Keeping a Cool Head
CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina — After a decade as a minister and school administrator, James M. Peugh in 2002 joined the U.S. Navy as an Assemblies of God chaplain. He has been deployed five times.
The Salinas, California, native graduated from the AG’s Bethany College, then spent four years as associate pastor at First Assembly of God in Coquille, Oregon. He earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Vanguard University. Afterward, he spent five years at the AG school in Costa Mesa as director of leadership development.
“I had been interested in the Navy since I was a kid,” says the serious-minded Peugh, 54. “The idea of being a chaplain first came to me in college.”
Peugh saw combat for the first time in 2006 in Iraq, while with the Marines Combat Logistics Battalion 5. His duties included riding along in vehicle convoys with Marines and ministering to the wounded in a trauma center at Camp Fallujah.
“We lost some folks in Iraq,” says Peugh, who earned a second master’s degree at Vanguard in religion as well as another master’s in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. “I conducted many memorial services, made death notifications, and did a lot of counseling.”
He believed in the importance of maintaining a calm presence, even if Marines or sailors — including superiors — seemed overwrought. That included once grabbing a distraught Marine lieutenant colonel and forcefully asking, Are you all right, sir?
“We as chaplains have to maintain order,” says Peugh, whose awards include the Combat Action Ribbon. “We can’t become too emotional at critical times.”
“As a chaplain, I saw the horror of war as well as the best of humanity,” Peugh recalls.
After experiencing dangerous fighting in Iraq, Peugh had further intense encounters as group chaplain for the Navy Special Warfare Command (SEAL team) on four 90-day deployments. He conducted several memorial services for Marines in remote valleys of Afghanistan. In all, Peugh spent three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since last November, Peugh has been at the massive Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, conducting the day-to-day programming at five chapel facilities and overseeing a dozen religious ministry teams.
Many of his duties now involve training chaplains and religious program specialists to handle the stress he has experienced in combat. Peugh’s promotion to Navy captain will take place Sept. 1.
“Jim is one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever seen,” says James T. Denley, the 63-year-old Assemblies of God military endorser/representative for the denomination’s 174 active duty chaplains. “He tries to raise expectations and change culture. Wherever he’s been, it’s taken a lot of tenacity.”
Heather Rachels Clements has known Peugh since she served as student body president at Vanguard for two years before graduating in 2002. Peugh supervised her as leadership and development director at the school and he remains a board member of the alumni council. Clements has been Vanguard director of alumni for 18 years and the two remain close friends.
“Jim can be counted on if he says he will do something,” says Clements, 42. “He will do it with excellence, in a timely manner, and well-thought through.”
Clements says Peugh shows the same concern for service members and their families as he did with students.
“I have heard him tell accounts of the heartache of the wounded,” Clements says. “There is no better person to walk them through tragedies. Jim, through his quiet strength, is committed to their emotional, spiritual, and physical health and pointing them to Jesus.”