A New Worthy Cause
As he accompanied other soldiers in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Assemblies of God Army Chaplain Richard G. Quinn listened to the plea of a frightened sergeant first class as they approached Saddam Hussein's forces in Iraq.
The soldier, worried that he might not emerge alive from a potential impending chemical weapons attack or firefight, asked Chaplain Quinn to baptize him.
Quinn, in the middle of the arid desert sand, reached for his canteen. The sergeant protested that he wanted to be baptized properly, by immersion.
While Quinn agreed with the combatant theologically, the request proved impossible in a practical sense. The chaplain suggested the soldier be content with a simple informal sprinkling, and later, once back safely at a military base in Germany, he could invite friends to a formal baptism ceremony.
Yet in facing the specter of an imminent death, the soldier saw immersion baptism as the most symbolic representation of his faith. Quinn realized he needed to have a better solution in the future.
Quinn gained such an opportunity when later assigned to develop products to meet the spiritual needs of troops while stationed at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Two decades ago he created the "field immersion baptismal liner" as a way to baptize personnel in the field under any condition. The original plastic bag -- made for 67 cents by an Illinois plastics company -- expanded to six feet by three feet, but folded up compactly when not in use.
"I knew we needed some inexpensive, easy way to baptize people on the fly without having to haul a container around," Quinn says.
The makeshift baptismal liner, which can hold 100 gallons of water, is used either in ground by digging a hole or above ground if supported by sandbags or a plywood frame. Although Quinn didn't receive recognition for the design, news of the improvised pool invention landed in a simultaneous photo spread in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report.
For years the Department of Defense has been providing the liners using Quinn's specifications. It goes out as part of the standard chaplain resupply kits to the field, still with Quinn's hand-drawn diagram of how to baptize (in a sitting position if being held backwards, on one's knees if going forward).
All branches of the service across the world have used the field immersion baptismal liner.
"My name was never attached to it," Quinn says. "I was just doing my job."
Another one of Quinn's illustrious innovations during the same era involved an "audio voice translator" so chaplains could communicate with Bosnians or Kosovars when no translator was available. The cutting-edge technology at the time featured a machine that audibly translated other languages into English with a digital screen translation for verifying accuracy.
Quinn has always been passionate about his work. The Southeastern University graduate decided to become a chaplain while an Assemblies of God youth pastor in Kailua, Hawaii. There he saw dejected Marines who attended the church returning from a deployment to the Philippines, which had been under martial law.
"They didn't receive good support from their military chaplains," Quinn says. "A couple of them came back really messed up and struggling spiritually."
Quinn graduated from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and spent four years in the National Guard and Reserves before going on active duty. He retired after 34 years of service as a colonel on June 11.
Although he would have preferred to retire to his native Florida, Quinn says he felt compelled to move with his wife Margene to suburban Washington, D.C. He is on a personal mission to convince government officials to implement a chaplaincy program within the U.S. State Department.
Quinn notes that prisoners, hospital patients, soldiers, and even members of Congress all have access to a federally funded chaplain.
"But if you're of the American diplomatic corps separated from family and stuck in the middle of Yemen or Syria or Libya, there is no chaplain available to help with your problems," Quinn says.
Quinn has formed a firm called Chaplaincy Solutions Research and Consulting in the event his proposal receives government approval. He says he is set with a generous military retirement, so he isn't motivated by profit. Rather, he says God has kept bringing the concept to mind for four years. He likens it to Jonah preaching in Nineveh, and he is committed to lobbying on the proposition for the foreseeable future, even though many people have told him his quest is impossible.
For the plan to become reality, the Senate would need to write legislation, Congress would have to fund it, and the State Department would have to receive it.
"I know somebody has to do something about this," Quinn says. "This call is as strong as the one to create the baptismal liner. If it's God's will, it's His bill."