The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 6, 2012

Military chaplain puts faith, family and others first

Ruth Rice

JOHNSTOWN — Jonathan Bell has two titles, pastor and major, and considers his career choice a merging of two vital ministries.

Bell is pastor of Blacklick Community United Methodist Church in Indiana County and a military chaplain with the rank of major in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

Being career military has been Bell’s dream since childhood.

“From grade school, getting into a military academy was my goal,” Bell said. “When I made my final decision for West Point, it was the first time I had prayed about it.”

Bell’s parents are both United Methodist ministers.

“I had the thought there was something else I should be doing,” he said. “I was not supposed to sign the contract for West Point, even though it had been my focus of attention for years. I heard God’s call to the military chaplain ministry.”

Bell has been a chaplain since 2000 and has served in the Middle East in Iraq and Afghanistan and some locations he isn’t at liberty to divulge.

Bell serves as chaplain for the 171st Air Refueling Wing, 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron, Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

He returned from Afghanistan in February after being deployed at the end of June 2011.

For his overseas service, Bell received the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Octavius V. Catto Medal, was recognized as Chaplain of the Quarter for U.S. Central Command and was nominated as the 2011 Air National Guard Chaplain of the Year.

“It was tremendously humbling to win the Catto Medal because it’s the first time it’s been received in 140 years,” Bell said. “I received it for being a good soldier, a good citizen and a good neighbor, but I didn’t do anything but live my life like I always do.”

“It’s awe-inspiring when I practice what I preach and earn a medal. I tell everyone everything I do is living out my call. I don’t need to speak words to show the face of Christ. I believe that call is on all our lives. I’m recognized as the go-to chaplain in the entire Middle East and individually as a good soldier and citizen by the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and it makes me speechless.”

When he spoke of his experiences in Afghanistan at the National Day of Prayer observance at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center in Richland Township in May, Bell told of leading a soldier to Christ and hearing he had been killed in battle a short time later and others who felt bullets pass between their body and their body armor without harming them.

“I’ve served with the finest military members I’ve ever seen,” Bell said. “They’re teachers, Walmart clerks, pastors and stay-at-home moms. When you see them, you don’t realize they have another life.”

Bell also served two tours in Antarctica when the Air National Guard partnered with the National Science Foundation.

“Less than 10,000 people in the world have lived at the South Pole for more than a day,” Bell said. “I was there for 181⁄2 days. We have the only planes capable of flying missions there. It was only peacekeeping, humanitarian and science-focused.”

“I  made sure there was free practice of religion for all faith beliefs. There also was a lot of counseling.”


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