Rehoboth’s Terry Austin now chaplain at Arlington National Cemetery

Small-town boy meets the president
July 4, 2017

Terry Austin says he's just a small-town boy from Rehoboth Beach. Yet as Command Chaplain at Arlington National Cemetery, Austin delivered the invocation during the Memorial Day Ceremony on May 29, where just a few steps away stood President Donald Trump. "I pinched myself to believe I was standing next to President Trump and senior military officials," he said.

A graduate of Cape Henlopen High School, Austin said at the time, he was not particularity spiritual. He grew up in a home where he went to church but hadn't made a personal commitment to faith.

After high school, he enlisted in the Marines and became a radio operator. During his four years of service, a fellow Marine taught him about the Bible. Austin said that process led him to accept Christ and shaped his future. After leaving the Marines, he graduated from Bible college and became a preacher.

Austin felt no desire to become a military chaplain, yet as the years went on, he found a military chaplaincy was calling him. Austin decided to act on that feeling and earned his master's degree in divinity, becoming an active-duty chaplain in 1989. He chose to become an Army chaplain because this time around, he wanted to stay on land and serve in the field.

Decades later, he is still an active-duty Army chaplain.

Austin said he's blessed; as chaplain his profession resonates in his heart. He said he got "at least three things in life correct. Trusting Christ as my savior; marrying my wife, Mona; and becoming a military chaplain."

During his years of service, Austin has deployed with troops, serving overseas as a battalion chaplain during Operation Desert Storm. When he set out to do what he considers God's will and become a chaplain, he didn't know the breadth of experiences God had in mind. "A civilian preacher has a congregation and a church. For a chaplain, your congregation is the unit you are assigned to, and your place of worship is wherever your unit is deployed to or located. How many preachers can say they jump out of airplanes or do military supply missions with their congregation?"

Last year he was considering retirement when he got the offer to serve as a chaplain in Washington, D.C. It was an offer he felt he couldn't pass up.

"Serving at Arlington National Cemetery is a huge honor," he said. He is now part of burial ceremonies at the cemetery, participates in D.C.-area ceremonies and has led prayers at the Pentagon. This position allows Austin to interact with civilians, veterans, and active-duty military.

Stationed in D.C., Austin returns to Rehoboth every few weeks to visit his mother, Antoinette. "She has always been an inspiration to me, and our visits are the highlight of my month," Austin said. He said the Cape Region was a great place to grow up. "I love fishing and I love the water. I've been missing Rehoboth since I left home after high school."

Since he left, things have changed. The places he and his brother trapped muskrats are now housing developments. Yet Austin fondly said, "In many other ways, not much has changed. Traffic is still bad in the summer. Dolle's is still making popcorn. Grotto is still making pizza. You can still get a Nic-o-boli at Nicola Pizza. Rehoboth is still home."

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