Freedom Isn’t Free: Building a Supportive Military Ministry with Lt. Col. Kathy Lowrey Gallowitz
Freedom isn’t free. Every day that we are blessed to get up, we must thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for another day. And we should also thank the brave soldiers and servicemen that afforded us the freedoms that we enjoy. They have selflessly sacrificed their time, their energy, and sadly, sometimes even their lives so we could live in peace. But too often, they don’t receive the support they need. That’s where a supportive, welcoming military ministry comes in.
Today’s Publishing Secrets guest, Lt. Col. Kathy Lowrey Gallowitz, understands firsthand the struggles that those who serve face — and she wants to be a part of the solution. Kathy challenges us to be more mindful of those who have sacrificed for our freedom, and offers practical steps you can take to make a difference in the life of a veteran. Big or small, every action matters, and we owe our veterans more. So let’s all be part of the solution!
In this episode, you’ll also hear:
- How Kathy’s military background led her to start a ministry geared toward supporting veterans and their families
- Some of the specific challenges military people face upon returning to civilian life
- How to form a military ministry in your own community
- What it takes to lead a military ministry — and why you may be more qualified than you think
- Kathy’s advice for pursuing a calling that doesn’t necessarily bring instant rewards
Be sure to read all the way to the end to learn how you can help support the military-connected people in your own community!
A Life Without Roots
For Lt. Col. Kathy Lowrey Gallowitz, supporting the military was always a part of life. Her father served active duty in the Navy, and so her family moved around the world many times throughout her childhood and teenage years. In particular, she remembers being uprooted during her junior year of high school — leaving behind friends, achievements, and the strongest sense of belonging she’d ever known — and moving to Iceland.
When Kathy and her first husband finished their active-duty service in the Air Force and were ready to settle down, she was determined to give their children the roots she’d never had. “By about the age of 35, I had lived in about 20 communities,” she recalls. “And I started to notice how my experiences had been pretty different.”
Due to living in so many different places, she’d never had close neighbors to rely on or support through hard times, and she didn’t have a solid understanding of how to be involved in her community. So she started learning and making an effort to contribute however she could.
Eventually, Kathy helped start an outreach program aimed at helping civilians learn how to support local military families. A few years into the program, however, someone alerted her to an untapped but very important group of people: the faith community. This led her to create a clergy outreach program as well.
As Kathy explains, the faith community is uniquely equipped to support veterans and military families for several reasons:
- Spirituality plays a key role in healing of all kinds
- Faith communities typically emphasize hospitality
- Those who serve in the military often establish a deep, trusting relationship with pastors during their service and carry that trust and respect with them after they leave the service
- Churches often already have counseling and other support services available
Because faith communities are already so well-equipped to support military people, it’s really just a matter of knowing how to reach out and offer that support. “It’s not a heavy lift to really just be welcoming and supportive, practically and spiritually, of the military members in your congregation and in your community,” Kathy says.
Though Kathy has since moved to another state, she continues to use her experience — both as a military nursing professional and as a military ministry leader, and also as a John Maxwell speaker, trainer, and coach — to work with volunteers who will go on to become military ministry leaders themselves. “So it all kind of comes together to glorify the Lord and support military-connected people,” she concludes.
Freedom Isn’t Free
Kathy’s story is an important reminder to all of us: the freedoms we enjoy have come to us through sacrifice — and too often the people who made those sacrifices have been overlooked. As Kathy points out, not everyone is even eligible to serve in the military. “And so,” she adds, “people who do volunteer to serve in the military — it’s our opportunity, if not responsibility, to help them. Because they do help create our way of life!”
What’s more, those who serve in the military tend to avoid asking for help, so it’s critical that military ministry leaders understand the unique challenges these people are facing. Some of these challenges include:
- Feeling disconnected: Military people are taught to be team players and to place duty and the mission over oneself. This can prevent them from asking for help when they need it, and also cause them to feel disconnected from society after leaving military service.
- Moral injury: Violating one’s belief system — for example, having to kill in battle despite being taught the command “Thou shalt not kill” from a young age — can cause feelings of shame and contribute to PTSD.
- Soul injury: Unmourned loss and unforgiven guilt and shame can take a heavy toll emotionally and can be very difficult to process.
- Isolation: The military gives people a very close camaraderie and a tribe to belong to. When military people transition into civilian life, they lose that tribe and often feel incredibly isolated as a result.
While not every military ministry leader is trained and equipped to help military people work through trauma, having a basic understanding of what these people are dealing with allows us to support them in getting all the help they need.
That’s why, in Kathy’s book, Beyond “Thank You for Your Service”: The Veteran Champion handbook for civilians, she reminds us that we owe our veterans more than just a platitude or simple word of thanks. While the gesture of a warm welcome and word of thanks is absolutely needed, there is much more that we can and should do.
“We all really need to go beyond,” Kathy says, “and I contend that the actions we take to go beyond center mostly on developing trusting relationships so that the service member and their family can start building their new civilian tribe. We all need that social connection and that support, and in this case, we need people with whom we can promote our spiritual resiliency. People who understand faith, who are believers, who can help us move in very positive directions of healing and growth. And that all happens in a military ministry.”
