In one year, Marc Lhowe, 54, went from having no idea what TikTok was to being an official content creator with his most popular video scoring over 2.5 million views. He’s also active on Instagram, Facebook and other channels where he posts about life as a captain in the U.S. National Guard, advice as a chaplain and reactions to his favorite TV shows. The Augusta Chronicle spoke with Lhowe via ZOOM on June 23 about the viral push-up challenge video he filmed at Fort Gordon and advice for aspiring social media personalities, among other topics.
Who is Marc Lhowe?
He's been a chaplain with the Georgia National Guard for 12 years and was an enlisted man before that. To enhance his military career, he went to the VA in Augusta for clinical pastoral education 2011 and 2012.
"I fell in love with clinical chaplaincy. So, I'm a chaplain seven days a week, and I love it, Lhowe said. "I help soldiers, I help patients, all of the above. I try to bring the spiritual into whatever they're going through emotionally and physically."
Why did he enlist?
"Rambo," he laughed. "The movie Rambo."
"Rambo" was his recruiter, he said.
"There is no doubt about that," Lhowe said. "Back when I joined, which is way back when we had dinosaurs and bows and arrows, "Rambo" and Chuck Norris … all the non-vets were making movies, and that's why I didn't want to go Air Force, didn't want to go Navy, I wanted to go in the Army and play in the dirt. I thought it was gonna be like "Stripes" with Bill Murray. It was not."
When he joined a small group, the 13F – Forward Observers, it allowed him be among the infantry, artillery, cavalry and aviation units, and now he's with the engineers.
"So I got to really see everybody, but I did get to do all of that crazy climb-in-the-mud and stuff that I wanted to do, and it is cool," he said.
From 'Rambo' to chaplain
Lhowe said although he wanted to be a chaplain, he never thought he'd have the education required for the role.
"But never say never with God," he said. "I'll encourage anybody to do this: I started doing one class, two classes … I think I was in school an average of 14 years, to have associate's degree, bachelor's degree and a 90-hour master's degree (which is required) and then a one-year internship at the VA for my clinical association, and now I'm a board certified chaplain.
"But, to tell me back in 2002, that I was gonna have all this education, I'd have thought you were crazy."
Making the leap to TikTok
Lhowe was familiar with Instagram and Facebook, but it was after he left the pulpit in February 2021 that TikTok caught his eye.
"I didn't understand TikTok. Every time I turned it on, there's girls dancing in yoga pants, so I was going, 'I'm not sure what I'm supposed to take away from this.' "
His daughter advised him: "Put in what you like."
He started in what he called the "Christian area of TikTok" and then found the "military area of TikTok," he said.
"Once I got on that, I realized: I'm old. I actually have some wisdom with the white hair that some other people haven't done, and wisdom just means that you've messed up and learned from your mistakes somewhere along the line. So I thought I would share that," he said.
What led to the push-up challenge?
Lhowe was at Fort Gordon in June for a training exercise.
"There was a guy leading a rifle marksmanship class … so he stopped everybody … and he said, "By the way, this is Chaplain Marc. He's got a TikTok, and he's got a push-up video, and it'll put y'all to shame!"
After an instant replay of his previous push-up challenge video, Lhowe made a quick decision.
He told the class, "While we're at it, let me do one more – 'cause some guy said it looked like my head was gonna explode. So let me just show them 'the old man can still do this.'
"So it was just on-the-spot, off-the-cuff … I put a couple hash-tags, send."
2 million views and counting
The next day, Lhowe picked up a colleague's son from the hospital.
"He said 'Oh, Chap … have you checked your TikTok?" and I said, "No, what? It got a few views?"
A few, and then some.
"Blows my mind. When it got up to 900,000 I was going 'That's really cool, but it'll plateau,' and then it jumped over one million, and then it jumped over two," he said.
On deciding what to post
Lhowe's content has a pretty big range, from sharing wisdom and life advice to workout videos and reactions to Marvel's "Moon Knight" series. How does he decide what to post?
"Any of the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] stuff, that is time to spend with my son, and he's 18 so I know I won't have this time forever, so getting to watch MCU is our time.
"Working out … I've gotta work on it, I struggle for my weight. So, I wanna show that I actually did it, sometimes to others, other times just to me, to remind myself, "Hey, you're actually working at this."
He also shares what he considers to be the important parts of his life.
"I'm always interested in what parts people will like and what parts people won't."
Issues he sees most as a chaplain
Through his work, and now social media, Lhowe has connected with service members from all backgrounds. He says there are common issues that surface.
"Suicide is terrible, it's like a disease. You won't find it in one family, then suddenly Uncle Joe commits suicide, and he doesn't think it will affect anybody, and though he doesn't think it'll affect anybody, what he doesn't realize is maybe eight or nine years later, his nephew Sammy says, 'You know, that's one way out.'
"So, we deal with suicidal ideation a lot, and part of the reason we do is because … we're plucked from our home and put into a foreign country … you get to be with this group of a few hundred people for a year, and then suddenly, you're brought back and placed back into society and the world says "Go back to Home Depot or Bank of America or wherever you were. Have a good day!" and we have a lot of resources in the military, but we're trying to fit back in."
Service members' displacement and the effects that has on a family or a person's psyche are also top of mind, he said.
"Often times we feel like we should just suck it up – 'It's OK I can deal with this.' – Truth is, we need to reach out and ask for help. There's plenty of help available, but a lot of times, it's us getting past our own enemy that's in the mirror."
Advice on getting into social media
Lhowe can't explain the number of views generated with his post from Fort Gordon, but does get feedback from fans.
"Some people said they're gonna start working out, some people said they're gonna try to get in shape, some people think because of my age it's a really cool accomplishment, and then some are just patriotic and like the military."
Lhowe admitted that you have to have thick skin when posting on social media.
"People are very mean behind a keyboard. I call them 'keyboard bullies.' They'll say things to you they would never say to you in real life."
And for anyone who is considering getting into social media posting, the chaplain advises: "You've gotta have patience. Keep plugging away at what you like, at what you know, because people can tell when you're being a fake. So, just be genuine, be you … and try to do it for you."
Want to hear more?
Check out our video interview with Marc Lhowe at augustachronicle.com.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: GA chaplain goes viral on TikTok with push-up challenge video