Perham pastor, Paul Anderson, retires as a U.S. Navy Chaplain
After 21 years as a Navy Chaplain, Paul Anderson has requested to “go ashore” for the last time.
Anderson, a rural Vergas resident and part-time pastor at Hosanna Ministries in Perham, recently retired from military service. A ceremony was held at the United States Naval Reserve in Fargo, N.D., on Dec. 7, where he was awarded the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his outstanding service.
Anderson became a Chaplain with the U.S. Marine Corps in 1993, and served back-to-back deployments to Iraq in 2008-2009. He finished out his career as Commanding Officer of the Volunteer Training Unit at the Fargo naval reserve.
His decades of service are dotted with noteworthy achievements and memorable experiences. He’s survived sand storms in Iraq, had tea with Iraqi Generals, lived through a convoy attack, baptized Marines in the desert and video interviewed the first Iwo Jima flag raiser, to name just a few.
In a recent interview with the Focus, Anderson said retiring was “a little bittersweet.”
He explained that he’s always been passionate about counseling soldiers and “wouldn’t trade the experience,” but also admitted, “I don’t miss the time away from my family.”
Anderson and his wife of 25 years, Kimberly, have six children ranging in age from 18 to 7 – all of whom, he said, are relieved to have him home for good.
The year of Anderson’s deployment was a tough one for the family, he said. Communication was limited, and Kimberly and the kids often worried about his safety. Even when he wasn’t serving overseas, Anderson was required to spend some time away from home, traveling every month for training sessions.
Despite the challenges, Anderson feels he experienced “the best of both worlds” by splitting his time as a pastor and Chaplain.
“I believe they were beneficial to each other,” he said of the dual roles. “I got training through the military at no cost to my churches, and my church experience was invaluable in ministering to military personnel.”
That experience came in especially handy in Iraq, where, he said, “I believe I did more counseling in one year than I did in 18 years of ministry – and I do a fair amount of counseling.”
Most of that counseling, he said, dealt with relationships and issues going on back home, rather than anything related to battle.
“Deployment isn’t easy,” Anderson said. “It changes things. It changes families.”
He related to soldiers by offering a softer, less rigid presence than they were used to getting in the military, helping them feel more at ease and comfortable with opening up to him.
A native of Ada, Minn., Anderson found his calling for ministry midway through his senior year of high school. The decision to serve with the military came later, though he’d considered it from a young age.
The son of a Marine, Anderson said his dad, Clayton, “planted a seed in me about the military. I was always very intrigued.” After becoming a minister and learning more about serving as a Navy reserve chaplain, Anderson got on board with the idea.
In the earlier days of his Naval career, Anderson served in such places as Okinawa, Japan, San Diego, Calif., Johnstown, Penn., Minneapolis and other cities. The first duty he performed was a “burial at sea” on Lake Superior in Duluth. He was so new that he didn’t even have his uniform yet, and had to wear one of his own suits.
A year in Iraq
Anderson was called to active duty in Iraq in August of 2008, and, after a brief two-week break a few months in, was involuntarily recalled.
“It was exciting, but yet I was getting into a war zone,” he said of being called to active duty. “As a reservist, you train and you wait. It’s like a minor league player who waits to get called up... so when you get the call, it’s exciting yet concerning.”
At first, Anderson said, “I was attached to a group of guys who were on the ground, then to two battalions who gathered intel and deciphered it for the Generals.”
To have access to the soldiers working in intelligence, Anderson needed to be able to go into the operations center, and so was given top security clearance – an unusual allowance for a chaplain.
At any given time, Anderson ministered to 60-100 soldiers, though he once ministered to 3,500 members of the Iraqi military. He often took helicopters off the military bases to minister to different ‘teams’ stationed at the various borders of Iraq.
On one of these helicopter trips, at the Jordan border, he came across a refugee camp, where he got to meet with a U.S. representative of the United Nations who was there to interview refugees for possible immigration.
At other times, Anderson would travel in convoys, which was a considerably more dangerous mode of travel. Convoys usually consisted of small groups of Humvees traveling 200-300 yards apart for safety, keeping in constant communication with each other via radio.
Anderson had his closest brush with danger while riding in a convoy. The convoy was attacked by a group of five enemy fighters who ambushed the Humvees, blasting them with bombs that they had hidden in the back of a pickup truck. Anderson said it was the driver of the Humvee he was riding in who eventually “took care of the situation and eliminated the threat,” in military speak. It was a frightening ordeal for everyone involved.
“The convoy attack was a bit surreal,” Anderson said. “It happened so fast, I still think my ears are ringing from that.”
That became Anderson’s last mission off the base. After that, he was given more responsibility on base. During his time in Iraq, he was attached to Marine combat teams and intelligence battalions in Fallujah and Ramadi, as well as four squadrons at the remote Al Asad Air Base.
He got to know many of the soldiers well, and felt privileged to counsel them. He said the later deployments were generally harder on the troops, emotionally, as there wasn’t as much action to keep their time and minds occupied, and improved communications with family and friends back in the U.S., while wonderful in many ways, also made homesickness a more prevalent issue.
“They were hearing about what was going on back home... hearing things like ‘Why don’t they send you home?’ I miss you. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out,’” Anderson said. “Better communication with loved ones back home sometimes made it more difficult.”
Communication with his own family was limited, but better than some might expect. Anderson was able to Skype with his wife and kids at least once or twice a month, which allowed his 2-year-old son to get to know his father’s face, even while they were more than 6,000 miles apart.
“When he saw me, he knew me,” said Anderson of his youngest son Bjorn’s reaction to seeing him upon his return home. “He ran up to me at the airport. That was a good thing for me.”
Today, as a retired chaplain and commander, Anderson is still getting used to his new, more domestic life as a full-time father, part-time pastor and veteran. He has no plans to leave Perham, and will continue in his position at Hosanna Ministries.
“We like Perham, and the kids are established here, so to have that stability is important,” he said. “It’s been good here. We really like the community. There are a lot of good people here.”