CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – “Chaplains do not volunteer, they are called,” said Col. Jeffrey Houston, outgoing division chaplain, 4th Infantry Division and U.S. Division-North, during his promotion and awards ceremony at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq, May 2.
Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, commanding general, 4th Inf. Div. and U.S. Division-North, officially promoted Houston to the rank of colonel and presented him with the Bronze Star Medal and Meritorious Service Medal for his exemplary performance while supporting service members deployed to Iraq as part of Task Force Ironhorse.
“While we may have the best gear in the world and the best training in the world, the thing that makes us special is the people,” said Perkins. “Chaplains, specifically people like Jeff, give us inner strength. That is what he has done for me, and that is what he has done throughout his military career.”
Less than a year after joining the Army, Houston, a native of Van Buren, Mo., deployed to Kuwait and Iraq as a battalion chaplain with 3rd Battalion, 25th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
The 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division was one of the first units to put boots on the ground during the conflict, and Houston became the third chaplain to arrive in the Persian Gulf.
“I came to Iraq as a captain and I will leave as a colonel,” he said. “All my key positions have been in Iraq. It has been an honor to serve here.”
Following the first Gulf War, Houston continued to serve soldiers’ spiritual needs throughout the Army, serving at multiple positions within the chaplaincy while moving from battalion to division level positions.
In 2006, and again in 2008, Houston deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom before joining 4th Inf. Div. in 2009.
During his tenure as the “Ironhorse” division chaplain, Houston deployed once again, this time as the senior chaplain for U.S. Division-North.
Through two decades of service, Houston watched first-hand the progression in Iraq.
Houston said the drastic shift in the relationship the U.S. shares with Iraq brings him hope for a better future in a country that now has the tools to govern itself as a self-sufficient democracy for the first time.
Houston’s hard work in the service of troops and their families epitomizes the spirit of the chaplaincy, said Perkins.
“He’s had all the hard assignments,” said Perkins of Houston’s career. “He has spent his time out where soldiers are, he spends his time out where soldiers unfortunately die, and he spends his time with families of soldiers who have been killed in action.”
Houston has spent his life on the front lines dealing with soldier issues and supporting families, Perkins added.
The senior chaplain said 20 years ago he never would have expected to reach his current station in the Army.
“My goal was to stay in 20 years and make lieutenant colonel and it just didn’t work out that way,” he said.
Houston explained God had a different plan for him.
Houston is leaving Iraq to attend the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa., where he hopes to gain skills to assist him in higher echelons of the Army’s command structure.
Houston’s dedication to his vocation and the soldiers he has been called to minister fills his Family with pride, said his wife, Lisa Houston.
“I’ve waited a long time in the Army because we keep saying we are going to retire,” said Lisa, who attended her husband’s promotion ceremony via video teleconference. “But you and I have waited for each adventure God has sent our way and neither one of us ever expected to see this moment. It wasn’t on our radar to reach this position, but I am humbled and grateful and honored.”