Robert Kinnune on Military Chaplains
Date: May 26th, 2013

In honor of our veteran’s on Memorial Day, we take a look at what it is like to be a military chaplain with Major Robert Kinnune stationed out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State.  This interview represents another in our occasional series where we examine the life story of someone who makes a career out of religious service.  Tony begins the interview with some confusion on how to address Robert and tells a brief story of how Chaplain Kinnune came to Tony’s attention.  We then dive into Maj. Kinnune’s personal background dating back to his younger years as an adopted child.  He was raised in a religious family with a father who served as a Navy cook, but never seriously considered either the ministry or military growing up.  We then learn that a crucial turning point in Robert’s life was the death of his father in the summer after he graduated from high school.  This prompted him to consider issues of life and death more closely, yet he was still a long ways from moving into the ministry.  It was at Eastern Washington University where he signed up for ROTC as a way to honor his father.  He then travels to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training and details his first encounter with a military chaplain during foot inspection.  (Yes, you read that correct … foot inspection.)  Robert then mentions how he would run across field services on occasion, but the next critical turning point in his career path comes when given the choice to either scrub latrines or attend an inter-denominational prayer breakfast.  Needless to say, he took the latter.  Inspired by this prayer breakfast, Robert begins to consider serving as a military chaplain but in 1992 this was not one of the career paths that one could choose as an ROTC graduate.  As such, he ends up serving as an engineering officer for a dozen or so years.  It was during this time he is asked to lead several prayer sessions when the chaplain is not present, does so willingly, and begins to seriously consider the chaplain corps with the prompting of some close spiritual confidants.

We then talk about the training that he undertook to qualify for the military chaplaincy including earning a M.Div. degree and a M.A. in psychology — the former degree being required, but the latter was optional.  Tony asks if other chaplains have similar career trajectories and Robert notes that there is a wide array of paths that bring people to that profession.  At the half way point of the interview, we then turn the conversation to this issue of what a military chaplain does by looking at both “a day in the life” of Chaplain Kinnune and then how he approaches the “life cycle” of a typical soldier — from basic training, to deployment, to retirement.  We cover the various challenges that soldiers may face at each of these stages, including the constant movement from one place to another, the difficulties of deployment in a battle zone, the hardship soldiers face being away from family, and then returning from the battlefield.  Robert talks about his deployments in Iraq and answers the question, “Are there really no atheists in foxholes?”  It is during this portion of the interview that he provides some general stories about his ministry in the military.  We also address the issue of “compassion fatigue” among the chaplaincy; We conclude with a look at where his life is heading post-military.  Chaplain Kinnune mentions his work as a sheriff’s chaplain out in eastern Washington as well as his work with troubled youth in Spokane.  Recorded: May 20, 21013.


 Military Chaplains’ Association.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord.


Daniel Stiles on Cowboy Churches.

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