In a perfect encapsulation of 21st century life on Kuwait’s Camp Buehring, a Pennsylvania Army National Guard chaplain was handcuffed and hauled off by military police after a dispute with the installation command sergeant major.
What crime was committed by Capt. Justin Thomas, a chaplain who ministers to the 628th Aviation Support Battalion? Why, the unforgivable act of wearing headphones while walking, of course.
Rumors about the harrowing incident were first circulated by U.S. Army W.T.F! moments, which shared a screenshot Friday of a related conversation.
Thomas, as described, was casually strolling through the camp with his headphones in his ears when the sergeant major, eager to enforce installation policy, attempted to flag him down.
“I first want to say that I don’t harbor any hard feelings about this misunderstanding,” Thomas told Military Times. “The Camp Buehring sergeant major was trying to do his job and enforce a policy about walking with headphones. ... [He] was trying to get my attention, but I couldn’t hear him.”
Perhaps exhaustion factored in the chaplain zoning out. Officials didn’t specify whether Thomas was on a run at the time of the infraction, but previous Pennsylvania National Guard news articles paint a picture of an elite marathon runner and member of the All-Guard marathon team.
A spokesman for U.S. Army Central & Third Army told Military Times that Thomas was subsequently handcuffed and taken to the station for failing to have proper identification and wearing civilian attire.
“The Military Police temporarily detained Thomas and transported him to the Military Police Station to confirm his identity,” the spokesman said. “Anytime an individual is detained and transported in a Military Police vehicle, it is standard practice to handcuff the subject in order to protect the safety of law enforcement personnel. Thomas was released from the Military Police Station after his identity and authorization to be in the installation was confirmed.”
The chaplain characterized the behavior of his captors as “very professional,” adding that he was allowed to leave shortly after sorting out the miscommunication.
“The incident involving the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade Chaplain was the result of a misunderstanding,” said Capt. Jessica-Maria Jackson, Task Force Spartan’s director of public affairs.
“The Chaplain is taking this opportunity to work with [the] Camp Buehring Sergeant Major to help raise awareness on safety during physical fitness training.”
A defense official told Military Times that one soldier who went to retrieve Thomas jokingly brought along a nail file tucked away inside a Bible, presumably to aid the holy man’s escape.
Officials could not say for certain whether the chaplain has called in an eternal favor against the sergeant major. Those odds are slim, according to Thomas, who has maintained a sense of humor about the incident.
“How can I be a Chaplain and a leader to my Soldiers if I cannot demonstrate mercy, grace, and love, especially in a situation where the base [sergeant major] was trying to enforce a standard designed to keep our Soldiers safe?”
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.