Comforting Families of the Fallen
For Chaplain Rusty H. Trubey, supporting families who travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness dignified transfers of the remains of soldiers and civilian contractors is a duty brimming with solemn moments and honor.
It’s also a responsibility of significance, as the U.S. prepares to commemorate Memorial Day — although with social distancing practices 2020’s observances are likely to be more subdued than in the past.
Trubey, a veteran himself, is a Veterans Affairs (VA) chaplain. He is on temporary assignment this year with the U.S. Army Reserves at Dover Air Force Base, home of the nation’s largest military mortuary. Trubey, 51, conducts multiple memorials a year.
“I wouldn’t say this assignment has heightened my appreciation for the holiday,” the chaplain says. “I already appreciated the sacrifice.”
Trubey is an endorsed U.S. Missions chaplain who earlier spent 16 years as an AGUSM missionary and missionary associate with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. After pioneering and overseeing the West Virginia University Chi Alpha chapter in Morgantown, he completed his Master of Divinity degree at Regent University and his clinical pastoral education training at the VA in Pittsburgh. In 2015, he joined the staff at the VA’s Coatesville Medical Center, where he educated rural pastors about the troubles facing many of those who have served in the military, focusing on suicide prevention.
In the past, Trubey had occasionally handled family support if the full-time Army chaplain was elsewhere, including consoling the mother of a contractor killed in a bomb attack.
Although Trubey is a Christian, as a military chaplain he provides care and support to service members and families of all faiths. One particularly telling instance occurred when he consoled the Islamic mother of a soldier killed overseas and whose remains came to Dover. The mother squeezed Trubey’s hand intensely during the solemn movement.
“It was almost as if my hand absorbed what she wanted to say, but couldn’t,” the chaplain says. “Then peace came. A Muslim family from overseas found some comfort from a Christian chaplain from America.”
After that experience, Trubey applied for the one-year assignment when he learned his predecessor would be leaving. Stationed at Dover by the Army Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he supports only families of Army casualties. Other chaplains are assigned to families of victims from their respective services.
Everyone who dies in a theater of operations — including such causes as a heart attack or traffic accident — comes through Dover, where Trubey started duty in January. During the first four months of 2020, he took part in 10 dignified transfers.
Much of the work Trubey does by necessity must occur out of the public spotlight, according to Trubey’s supervisor, Chaplain Ralph L. Bieganek, a veteran of 22 years of active duty. The Fort Knox lieutenant colonel says it’s beneficial to have an Army chaplain located at Dover AFB because he already is familiar with the circumstances surrounding the death of the soldier.
“His integration with the team and his comfort level with procedure allows him to focus more fully on the family coming there,” says Bieganek, 56.
As a hospice chaplain with the VA, Trubey says he already had an affinity for working with dying veterans and their families, experience that has proved valuable in his current position.
“They’re still in shock,” the chaplain says of the families he comforts. “We just walk with them and honor them. I carry people’s stories, and somehow and in some way, invite the presence of God into that story.”