FAQ Becoming and Being an Air Force Chaplain

How to become an Air Force Chaplain

I want to thank one of my readers for this excellent list of questions. He has graciously allowed me to pass along our correspondence so you can gain insight as you seek to serve God and Country.

Getting In
·      How competitive is acceptance into the Air Force Chaplain Corps?
·      It is very competitive to get in. We are accepting 25 a year now. That’s down from 31 when I came in. But, don’t let that sway you from applying. We are looking for seasoned pastors and especially pastors who have been a senior or solo pastor of a congregation. We can teach you be chaplain. You need to come to us as a pastor.
·      If you are not accepted, can you re-apply at a later date?
·      Yes, generally you can keep applying and you’ll do that through your endorser.
·      The Air Force requires a letter of recommendation from a supervisor.  How does that work for a senior pastor of a non-denominational church?  Do they want a letter from an elder or deacon board, or can a letter from someone in another church (a prior church, perhaps) substitute for a letter from someone in an applicant’s present church?
·      Generally this will be someone who holds you accountable. Who holds your ordination credentials? Do you answer to some kind of accountability board? Do you have a personnel committee? Think along those lines.
·      How long does it typically take from the beginning of the application process to acceptance?
·      Typically it will be between a year and a year and a half. It will be one year from the time that the Air Force first contacts you before you will enter military service, typically. It’s very important that you begin building your relationship with your endorser right now. For non-denominational folks there are a few options. National Association of Evangelicals is a great one, however, I don't know if they do primary endorsements or just secondary ones of smaller endorsing agencies. Our former Deputy Chief of chaplains is the Ex. Dir.  
·      http://www.nae.net/chaplains
·      How long from acceptance to the beginning of training?
·      Once you are excepted you should have around three to four months before you report. I found out March 31 and reported to Maxwell for COT on May 28. You will report to Ft. Jackson, SC as our school house has moved.
·      When you begin your training, has your family already moved to your new duty station?
·      Typically, your family will not move to the new duty station until you have finished COT. You will be on TDY en route to your new duty station. TDY is a temporary duty. Then you will be given travel days to pick up your family and continue on to your first duty station.
·      How is beginning rank determined?  If all goes according to plan, I will have at least 8 years of experience as a senior pastor by the time I join.  However, 7.5 of those years will be before I earned my M.Div.  What would my likely rank be?
·      You will enter as a 1st Lt (0-2). The AF will only count pastoral experience post M.Div. I had 8 years total but only four post M.Div. and you need seven years post to enter as a Capt. But, this is not bad news. You will make Capt after one year and it’s good to be a Lt while you are learning the ropes.

Life in the Air Force
·      What is the chaplain’s relationship to the Air Force?  Is he assigned to a base, a wing, a squadron?
·      You are assigned to the Chapel and administratively under the Wing Staff Agency. You work directly for the Wing Chaplain and you may have a supervisor (Deputy Wing Chaplain) to whom you report. But, you need to always remember that you are an asset of the wing chaplain and he will assign you to duties as he sees fit. You typically will be given duties in the chapel ministry, in the unit and in military readiness. For example, at my first duty station I was the Operations Group Chaplain (Warrior Care), I was the religious education and contemporary worship chaplain (Chapel Based Ministry), and I was the Government Purchase Card account manager (Military readiness). 
·      How long can a chaplain expect to stay at a particular base?
·      I was at my first duty station for four years. This should be typical as we are trying to save money by not moving people so much. But, over three assignments I will average 3.33 years on station at each because I was selected for a one year school as my second assignment.
·      What determines movement?
·      Needs of the Air Force is number one. Number two would be if you apply for and get a school. Number two would be time on station. Number three could be hardship situations, like you request to move because you need to care for a parent who is terminally ill. This is decided on a case by case basis.
·      Does the chaplain have any say in the matter of where he goes?
·      Some. We fill out a form (it should be done annually to show the developmental team you care about your own career) called an ADP or Airmen Development Plan. On this form you can select 25 bases or places that you would like to be assigned and the order of preference. You also have the opportunity to write a paragraph about how you are doing in the AF and what you would like to do in the future. It’s very important that one is humble and submits to the needs of the AF in this block. This is not a place to brag. It might read something like: “I am so thankful to be serving my God and my Country in the USAF. I am willing to go anywhere the AF needs me and I’m excited about the many opportunities available. When it is appropriate for my rank and experience, I would greatly appreciate an opportunity to serve…”  you get the idea.
·      If he is assigned to a wing or squadron, then does he move with them?  That is, if the wing or squadron is moved to a different base, does the chaplain go as well?  Is this always the case?
·      You will be assigned to a base, but if you are moved you will be move by the Chaplain Corps. I had friends at Cannon and the base changed from a fighter base to a spec ops base. The Chaplain Corps kept everyone there. So one week they were serving as chaplain to a fighter base and not deploying with their assigned unit but as needed by the AF and the next week they found themselves deploying every six months with spec ops troops all over the world. This is an extreme case but give you an idea that we are not tied to movement except as the Chaplain Corps deploys us. 
·      If the wing/squadron goes for a weekend training exercise (or some other type of short-term thing), does the chaplain go?
·      Sometimes. It depends on your wing chaplains plans and if the unit has the money for you to go. This would be a request that the unit commander would make of the wing chaplain and the unit commander would pay for your TDY out of his unit funds. I recently went to Turkey for five days in response to an air craft disaster under this just this kind of request. 
·      Assuming assignment to a wing/squadron, is the chaplain a part of that particular wing/squadron for his whole career?
·      No, you will move around and be in different units and commands. In fact, it’s good to get broad range of experience. For example, my first assignment was a pilot training base as the Ops Group Chaplain (education), my second assignment was CPE (School) at a huge hospital some Med Group (education), my third assignment was to a an overseas fighter base as the Maintenance Group Chaplain (operational world and overseas world). When I was deployed, I was the Mission Support Group Chaplain (support experience). 
·      What might a typical USAF Chaplain career look like?
·      Right now it might look like this for an above average career
·      First assignment 3-4 years (Deploy at least once )
·      Second assignment 3-4 years (Deploy at least once) try to get a school or overseas if you can
·      Third Assignment 2-3 years (Deploy once) try to get over seas
·      Fourth Assignment promotion to major 2-3 years
·      Fifth assignment try to get a school or a staff job
·      Sixth Assignment Wing Chaplain 2-3 years
·      What differentiates Air Force chaplain ministry from the Army and Navy?
·      Army and Navy chaplaincy is much more unit based and less chapel based. The AF has a pretty good balance of each. In the Army and the Navy you typically work for a line officer and in the AF you work for the Wing chaplain. The Army and the Navy you deploy more. Navy Chaplains also serve in the Marines and Coast Guard. In my opinion, the AF chaplaincy is more laid back with less Type A personalities. This is not good or bad, just different. The thing I like about the AF is that I can be as "hoorah" as I want and if I'm not feeling so "hoorah" there are plenty of options to not sleep in the mud.

