National chaplain organization has roots in Chilton

Published 7:29 pm Wednesday, July 7, 2010

If you saw Phil Burnette in plain clothes, chances are you wouldn’t know he is the commander of a national faith-based organization. You might also be surprised to know that this organization is headquartered right here in Chilton County.

Burnette, a resident of Clanton, is national commander of the U.S. Corps of Chaplains — a nonprofit, volunteer-based, Christian organization that ministers to all kinds of people with a special emphasis on aid to active duty military members, veterans and their families.

The group is planning its sixth annual conference for Saturday and Sunday, July 17-18 at Clanton’s Guesthouse Inn from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. both days. Anyone who is interested is encouraged to attend.

“Basically, we are anywhere spiritual support can be used — which, I think, is anywhere,” Burnette said.

Burnette has been involved with several churches in various capacities since he was ordained in 1984. He has worked in youth ministry, as an associate pastor and as a small group leader.

He joined the Air Force in 1985 and served until 1995, serving in Desert Storm.

“I got involved in several ministries over the years, and I kept pulling back to military ministry. It was something I enjoyed and was comfortable with,” Burnette said.

In March 2004, Burnette helped found the U.S. Corps of Chaplains, which combined two of the things he loved — ministry and the military. His wife, Lisa, and son, Lee, who serves in the Navy, became members from day one.

In six years, the USCOC has grown to include hundreds of members nationwide. Their ministries include connecting people with loved ones overseas, providing chaplain services for surviving spouses of fallen servicemen and women, offering prison ministry and making veterans aware of benefits they are entitled to by serving. They are also active in disaster response activities, providing a needed ministerial presence for victims and responders.

Eighty percent of the USCOC’s members have a military background, but it is not a requirement. Members do wear uniforms, but the clothing is distinctively set apart from those of military agencies.

Members with a military background are also encouraged to join organizations like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“We’re always recruiting,” said Col. Charles Augustine, commander of the USCOC Eastern Division, which includes 25 states.

Those who attend the upcoming conference will have an opportunity to learn more about the organization’s structure and meet interesting people. There will be five guest speakers, including Quincy Whitehead, director of the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo, and Glenn Nivens of the Blue Star Salute Foundation of Alabama.

Most of all, it’s safe to say that a mission of the USCOC is to inspire people to make each day count.

“Whether it’s with us or another organization, I encourage people to get involved and make a difference,” Burnette said.