Alumni Profile • Daniel Hoebeke '72
Helping deployed chaplains to serve their soldiers

Daniel & Ellen HoebekeFrom the start, Daniel Hoebeke '72 , founder of Adopt-a-Chaplain, knew he was in the middle of what he calls "a God thing."

"A friend forwarded to me an e-mail he'd gotten from a chaplain in Afghanistan who was going through some spiritual struggles," Hoebeke said. "My friend felt ill-equipped to deal with it, so he sent it to me with a cryptic note: 'Dan, you're a religious guy. You write him.' So I wrote him a pastoral letter. As pastoral as a tax lawyer can get, anyway."

After a few e-mail exchanges, Hoebeke's wife, Ellen Ackerman Hoebeke '73, suggested he ask if there was anything else he could do for the chaplain. Send goodies, the chaplain responded, little things like candy bars and popcorn.

"He said that no strapping soldier is going to say to his buddies, 'Hey, I'm really going through it. I need to see the chaplain,'" Hoebeke recalled. "But soldiers will stop in for a candy bar. That gives them an excuse."

One box of goodies to one chaplain has mushroomed to 6,000 boxes to over 150 chaplains. The Hoebekes packed the first 800 boxes in their living room. Soon members of Dan's prayer group at Calvary Church in Los Gatos, Calif., got involved, and the all-volunteer Adopt-a-Chaplain was born. "We looked at our individual spiritual gifts and put them to work," Hoebeke said. "Through a whole series of God things, new people presented themselves as new opportunities came up."

Not only people at Calvary Church and in the city of Los Gatos, but people across the country, too.

In Illinois, for example, the AmVets chapter donated 5,000 Under Armour shirts. Adopt-a-Chaplain sent the shirts off to its chaplains who gave them to troops under their care. Soon after, Chaplain Kevin wrote to say that a Bradley tank in his unit had been hit by an IED (improvised explosive device), but its track commander had been saved from significant burns by the flame-retardant shirt.

Daniel Hoebeke has story after story like that, involving cases of toothbrushes, Beanie Babies, Slurpee machines and more. God things, all.

Sometimes Hoebeke sees God at work in a specific, seemingly small request from a chaplain: "That first chaplain I e-mailed in Afghanistan asked for a pancake griddle. He said, 'I'd like to do a Saturday morning Bible study. If I can offer the guys pancakes, they'll come.' That pancake griddle is now on its third chaplain, and they're still having Saturday morning Bible studies."

As the name suggests, Adopt-a-Chaplain's aim is to offer others-individuals and churches-the opportunity to do what the Hoebekes and Calvary Church have done: support deployed chaplains and the troops in their care with prayer, letters of encouragement, candy bars, pancake griddles and anything else that might help chaplains serve soldiers. Donations from individuals are routed through Adopt-a-Chaplain, while churches-each matched with a chaplain of similar faith background-may send letters and donated articles directly. Chaplains respond, and a relationship takes root.

"For churches," Hoebeke said, "it's like having an associate pastor in Iraq or Afghanistan. We can match a church with the chaplain who's serving the sons and daughters of that church."

Chaplains most frequently request prayer, Hoebeke said. "Now, with second and third deployments, they're concerned about the increasing incidence of marital problems and individual problems with post-traumatic stress syndrome."

Hearing how often prayer concerns involved chaplains' loved ones, Ellen Hoebeke has established a support network for them, too.

"Every day we get four or five messages of thanks from chaplains," Dan Hoebeke said. "We can't help but marvel at the extraordinary things God is doing."

For more on supporting deployed chaplains, see www.adopt-a-chaplain.org.