By GINI SINCLAIR
Medical Recruiting Brigade
Before getting married in 1998 Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Oliver made his fiancée Chandra three promises: they would never live in Oklahoma, they would never serve in the ministry, and never buy a recreational vehicle.
Oliver joins the Medical Recruiting Brigade as the brigade chaplain, from Oklahoma, where he and Chandra have lived for the last 13 years.
“I got permission before I broke the promises,” Oliver said. “We were living in California and it was very expensive. We moved to live with her parents in Oklahoma. That’s where I asked her about going into the ministry.” Oliver states emphatically he has no plans to buy an RV.
In November 2013 Oliver became the first chaplain to serve the MRB as a brigade chaplain. As the first, he has an opportunity to lay down a foundation for others to follow.
“I’m here to support the Soldiers and staff of the MRB,” he said. “Sometimes people just need to vent in order to hear themselves come up with a solution. If not then I can help provide answers; to help the person to realize they are a whole person. When I am talking with a person I can offer them 100 percent confidentiality,” Oliver notes.
“Part of my job is to sense the climate of morale,” he continued, “I advise the command on my sensing of the climate.”
Currently Oliver is working on developing a consistent Strong Bonds program for the brigade. (Strong Bonds is a U.S. Army program that is run by chaplains on each installation to help strengthen marriages). The challenge lies in the fact that the brigade is located throughout the U.S., with units in Germany and Puerto Rico. Some recruiting centers do not have easy access to a military installation.
Since he is stationed on a military installation, Oliver works with the installation chaplains in supporting and promoting their programs. He is regularly involved at the Pritchard Chapel on Fort Knox, along with Chaplains (Lt. Col.) Brian Harki, chief and (Capt.) Malcolm Rios, the operations officer-in-charge, both of the Chaplain Recruiting Branch, MRB.
Oliver feels he can relate to those who need his assistance because he has had a variety of life experiences before joining the Army as a chaplain. Raised in San Luis Obispo, Calif., he joined the Air Force at 19. During basic training he was recruited to be a pararescue specialist. This field fulfilled his desire to help people.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Oliver said. “As a pararescue specialist we were trained in medicine to a level above paramedic. During my two years of training I went to airborne, SCUBA and HALO Schools (High Altitude, Low Opening). We were trained to go behind enemy lines and recover a downed crew member.”
After four years he left the Air Force and attended The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, Calif., where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies with an emphasis in Biblical Counseling. While living in California he helped entrepreneurs with developing their businesses and worked in insurance.
Upon moving to Oklahoma Chandra and Oliver both earned Masters of Business Administration from Oklahoma City University. While living in Oklahoma Oliver joined the Army Reserve as a chaplain candidate. During his time in the reserve he went to Afghanistan, from Sept. 2012 to July 2013, where he served as garrison chaplain at Camp Eggers. From 2004 until 2013 Oliver held pastoral positions in Presbyterian churches in Norman and Edmund, Okla.
In 2011 Oliver earned a Masters of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary (headquartered in Philadelphia). Oliver drove from Oklahoma to Dallas, Texas, to take classes.
Oliver said he initially looked at becoming a chaplain in the Air Force, but wasn’t happy with the way the ministry was structured.
“In the Air Force a chaplain is assigned to a chapel,” Oliver explained. “In the Army a chaplain is assigned to Soldiers. The Army believes a Soldier needs a chaplain. The biggest thing (for me) is to be available to Soldiers no matter where they are. That’s what I want to do.”