About Chris Cairns


Shorter Version:

Chaplain (Maj. Ret.) Chris Cairns grew up in a military family, with 106 years of unbroken Active Duty service among his great-grandfather’s progeny. Chris grew up playing soccer, starting at ages 4-6 in Peru, while his father served as an exchange officer to the Peruvian military, and then while growing up at West Point through elementary school. He played soccer again with Latin Americans in Columbus, GA while his father was stationed at Fort Moore (Benning), with the sons of Latin American military officers training at the School of the Americas, as well as select for Columbus United  and the Georgia State ODP team. He later played soccer at West Point, his birthplace and the alma mater of his father and grandfather, before an eye surgery from a collision in a match catalyzed his transfer to Sewanee: the University of the South in Tennessee. He graduated from there with a B.A. in Developing World Studies. Chris has been in faith-based, non-profit ministry since 1995, when he and his wife of 28 years, the former Elizabeth Hesselink of Chattanooga, TN were married.

Chris has served on the staffs of Young Life, the Salvation Army, Alpha USA, and has helped to start four churches and a college ministry to the University of Tennessee, as well as working with mercy ministry projects in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, as well as fundraising for theological colleges in Europe, all prior to becoming a US Army Chaplain at age 40 because he wanted to serve Soldiers and their families. Chaplains had been his pastors growing up as an Army brat, and Chris wanted to give back. Medical retirement after 10 years brought Chris back into the business of overseas and domestic mercy ministry and missions.

Chris has always enjoyed coaching on the side, serving as an Assistant Coach at the Baylor School and Red Bank High School, as well as Head Coach of both the Boys and Girls Soccer teams at the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences. In addition, he has coached select soccer teams from the U-12 to U-19 levels, in Chattanooga, in Alexandria, VA, where he attended graduate school to get an MDiv, and in Enterprise, AL while stationed at Fort Novosel (Rucker).

Chris’ last duty station in the Army, Redstone Arsenal, has Chris and Elizabeth residing in Madison, AL, where Elizabeth teaches at the high school attended by their youngest son, James (15) . Their daughter, Anne Elise (20), a sophomore at Samford University, is studying photojournalism. Their son, Will, (18) is a freshman at Samford. Chris currently serves as a Mission Developer for Missio Mosaic and as a spokesperson for One Child, an organization based in Colorado Springs that serves the needs of impoverished children in the Developing World.


Longer Version:

Chaplain (Major Retired) R. Chris Cairns grew up in a military family, and as an Army brat lived at Fort Leavenworth, KS; Hampton, VA; Lima, Peru; West Point, NY; and Fort Benning, GA before matriculating to West Point in 1991, leaving after one year due to eye surgery at Walter Reed.  His father had retired to his second career as the Director of Physical Education at Virginia Military Institute, so Chris recovered in Lexington, VA. The surgery resulted from a soccer injury sustained while scoring a goal against and colliding with the goalkeeper for Princeton.  This was neither the first time nor the last that Chris got a concussion from colliding with a goalkeeper! His father, uncle, cousin, grandfather, and great uncle were all graduates of West Point, and Chris was born there and lived there twice during his father’s military career, so he considers West Point his highland home on the Hudson.  Chris transferred to the University of the South at Sewanee after his plebe year, primarily due to that surgery and recovery.

Chris finished his undergraduate degree in Developing World Studies with a concentration in Latin America at Sewanee, the Episcopal university founded by a West Point graduate and Episcopal Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Leonidas Polk. Chris’ great grandfather’s cousin (genealogical mouthful), J. Bayard Snowden, had endowed the Forestry Chair at the University of the South. Chris later pursued a call to Holy Orders, finishing Master of Divinity studies at Virginia Theological Seminary, Bishop Polk’s other alma mater– feeling like he had been unwittingly following his antecedents and Polk around.  Polk was a Second Great Awakening 1820s convert of the ministry of West Point Chaplain and future Episcopal Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Charles McIlvaine, one of Chris’ heroes.

Chris played soccer for Sewanee and met his wife of 28 years there, the former Elizabeth Hesselink of Lookout Mountain, GA.

