By MAUREEN ROSE
Gold Standard Acting Editor
Fort Knox has a new senior chaplain sitting in the religious support office; Chaplain (Col.) Byron Simmons, who moved to Kentucky from Fort Jackson, S.C., where he served with the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School’s directorate of Capability, Development and Integration.
Like most agencies on post facing sequestration and shrinking budgets, the RSO had to prioritize missions. Although new to Fort Knox, Simmons quickly established the framework for any priorities: Soldiers first!
“Our motto is Pro Dio et Patria (translation: For God and Country), so I’m a great believer in Soldier ministry,” he said. “Our goal is to bring God to Soldiers and bring Soldiers to God.”
The chaplain support is dedicated to strong chapel communities, as well as the deployed brigade (3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division), the battalion getting ready to deploy (19th Engineer Battalion) plus the hospital, warrior transition unit and all other line units on post, Simmons explained.
While the Soldier priority is easy to say, putting it into action is a little more difficult.
“We have been cut drastically; the Knox RSO has suffered a 50 percent staffing cut,” he explained. “So we’re being asked to do twice the work with half the staff.”
Not only have the authorized slots been cut, but other changes impact the daily workload.
In the past, Simmons explained, when a unit deployed, its chaplains would accompany it; that policy hasn’t changed. Forces Command would generally supply another chaplain to serve the rear detachment by activating a reserve chaplain for the duration of the deployment. However, that backfill process has been eliminated, so it falls to the garrison’s RSO to cover the religious needs of the rear elements.
“So our mission continues to grow as the resources dwindle,” he said.
Another impact of the budget cuts is the day-to-day chapel operations.
“We’re closing on Fridays now in order to clean chapels and cut the grass; functions that are no longer funded.”
However, Simmons is far from distressed over his Knox assignment, budget constraints aside. An Owensboro native, the 30-year Army veteran said he’s happy to be here. Every time he was due for a Permanent Change of Station—19 times so far—Simmons said he requested Fort Knox so he and his wife, Karen, would be closer to their Families, but it never happened. Finally, the dream assignment materialized.
“I just love being at Fort Knox; I love Kentucky, I love Kentucky people,” he enthused. “Every day is paradise for us.”
When pressed about what makes Kentuckians so special, Simmons was quick to elaborate.
“Kentucky folks are very friendly, they are open to outsiders, they’re always willing to help—I’ve never encountered any Kentuckian who was rude or uninterested. They’re always professional. Kentucky folks are down home and they don’t get bent around the axel about minutiae. That’s what I like about them.” Unlike other Bluegrass devotees, however, Simmons declined to express a preference for the in-state sports rivalry between the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky.
“I love them both!”
But his desire to serve Soldiers is unwavering, even when the Soldier no longer wears a uniform.
“I love veterans,” he said.
Flags Across America is one of his favorite projects and he said he has already made contact with the local point of contact for the project and plans to help out when the organization distributes American flags to display on veterans graves at the cemetery near Fort Knox.
His advice to coworkers and chapel staffers is to bear in mind his priority, “I love Soldiers and I love those who support Soldiers, and I try to say “yes” whenever it’s humanly possible.”
Simmons and his wife have two grown children, Jason and Brittany, and two grandchildren.
Professionally speaking, Simmons said one of his goals for his time at Fort Knox is to achieve a title he’s always admired—that of a Kentucky Colonel.
“I guess you can tell I’m a Kentuckian through and through.”