From Afghanistan to Appalachia
After seven months in Afghanistan, Dr. Wayne Lovell has returned to more familiar territory.
The Mountain Education Charter High School superintendent recently returned from deployment as a chaplain with the Georgia Army National Guard. Lovell, 52, reported to Fort Stewart for pre-mobilization in October 2018 before heading to the Middle East two months later.
“It was great. It was just phenomenal,” Lovell says of returning home. “All the little things you miss you take for granted. That was one of the things that really stuck out in my mind. You know, just driving home that first time I got to come home for the weekend, and the trees and the greenery, after being in a place of such a stark contrast, just realizing how great it is to be an American. It really is an exceptional place. You don’t really realize that because you’re here every day. I was just thinking about all the things I took for granted.
“Just my family, getting to see my family every day, we talked a lot, it’s pretty easy these days, but I was able to stay in communication with my family. But there’s nothing like coming home.”
Lovell’s unit was part of the 48th Infantry Brigade, which was partnered with the 3rd Infantry Division. He says he felt called to return to the military in 2010 after serving in the 1980s.
“My wife and I sat down that summer before that in 2009, and I said I feel like God is calling me to the military chaplaincy,” he says. “We talked about the possibility of a deployment, and I wanted to make sure all the cards were on the table, and she was all in.”
This was Lovell’s first deployment with the military. As a chaplain, he aided soldiers at 14 different locations throughout Afghanistan.
“I traveled all over, checking on the soldiers, making sure I provided any type of religious support they needed – chapel services, devotions, counseling,” Lovell says.
When asked to describe his experience in Afghanistan, Lovell described the area as a “broken” world.
“Especially from the chaplain viewpoint, [I] have a lot of empathy for the people,” he says. “Your heart breaks when you see the things these people go through on a day-to-day basis. Their living conditions, the stress of living in a war zone for as long as they’ve lived.”
Because he was deployed in his 50s, Lovell says that gave him a different perspective while in Afghanistan.
“It’s been a great experience, a great ministry, great opportunity to serve and give back to the men and women that are doing an unbelievable job,” he says.
Among the young soldiers Lovell encountered was Austin McDaniel, who actually graduated from MECHS’ White County site.
“He’s my hero. It’s amazing to me the sacrifices that these kids make,” Lovell says.
Despite being thousands of miles away, Lovell was still involved with MECHS.
“We would communicate as much as we could,” he says. “Sometimes I could go on a week to week basis talking to the interim superintendent (Larry Shook), department heads, things like that. Other times it might be a couple of weeks before I could touch base. They tried to manage the day-to-day operations and keep me in the loop.”
Lovell and his unit returned to the United States at the end of July and underwent the demobilization process at Fort Stewart. He returned to work at MECHS this past Monday, Aug. 19.
“I’m a chaplain, and I’m wearing the mantle of ministry and now I’m switching it out to administration. It’s definitely a different feel,” Lovell says about returning to work. “So it’s going to take a little bit of time to get my feet back under me.”
Lovell returned home to his wife, Kim, and three kids, Alyssa, Rachel and Jesse.
“My mom and dad and sisters, everybody came over, my immediate family, and we had some time together that evening. It was great,” he says. “I had not seen my kids since the 26th of December. It was Christmas time and their dad is leaving, it was very emotional for them. It’s been a long year for my wife, kids, parents and my siblings. They are so excited for me to be home.”