Skip to main Content

How can Alaska Guard family trust those who ignored pleas?

  • Author: Rick Cavens
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published October 21, 2014

I'm one of "those" chaplains from the Alaska National Guard. After considerable conversation and prayer among all of us to discern our direction and motives, in 2010 and 2011, we told the Governor's Office and his people about the issues in the guard; we told people in the Alaska Legislature; we told the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. And it was not just the combined chaplains' voice that brought up guard concerns to the governing bodies. Other enlisted and officers' groups were doing the same thing around the same time.

The only governing entities that listened to us and tried to help were the offices of Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski. So how can we now trust those governing agencies who did not listen?

Yes, it is an election time. That is the good and bad news. Bad in that it takes an election to bring our concerns forward; good in that years of abuse have finally been brought to light. Politics is neither good nor bad; it just brings possibilities for truth and direction.

I'm so proud of my Army guard chaplain friends who stepped forward publicly. Chaplains Rick Koch and Ted McGovern are real military officers, real chaplains. Though Gov. Parnell did not listen, they were the voice of God seeking justice at that moment. All chaplains want is a chance to be caring, helping, reminders of hope. All of us have been deployed numerous times to our nation's wars, and in war, ministry is easy. Then, you know what to do as a chaplain. Here in Alaska, this emotionally and spiritually draining civil war in the guard has been demoralizing. For it is so hard to figure out the truth and how to act when there is no trust. So, the guard family has become a battered spouse. And this spouse in a political year has a hard time trusting governors, politicians, and people in the National Guard Bureau, for where were they when we came to them? We are the Alaska guard family, and many I still talk to don't trust anyone or anything right now.

As in an abused family we don't want the news and the notoriety. We want it all to just go away. We just want peace in our house. The Alaska guard is the best at doing our mission, which is serving our state and nation in times of need. We win laurels and high praise worldwide despite the civil war in our upper ranks back home. All a guard member wants to do is his or her job, enjoy the people we work with, enjoy the state we love, and then come home and be our own family's private hero.

I resent the time spent in this guard leadership civil war -- it was time wasted that could have been used caring for my guard family on the real problems of life and war. As in an abused family, some guard members are angry for the distraction taking away from what we do best. As in an abused family, some guard members who are seeking ways to heal are misunderstood.

Like an abused family, the guard is going to take time to heal.

That healing will not match the timeline set by governors, state legislators, or the guard offices in D.C., because personally, I don't trust the whole lot of them. Unlike most of us who stand for service above self, those governing entities were not there when we needed them. It will take time for them to prove themselves.

The Alaska guard is an amazing organization and something I'm proud of. I am deeply grieved that the selfishness and personal-control issues of a few have tarnished our Alalska "get-er-done" military image. The toxic and acidic actions of a few have caused us all to look at ourselves, and our personal worldview has been turned upside down. It will take former and current guard members time to serve our state and nation without doubting ourselves again. But we are good people. We are the best and the brightest.

If the governor, legislators and those in D.C. want to help now, they need to put aside their own selfish desires and control issues, confess their part in all this and humble up to make a just house.

Ch. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Rick Cavens is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wasilla. Before retiring, he served as Wing Chaplain of the 176th Wing of the Alaska Air National Guard.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)