For all 28 years of marriage, they have been in ministry, pursuing the call of God wherever it has led, and Chris has been involved with some extraordinary movements of God’s Spirit as a result, such as the Cherokee Prayer Initiative in Chattanooga, a prayer movement that led to repentance for the Cherokee Removal and the Trail of Tears.

He has served on the staff of several national faith-based not-for-profits, including Young Life, the Salvation Army, and Alpha USA, and he has founded several local not-for-profits, particularly dedicated to the immigrant Latin American community.  In addition he has helped start four churches and a college ministry to the University of Tennessee, all of which continue to thrive because of the fantastic people who responded to the vision and the call to get involved. He has developed mercy ministry projects in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, including a housing development for the poor in Mexico, a post-traumatic counseling center for family members of victims of the genocide in Rwanda, and resettlement for Chinese orphans from institutions into Chinese families.

Chris also had the privilege of assisting then Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, in saving a historic church building for use by St. Paul’s Theological Centre and St. Mellitus College.  He gathered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of books for an Anglican Studies library for the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Leuven, Belgium.  Chris assisted in the process of helping the British Library preserve a portion of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s library from the 16th Century through fundraising.  He has served on the board of an HBCU. As “Father” Chris, he served as a founding delegate to the new Anglican Province, the Anglican Church in North America, and served as a Network Leader for the Anglican Mission in America before serving as the National Director of Alpha for the Military prior to becoming a US Army Chaplain at age 40.

At the suggestion of his classmates from the West Point Class of 1995, Chris came on Army Active Duty, becoming a part of 106 years of unbroken Active Duty service among the descendants of his great grandfather, LTC Douglas W. Cairns, a career Army doctor who had been with Pershing on the Pancho Villa expedition. Chris received a direct commission as a Chaplain in September of 2013 and reported to his first duty station, Fort Riley, KS: from which his great grandfather Dr. Cairns had retired in 1942; where his great uncle, MG Bogardus S. Cairns had trained in Advanced Equitation before WWII; and from whence his brother CPT Craig Cairns, an Apache pilot, deployed in 1991 to Iraq. As a part of the Big Red One, Chris served as the Squadron Chaplain for the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, the oldest Cavalry unit in the US Army, in addition to serving as the Battalion Chaplain for the 3rd Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, the oldest Armor unit in the US Army.

As a part of the famed Quarterhorse Squadron, Chris prepared a critical Religious Area of Operations summary in advance of the 1-4 Cavalry’s deployment to train a Nigerian Battalion to fight Boko Haram, later serving as a key panelist in a worldwide Nigeria TTX facilitated by Fort Leavenworth’s Office of Foreign Military Studies.  1-4 CAV’s panel was recognized by AFRICOM’s J5 for instrumental contributions aiding in preparations for strategic transitions in security arrangements on the continent of Africa.  In addition, preparations were made for a mission to train Libyan militias at a NATO base in Hungary, with Chris producing Religious Area Analysis for Operations in Libya which never received the green light.  But the Quarterhorse Squadron was prepared had the “go” button been pressed.

Following the ARSTRUC process and the shutting down of 4th Brigade at the 1ID, CH Cairns transitioned to 3-66 AR in 1st Brigade, assisting the Battalion Commander and Battalion Command Sergeant Major in standing up a brand new formation under the historic colors of the Army’s oldest Armor unit, contributing a great deal to the success of the mission, creating a cohesive unit with pride in their history and esprit de corps, a unit which defeated Blackhorse in a rotation to NTC after only nine months of existence.  Chris initiated a Battalion History Project to recover the history of this decorated unit, which, having stood up in different places, had lost all of its historic colors and artifacts. Chris was awarded a budget of over $13,000 by the BDE to create a Battalion history museum at Headquarters to digitally represent–through historic pictures–the 100 years of contributions of the 66th AR to the defense of the Nation. While in Korea, he reasserted the lost historic connections of the 66th to the 6th Tank Battalion in the Korean War, which was news to the then 2nd Infantry Division Commander!  Chris had deployed to Korea as a part of the Rotational Brigade, where he served as the senior pastor of West Casey Chapel at Camp Casey.  He especially enjoyed recreating pictures at historic sites where his grandfather had stood as the U.N. representative of the Air Force to the final Armistice talks in 1953.