On-Base Chaplain Ministry
·      Much like civilian ministry, I am sure that there is no real routine in chaplain ministry.  However, might you provide a general description of on-base chaplain ministry?  What does a week as a chaplain look like?

·      Here is a screen shot of next week. It’s pretty typical. I get Mondays off to make up for working on Sunday. This is up to your wing Chaplain. The chaplain assistants all have access to my calendar and can schedule counseling appropriately. And, as you know, stuff happens and you have to adjust fire. So, that is why I have 30 min transitions to allow for ministry that happens in the margins. On-base chapel ministry is a balancing act between unit ministry, parish ministry, counseling, and military readiness. 
·      What are your hours on base?
·      Mostly 0800 to 1600 but that varies depending on leadership and mission. When I was in CPE I got to base at 0600 and left at 1630. I work three evenings a week, hence the late start which also allows for flexibility with PT.
·      Are you typically home in the evenings?
·      Yes, but three nights a week I’m back at chapel activities. This is more by choice and my family is involved in two of those nights. But I’m home more at night as a chaplain than I was as a civilian pastor.
·      What is your role in the base chapel?
·      I currently pastor the Traditional protestant service which runs about 70 people each week. I am the RE (religious education) chaplain so I oversee the volunteers and contractors (paid laypeople) who run AWANA, Tuesday night community, Mothers of preschoolers etc and I am the account approving official for our Government Purchase Card program (govt. credit cards).
·      Are you able to be involved in a local church?  Or, does your responsibility on base prohibit that?
·      Typically Sunday evenings are free and we have gone to churches off base at every duty assignment so far. This can be a good way for you to recharge. 
·      Are chaplains respected by the airmen?
·      You will have a certain amount of respect due to your rank. Other people give special respect to the chaplain. But, overall I see a lack of meaning in people’s lives toward the purpose of the chaplain. I think that’s partly cultural and partly our fault for focusing on the minors (building a bigger RE prgm) and skipping the majors (being present in the daily lives of our airmen where they work). It means we need people like you all the more!
·      What does your interaction with people of other faiths look like?  If a person comes to you for counseling, and he is not a Christian, how do you go about counseling them?
·      You should meet that person where they are. It’s not my job to share my faith with them if that is not what they are looking for. If they need a cold cup of water then I give it to them. If they just want the confidentiality that we offer then I give it to them. I let them drive the ministry that they need. That being said, the Holy Spirit has afforded me the opportunity to lead many more people to Christ in the AF than I did in civilian ministry. It’s a different kind of fishing, one where I rely a lot more on God than I did in the past.
·      Regarding chaplains of other faiths: what does your working relationship look like?  Are there ever any open discussions of differences and similarities between your respective belief systems?
·      All the time. We typically have a great time together. We try to accommodate where we can. Different Protestants cut through the denominational stuff and get down to the brass tacks. I have had great relationships with Roman Catholics. I have had limited interaction with other religions as they are rare. But all have been positive.
·      Have you ever felt restricted in the expression of your faith?  Some have said that they have felt such restriction: how would you answer them?
·      We all feel this. Currently it is more restrictive. But, it’s a balance. I will not be told what to preach in the chapel. Period. However, if I need to say “in your most holy name” in a prayer at a change of command where people of different faiths or no faith may be then so be it. Jesus never prayed in Jesus’ name. We have to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I really am concerned that my faith in the secular portion of my job is not offensive. I want to be sensitive to those who are different from me. But, in the chapel service, if the cross of Christ offends, don’t come to chapel, because the cross is a stumbling block for some.
·      When someone tells you something in confidence, how far is that confidence expected to go?  That is, if an airman tells you something that could result in harm either to themselves or to others, are you expected to stay silent?
·      We are unique. You can tell no one. That privilege belongs to the person in your office. There is no situation, no matter how awful, that an Air Force chaplain may reveal what has been said in counseling.
