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Matthew 18:20 has a very special place in the heart of Colonel Herman Keizer '65. "I discovered very early on in my ministry that this passage took on a new sense of meaning in combat, 'Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.'"
During his early days as an Army chaplain, Keizer was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam.
"I remember going down Thunder Road where there would be soldiers in tanks or track vehicles guarding the road. I would sit and talk with them or read scripture," he said. "I also found that they really wanted to worship. I began to use the sacrament to help that worship. The symbols of communion were very meaningful. We could all identify with Christ's broken body. Faith in his suffering brought healing to the death they saw around them. It gave hope for an uncertain future."
In his 33-year military career, Keizer's most inspirational memories are of his time in the field.
"Thinking about combat ministry 30 years later is still a very emotional experience," he said. "That is when you are really faced with the possibility of your death and the hard question of what it means to love your enemies."
As a young Army chaplain, Keizer was wounded by enemy fire in Cambodia for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. He also was severely injured in a 150-foot fall from a helicopter when it lost the tail rotor and began to spin wildly. Keizer was hurled out the open door.
While these early difficulties challenged Keizer, he never thought of leaving his ministry.
"You think about the fact that if you weren't there, all of these soldiers would be without the keeper of the Good News," he said. "There are always times in combat when you are afraid, but there is also the assurance that you're exactly where God wants you to be."
That assurance has sustained Keizer throughout his long and distinguished ministry.
"There were times when I was caught up in bureaucratic assignments that I really questioned chaplain ministry. God always came along and showed me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be," he said.
Keizer's assignments for the next three decades included working as special advisor on the drug and alcohol program both in the United States and later in Germany. He was appointed officer-in-charge of the Drug and Alcohol Training School in Bremerhaven, Germany. He also served on the faculty of the Army Chaplains School. Later Keizer was assigned to the staff of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, the Human Relations Directorate, Leadership Division. Keizer was involved in several major policy initiatives which helped improve the lives of Army personnel, including authoring the policy on Accommodation of Religious Practices in the Armed Services and the Army Family Action Planning Process.
"As a clergyman, I had direct influence on a General who set policy for the entire Army," said Keizer. "To influence policy for the good made it very clear that God was at work."
During the 1990s, Keizer's assignment was as Command Chaplain of the United States European Command. His leadership led to the establishment of chaplaincies in Central European nations, the forging of cooperation between chaplain in the North American Treaty Organizations and the direction of three highly successful European-North American Chiefs of Military Chaplains Conferences.
"What I learned from all of these experiences is the scope and breadth of God's Kingdom," said Keizer. "I have a tremendous respect for how God works in this world. As part of my European command I worked to reestablish a chaplaincy in countries in the former Soviet Union. If you had told me early in my career, that I would stand in uniform in Red Square without having fought a war, I never would have believed it. Working with these clergy from many different faith communities was a powerful testimony to how God keeps his church alive."
Keizer said both Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1968, helped him learn the scope and power of God's mission in the world right from the start of his ministry.
"Calvin taught me that God's mission is bigger than the mission he gives to the church. A view of God's mission in the world is much broader, much more full that just a denomination's or a local congregation's," he said. "I learned that the same church that established Calvin College as an educational institution and was willing to ordain chaplains to minister in special settings, can help make the Kingdom of God come on a battlefield or in a hospital or in a foreign nation."
Since his official retirement in , Keizer has been called back to active duty. His first assignment was a major research project for the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Army. He was one of two leaders of teams comprised of enlisted soldiers and Army research professionals who surveyed and interviewed soldiers and leaders on the current state of leadership and human relations in the Army.
Currently, he is working as an advisor for the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in the State Department. In this position he is responsible for monitoring religious freedom issues in all of Africa and the Balkans. Religious freedom is a vital part of the United States foreign policy and is a daily concern of this office.
Keizer's awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster; the Legion of Merit with Three Oak Leaf Clusters; the Soldier's Medal; the Bronze Star Medal with Five Oak Leaf Clusters and V (Valor) Device; the Purple Heart; Meritorious Service Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters; the Air Medal with 3 Device; the Army Commendation Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster; the Army Medal of Achievement Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster; and the Good Conduct Medal.
Of his career Keizer added, "It's been an exciting ministry. The Army is a dynamic place to be. Our church has the kind of theological balance and the worldview that gives us value in the specialized settings where chaplains minister. Christian Reformed Chaplains have really contributed outstanding ministry for the CRC in these special places. We should all praise God for these ministries."
Chaplain Keizer is married to Ardis Groeneveld Keizer '63. They are the parents of two sons, Bryan and Randall.