Operation Religious Freedom
Being a soldier in the armed forces can be physically and emotionally demanding. As an army chaplain, MPA alum Lt. Col. Thomas Helms has been offering soldiers moral support and religious services for nearly two decades.
Joining the National Guard and Army Reserve when he was seventeen years old, Helms was impressed the military let him worship on Sundays. After getting a BA in history from BYU, he was led to the MPA program thanks to his interest in politics and local government. During his studies, Helms decided to focus on a military career.
“It just hit me that being a chaplain would be a fantastic job, so I found out about the additional schooling I needed,” Helms says. Chaplains are assigned to each army unit and provide counsel and worship services.
Helms added on some coursework to qualify for chaplaincy and began his career shortly after earning his MPA in 1997.
“A chaplain’s responsibility is to make sure the soldiers have the opportunity to worship no matter where they are in the world—on the battlefield or in training—and that everyone has the ability to freely exercise their religion,” Helms explains.
Helms’s assignments took him many places throughout his career. Assigned to the Eighty Second Airborne Division, Helms was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. He loved the opportunity to minister to soldiers in combat zones. Another notable position was as senior chaplain at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC, in 2012. He describes his experience as an “incredible honor.”
In 2013 Helms joined the Pentagon as a force management officer.
“It was interesting to work at the Pentagon because you get the nexus between warfighting, policy, and politics,” he says.
He recently started a new chapter of his career as the chaplain of the First Armored Division in Fort Bliss, Texas, where he works with about seventy chaplains and chaplain assistants.
“Tom understands and characterizes what it means to be a leader,” says Michael Isom, fellow BYU alum and former coworker at the Pentagon. “He selflessly gives of his time, seeking often for opportunities to lift and sustain others. As one of the senior military chaplains, he continues to serve as an advocate for chaplain and religious liberty issues.”
Helms values the training he received in the MPA program and says it taught him how to work well with others. This experience has helped him in the military, where relationships and trust are essential.
“We are involved in the rescue. It’s leaving the ninety-nine and spending time with the soldier who needs help,” Helms says. “Whether it’s counseling before someone gets married or helping him or her adjust to the military, that’s where chaplains do some of their greatest work.”