While deployed in the Middle East, Haydn Lea felt a calling from a much higher rank.
The West Australian, who had joined the Royal Australian Air Force out of high school and trained as an Airfield Defence Guard, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 in a ground combat security role.
He was then re-tasked to an Army unit, providing personal protection to officers.
“It was certainly challenging in a lot of ways,” Mr Lea told Hope 103.2.
“I was in a much more experienced army section, so it was a bit of a baptism by fire.”
During his six months in Kabul, Mr Lea committed himself to reading the Bible in its entirety.
“Looking back, it was a bit of a strange thing – I was a 21-year-old Air Force guy with these experienced Army people who were looking for spiritual guidance,” – Haydn Lea
Though he was not raised a Christian, Mr Lea was exposed to Christianity through friends and a girl, Shamsa, who he had dated in high school.
“People saw me reading the Bible and they would ask me what I was doing,” Mr Lea said.
“I became the go-to guy for any sorts of spiritual questions or challenges. Looking back, it was a bit of a strange thing – I was a 21-year-old Air Force guy with these experienced Army people who were looking for spiritual guidance.”
Indeed, as Australian troops were losing their lives in Afghanistan, many of the soldiers looked to Mr Lea for spiritual support, particularly since he had experienced military service and could relate to them.
He began to question if God was calling him towards Military Chaplaincy.
“Then people would start coming to me and asking, ‘Have you thought about Chaplaincy?’” Mr Lea recalled.
“I felt it was a confirmation of what God was calling me to.”
On his return to Australia, Mr Lea applied for a position as an Air Force Chaplain. The RAAF granted him a scholarship to study ministry and theology.
He is now an Ordained Baptist Minister.
“So, the Air Force paid for me to go to Bible college for five years and then paid my salary while I was doing placements at the Church so that I could become ordained as a Minister,” Mr Lea said.
“It shows the high value that the Defence Force puts on Chaplains.”
“It shows the high value that the Defence Force puts on Chaplains,” – Haydn Lea
Today, Mr Lea, 31, is an Air Force Chaplain (Flight Lieutenant) in Canberra. He is married to his high school sweetheart Shamsa, who is an Air Force officer, and they have two girls, aged two and four.
“My job is the spiritual and the pastoral care of Air Force members and their families,” Mr Lea said.
“But it’s not always religious, in that when people have any sort of welfare issues or issues in their family or just need someone, we’re the people that they can come to.”
On Anzac Day, Mr Lea will attend to local services.
“Given that it’s on a Sunday this year, we’ll be doing things within churches as well,” said the Minister.
He has journeyed a long way from the 21-year-old who began reading the Bible in Kabul.
“I enjoy helping people,” said Mr Lea.
“It was overwhelming at first – I certainly didn’t feel qualified in Kabul, but people were banging my door down to have a chat with me, because I’d been through similar experiences to them. It was a great God-given opportunity.”
“My job is the spiritual and the pastoral care of Air Force members and their families. But it’s not always religious, in that when people have any sort of welfare issues or issues in their family or just need someone, we’re the people that they can come to,” – Haydn Lea