Tri-City Baptist pastor returns from 6 months in Kyrgyzstan - East Valley Tribune: Chandler

Tri-City Baptist pastor returns from 6 months in Kyrgyzstan

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Posted: Friday, November 29, 2013 4:30 pm | Updated: 3:59 pm, Thu Dec 5, 2013.

Mike Sproul isn’t defined by one title.

The 50-year-old pastor is reverend at Tri-City Baptist Church in Chandler. But Sproul also is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard with five Middle East deployments on his ledger.

Sproul recently retuned for a six-month stint in Kyrgyzstan, where he served as chaplain, just in time to wear his combat boots to Tri-City’s Veterans Day services.

“It is two different types of pastoring,” Sproul said. “Over there, it’s crisis, crisis, crisis ... and you’re dealing with almost all young people, 18-27, which is radically different than at church back home.

“At home, you get the more eclectic, broad-range crowd of all ages with their everyday issues and challenges.”

Sproul’s most recent deployment was his last. He was promoted while overseas and is the Air National Guard assistant to the command chaplain of the U.S. Air Force in Europe. One of only six colonels in the Air National Guard, Sproul will spend a few weeks each year at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. His first trip is scheduled for March.

Sproul grew up in Tempe the son of a minister. He attended the Tri-City Christian Academy, where he met his wife, Elma. But he always had an affection for military history. A self-described “geek” in that sense.

He began pastoring after seminary school at International Baptist College in Chandler, “but my wife suggested I think about chaplaincy to combine the two things.

“I was going to a lot of conventions and reading a lot of military history books. So I looked into it.”

Sproul served five years active duty in the Air Force and the past 18 as a reserve in the Air Guard. He was stationed out of Sky Harbor International Airport until the recent promotion.

A chaplain’s life is not an easy one, Sproul said. He was deployed less than a week this most recent time when a KC-135 from his base went down in Kyrgyzstan. Sproul was awake for 36 hours straight helping others on the base deal with the loss.

Sproul presided more than 18 ceremonies that sent dead soldiers back to the U.S. during his most recent deployment.

“That is the most difficult part,” he said. “But it’s also the most moving moment when about 200 of my fellow airmen, sailors, Marines and soldiers gathered in a ‘V’ formation on the tarmac to honor seven fallen heroes whose remains were being loaded into the back of a C-17 for their final journey home.”

Such ceremonies also hit a bit close to home. Sproul’s son, David, is a an Air Force Academy graduate who should be an Air Force pilot by the end of the year and likely will be deployed sometime next year.

Tri-City Baptist is located at 2211 W. Germann Road.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or cgabel@evtrib.com.

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