Following deployment to Korea, Chris served as the Command Chaplain and a Military History Instructor at the US Army Warrant Officer Career College at Fort Rucker, Alabama.  While at Fort Rucker, Chris assembled accoutrements from the extended family to establish an historical collection at the entrance to Cairns Army Airfield, named for MG Bogardus S. Cairns, his great uncle, who was the key developer of the Armed helicopter and the first to apply cavalry doctrine to Army Aviation, facts that had been posthumously forgotten.    All three children of MG Cairns were present for the ribbon cutting ceremony to cut the ribbon with historic sabers from the family collection.  You cannot be around Chris for very long without discovering that he enjoys very much to recover and to restore history.

CH Cairns with cousins Scott Cairns, Patty Hourin, and COL (USAF Ret.) Doug Cairns, the children of MG Bogardus S. Cairns, at the ribbon cutting of the historical collection honoring their father at his namesake, Cairns Army Airfield at Fort Rucker, June 2018.  Over CH Cairns’ shoulder is the Army blues coat that his father, LTC (Ret.) Robert Bogardus Cairns, was given by MG Cairns’ widow, their mother.  After wearing them throughout his career, LTC Cairns gave them to CH Cairns to wear.  After wearing them proudly at special occasions, CH Cairns and his son Will wrestled it onto the mannequin in the historical collection, along with MG Cairns’ cadet uniform displayed in another case.

Chris feels absolutely privileged to have been serving with 3-66 AR, the 1ID, and then Warrant Officer Cohort during each of their centennial celebrations.

Chris is a graduate of the University of the South, holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Virginia Theological Seminary, and is pursuing a PhD, having done pre-PhD studies at the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Leuven, Belgium before entering the Army.  The Army has put a hold on those efforts, but he looks forward to continuing them at a stateside University.  He is a recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal, three Army Commendation Medals, three Army Achievement Medals, the National Defense Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the Korea Defense Service Medal, the Army Service Medal, and the Army Overseas Service Medal.

Chris has just finished serving as the Brigade Chaplain for the 2nd US Army Recruiting Brigade, with 2000 Soldiers, 1000 DOD civilians, as well as their families, in his charge.  These personnel were dispersed throughout the southeastern U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, working in one of the toughest seasons of US Army Recruiting.

He has most recently taught military history to cadets at Alabama A&M, an HBCU.  He participated in the previous Army Secretary, Ryan McCarthy’s rollout of a new Department of the Army project to partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to improve the diversity of the Officer Corps, a subject about which Chris is very passionate.

His last duty station stationed at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama with Elizabeth and children Anne Elise (19), Will (18), and James (15), residing in Madison, Alabama, a suburb of Huntsville.  Elizabeth teaches high school English at Bob Jones High School.  Chaplain Cairns has also served as the Assistant Rector of St. Andrews Anglican Church while in Madison, in addition to serving in a volunteer capacity as the National Chaplain of the US Army Brotherhood of Tankers as well as the Chaplain for the Annual Reunion of the Veterans of the 15th Army Air Force , a WWII Veterans organization linked to his grandfather’s service as the Commander of the 485th Bomb Group (B-24 Heavy) in Italy in WWII.

During their early years of marriage in Chattanooga, TN, Chris enjoyed coaching soccer on the side, serving as an Assistant Coach at the Baylor School and Red Bank High School, as well as Head Coach of Boys and Girls Soccer at the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.  In addition, he coached select soccer teams from the U-12 to U-19 levels.  He also founded the chattanoogan.com, among the first online-only local newspapers in the country, with veteran reporter and Hamilton County historian, John Wilson.  The Tennessee River Valley remains Chris and Elizabeth’s favorite place, and they are glad to be back  on the north side of the Tennessee river.

On June 13, 2023, Chris was medically retired from the Army as a Major, and he began work full-time as a Chaplain in Missio Mosaic, an Anglican Mission Society.

CH Cairns with Tuskeegee Airman, LTC Robert Friend in 2014, at the 50th and Final Reunion of the 485th Bomb Group, which his grandfather, COL Douglas Cairns, commanded.  CH Cairns served as the keynote speaker during the event.