How to Form a Military Ministry
If you’re interested in forming a military ministry for your community, Kathy says the first step is to talk to your clergy (e.g. pastor, rabbi, priest, etc.) and ask what support systems for military people are already in place. Chances are, it may be as limited as a bulletin board thanking members of the congregation who have served.
If so, that’s the perfect opportunity for you to volunteer to partner with your clergy and start bringing people together. “It’s really a partnership with the clergy member,” Kathy explains. “But the volunteer, the one who takes the lead, is the facilitator and the organizer.”
Once you have your clergy’s approval, the next step is to do some outreach to identify the military-connected people in the congregation. Not everyone who has served in the military “looks the part,” so to speak, and not every veteran wants to join a military-affiliated group.
Then, finally, it’s time to talk to those people and learn what they want and need from the ministry. “There is no cookie-cutter approach,” Kathy says. “The needs of the people in an older congregation with Vietnam veterans will look very different from the needs of a group in a younger congregation with military spouses who have young children.” So as you bring the military people in your congregation together, ask them what kinds of activities and discussions they would find meaningful — and trust that God will guide you.
Who Is Qualified to Lead a Military Ministry?
For those who want to start a military ministry but aren’t sure they qualify, Kathy says the primary qualification is that you love the military and the people who serve in it. You don’t have to be a counselor, nurse, pastor, or hold some other specific title. “You aren’t a leader because you have a title,” Kathy explains. “You’re a leader because you know how to communicate, and you know how to make decisions, and you know how to relate to people.”
That said, Kathy does believe it’s important to understand military culture and the veteran community, and it’s even better if you’re a veteran yourself or have a family member who has served. The more you’re able to relate to military-connected people — and the more they’re able to relate to you — the easier it will be for you to help them.
Finally, it’s important to have a strong relationship with your clergy, so they can help you connect with local support systems such as counseling, food banks, homeless shelters, and so on, and so they can be personally involved in the military ministry as well.
While it’s common to feel intimidated or fearful of starting a military ministry, Kathy stresses that the important thing is to start. “You aren’t expected to have all the answers,” she says. “You aren’t expected to fix it. You’re expected to provide friendship, practical support, and encouragement. Work through your clergy and refer people and just understand your limitations.”
Your job as a volunteer isn’t to help these people work through trauma — it’s to help them build relationships. “You’re just really trying to be a facilitator,” Kathy adds. “A facilitator of connection, a facilitator of the Lord’s work, and being supportive. And so it really is magical in its simplicity.” And as you bring people together and help them build those relationships, you might just be surprised how God works among the group and empowers them to help each other, too.
Small Victories Add Up
If you feel called to work on building your own military ministry but aren’t sure where to start, Kathy offers a ton of great resources through her book, Beyond “Thank You for Your Service”, and on her website, Vanguard Veteran.
Even if you aren’t currently able to step up and lead a military ministry yourself, however, Kathy urges you to look for ways to support the military-connected people in your community. “Every citizen has an opportunity to do more as a veteran champion to help promote their quality of life and [support them] in the return to spirituality and their return to their potential,” she says.
Whatever your ministry, business, or book topic may be, let Kathy’s story inspire you today — not only to support the military people in your community, but also to keep pushing forward even when you don’t see instant rewards for your work.
Even if you aren’t the “best of the best” and don’t have all the answers, you can still do the Lord’s work and share Christ with others through your words and actions.
Furthermore, Kathy emphasizes the importance of celebrating the small wins that come from saying “yes” to God’s call — things as simple as supporting someone through a hard time or watching God work through relationships you have helped facilitate.
“Those things are so fulfilling for me,” Kathy says, “because I have trusting relationships with people who are hurting, and I feel like I can make a small difference just by being there and loving on them in the ways that I know how to do… Those are small wins, but they’re really not! That is the essence of the whole thing.”
Can there be any greater reward than knowing you are doing God’s work and watching Him work through you to impact other people’s lives for the better?
Retired Lt. Col. Kathy Lowrey Gallowitz is a career Air Force Veteran who served as a Public Affairs Officer and Nurse. Masters degrees in Nursing and Political Science frame her practice and perspectives.
It was her life’s calling to design and lead a never-been-done-before military outreach program in Ohio, in response to 9/11, to educate and engage civilians in support of troops and their families.
While not serving in uniform, Gallowitz established and managed Buckeye Sports and Orthopedic Specialists and was the President of the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce. She has first hand experience hiring Veterans.
As the owner of Vanguard Veteran, she equips civilians to become Veteran Champions as the “Veteran-hiring Concierge,” “Military Ministry Builder” and “Fallen Comrades Ceremony Producer.”
Kathy serves on the Arizona Governor’s Veterans’ Service Advisory Commission, the Southwest Veteran Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and is the Veteran-hiring Advisor for the Arizona Society of Human Resource Management.
Her husband, Ed is a retired career active duty Soldier with four combat tours. Together they have six sons, one daughter and three grandchildren.
- Vanguard Veteran Overview
- Military Ministry Builder
- Military Ministries Matter Monthly Coaching Call
- Military Ministries Quiz
- “Beyond ‘Thank you For Your Service:’ the Veteran Champion handbook for civilians”
- Women Who Lead is a monthly free hybrid Leadership Discussion Forum for women Veterans and non-Veterans to empower women leaders and foster mutual support. We hope you will join us! Register here.