a wartime environment. This is office work. So it was pretty shocking to everyone."

To his surprise, Horn's change of office and retirement ceremony went ahead as planned, and on September 23, 2013 he was honored for his service. Out of respect for the families and chaplains of the Navy Yard, Horn chose to forgo the traditional saluting batteries that admirals are entitled to receive. A moment of silence for the victims was also written into the program. Fellow alum and chief of Navy chaplains Rear Admiral Mark L. Tidd remarked on Horn's legacy and highlighted his "vital message of hope and encouragement" to fellow chaplains and religious program specialists.

Rear Admiral Horn's retirement ceremony
Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, 25th chief of Navy chaplains, delivers remarks during a change of office and retirement ceremony for Rear Adm. Gregory C. Horn, 17th deputy chief of chaplains for reserve matters. The ceremony was held Sept. 23, 2013 in Leutze Park at the Washington Navy Yard.(U.S. Navy photo by Christianne M. Witten/released)

Though Horn says goodbye to the Pentagon and his quarters at the Navy Yard, his leadership and compassion for chaplains and other caregivers will stay with him. As Horn returns full-time to his parish and looks ahead to his post-Navy future, he hopes to marry his experiences at the pulpit and in the Pentagon to help care for caregivers.

"Seminary prepares pastors to go into the real world and care for people, but who takes care of them while they are out there? Who cares for the caregiver?" Horn says. "That's what I'd like to focus on in my post-Chaplain Corps career. It has been the hallmark of my ministry and what I think my responsibility is to my fellow ministry professionals in any setting."

While he displays the humility of a good leader and insists his successor will be able to do more than he could in the position, Horn, a three-time Fuller grad (MDiv '79, DMin '82, PhD '07) and self-professed "Fuller fan" credits his training and education at Fuller for preparing him to be successful as a chaplain.

"The construct of Fuller is clearly elucidated in its unambiguous statement of faith," Horn says. "But with that very clear statement of faith is this wide-open interest in coming together in a pluralistic environment. I liked the fact that there are many denominations represented at Fuller. I was going to school with people from a lot of different churches, and a lot of different countries because of the School of World Mission."

And the many therapists and clinical psychologists studying in the School of Psychology even further diversified the school, Horn said.

"So I began to understand the pluralistic environment, and tolerating the diversity of religious approaches," he noted. "People of different cultures and faiths, people who look different than me, that becomes normal. And the cooperation and facilitation that comes when psychologists, behaviorial health professionals, pastors and chaplains can work together for the sole goal for helping someone get better? It's just the perfect school to go to."

Horn looks forward to continuing his work as pastor and head of staff at the church that shared him with the Navy for 25 years-even as his reserve tours lengthened his commutes to include the Naval Hospital in San Diego, and the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 17 located in Colorado.

He takes with him a wealth of experiences and memories from his time balancing parish ministry with chaplaincy (and sometimes studies). His job as deputy chief gave him skills to help his parish with things like strategic planning, financing, and leadership, he says.

He won't forget the inspiring 18- and 19-year-olds he saw working on aircraft carriers; the time he commissioned his own daughter, Jessica, as a lieutenant in the Chaplain Corps; and the many, many injured soldiers he regularly visited at the military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, each time he flew in to work. Horn will never forget, he says, the "awful cost of conflict."

More photos from Rear Admiral Horn's retirement ceremony can be viewed here.

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