Maj. Marshall Coen, the chaplain for the 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, made the decision to pursue a career in the Army, because he felt a higher power needed him to serve not only as a soldier, but as a chaplain.
“The Lord led me in this direction,” said Coen, a Killeen native. “It was a call.”
A self-identified Army brat, Coen grew up in a strong Christian family travelling the world through his father’s quartermaster officer career.
Initially, Coen was not interested in pursuing a life involved with the ministry or the military.
“The Lord began to really instill in my heart and in my life that he had a higher calling for me,” Coen said.
After his freshman year of college, Coen decided to work on a degree toward ministry. Upon finishing his undergraduate degree, he served as the youth minister at Killeen’s First Baptist Church.
During that time, Coen reconnected with a young lady in the congregation he knew from high school and married her in 2000.
Also a native of Killeen, Marshall’s wife, Jill, felt they had a comfortable life.
Then several military chaplains began visiting their church.
“(The chaplains) just started talking (to us) about the chaplaincy,” Jill Coen said. “We started thinking something new was coming.”
The couple felt as though their lives were being pointed in the direction of the Army.
“The Lord slowly began to instill in (us) that he did not call us to be complacent,” the major said. “He did not call us to be comfortable, safe and secure in ministry. He called us to take risks, to step out on faith.”
While attending seminary to work on a master’s degree in divinity — a requirement necessary to be an Army chaplain — Coen’s father swore him into the Army as an officer at his commissioning ceremony in April 2004.
Maj. Rich West, 1st Cavalry Division Family Life Chaplain, said he believes most chaplains share the same sense of calling that Coen felt.
“They feel like God has led them and guided them and put this burden on their heart to join the military to care for soldiers who are deploying and to provide religious support,” West said.
When Lt. Col. Addison Burgess, 1st Cavalry Division chaplain, needed someone to serve the Ironhorse Brigade, West said he was looking for two qualities in particular.
“Marshall is one of those unique Army chaplains that has a really good balance of the professional military officer skill set coupled with strong pastoral personality and skill set,” West said. “That’s what Chaplain Burgess was looking for.”
Through his charismatic, approachable and energetic personality, it really shows that Coen cares for his soldiers, West added.
When people see him, Coen said he hopes they see his good qualities, but most importantly, he hopes they see the love and light of the Lord.
“There are potentially a lot of people that are hurting in the Army,” he said. “Hurt can manifest in different ways, but joy and hope can penetrate the hardship of the military.”
At the beginning of his career, the chaplain said his goal was to be true to his roots and calling, and to make sure his family was taken care of.
“My father modeled for me what was important which are faith, family, then career,” Marshall Coen said. “I see some of the sacrifices that are required, and I understand what’s important.”
Along the way, Jill Coen has remained supportive of her husband’s career even when times were tough.
“We’re a team,” she said with a smile. “If I’m not going to be supportive, it’s not going to work.”
The biggest challenge for Jill Coen is when her husband can’t be home, she said. Flexibility and her own military upbringing helped get her through those times.
Jill Coen said her most rewarding moment was during her husband’s second deployment to Iraq in 2010. She was ready for him to be home, but had a change of heart after seeing a photograph.
“I remember seeing a picture of him baptizing a soldier in Iraq and thinking, ‘That’s what this is all about,’” She said, tearing up. “He’s away, (and) it’s for a greater purpose, so I can handle it. It made it a lot better. It made it worth it ... I think that was my proudest moment to see the fruit of all of his work on a spiritual level.”
He recalled the baptism as one rewarding moment of his career, but said his most rewarding moment was coming home from deployment and seeing his wife and family.
Marshall Coen, father of three boys, said his greatest accomplishment is his family.
“The strength of the soldier is defined by how the home is,” he said. “My success is very much defined by the support I get from family. It goes a long way to have support.”