·      What is the greatest need of airmen and how do you as a chaplain meet it?
·      They need Jesus. I show them the Agape love of Christ directly when appropriate and indirectly when needed. Your job is to love Airmen where they are and let God be made known through that care and compassion. Sometimes that leads to sharing the Gospel, but more often than not that leads to living the Gospel around them. Just because I know what someone needs, however, doesn't mean that I am the one they need it from. I may simply be one who waters, or tends, or plants or sows. 
·      What are the most important ethical issues facing airmen?
·      The ones I see are whether to completely follow the rules or to keep the peace in their unit. Example, you know that someone was allowed to slide on a non-critical evaluation, but do you elevate the infraction or do you just let it go and not have the heat land on you. The other ethical issue facing Airmen is that many have no foundation for the ethics they might claim. This lack of a religious, theological or philosophical underpinning leads to some squirrelly decision making and usually lands an Airmen in the chaplain's office trying to put their life back together. 
·      What are the two most common reasons people have for visiting the chaplain?
·      Stress: Marriage issues and job related issues
·      What is the most difficult aspect of non-deployment chaplain ministry?
·      Administrative issues or adMINISTRY as some of us call it. Also, it is difficult when we don't have the visibility that our senior leadership does. Decisions get made, but we don't really know why. This makes it difficult to push on when we feel disconnected. But, we trust that they have information that we don't. On the other hand, the fear is that they might be out of touch with the reality on the ground and we are powerless to change any of that. I think this has been the case in every military in history. So, we faithfully serve and respect and trust our leaders.

·      How long is a typical deployment?
·      Six months
·      Where does the Air Force go?  I know that the usual answer is “All over the world,” but where exactly?
·      We used to go to Iraq. We now go to Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi, East Africa, Central America, and some undisclosed locations that require varying choices in camouflage.
·      What are your duties during deployment?
·      Pray for the wounded and raise the dead. But, the reality is most AF deployments are very safe. So you will have chapel duties and unit duties, you will work 12 hr days 6 days a week and you will do a lot of stress counseling mainly around broken relationships.
·      How do you cope with the distance from family?
·      Skype helps. Pacing yourself. This is not a sprint! Make regular and scheduled calls home. Stay busy. PT regularly. Prayer is huge.
·      How do your kids deal with it?
·      It’s hard but they are resilient. Help them see how to count down and contact them often. As they get older they take on a sense of mission as well. I had to miss my daughter's birthday on a short TDY and my daughter said, "Daddy, they need you more than I do."
·      How does your spouse deal with it?
·      Going home and spending time with family helps. It’s hard and there’s no way around the feelings. It was hard on my wife, but she had a good battle plan.
·      Are there breaks during deployment?  How long are they?  How frequent?  If there are breaks, are you able to go home during the break?
·      No breaks, unless you are on a 365 day deployment but you would not get one of those. You could, however be tapped with a 365 day hardship tour to Korea or Greenland. In that case you would come home for a two week midtour visit with family. So far, there have been enough volunteers for these missions that I have not had to go. It’s a reality but not one that is too likely.
·      If you are the only chaplain present during deployment, how do you handle ministering to those outside your faith group?  How do you handle facilitating worship services for them?
·      You would find lay leaders, equip them, resource them with what they need and oversee them as far as AFI 52-101 is concerned. You would not be required to help out. You would provide them with opportunity.
·      If you are deployed to a combat zone, how exposed to danger are you?  Are you ever in the line of fire?
·      Rarely should you be exposed to direct fire unless you are at a special ops base and you pretty much have to request that assignment. In hostile countries you are in danger of indirect fire from mortar and rocket attack. This can happen daily. We have lost no AF chaplains during the entire war and only one purple heart (wounded) chaplain. You can and do receive direct fire if you convoy, but policy changes on allowing chaplains to do this monthly.
·      What is the most difficult aspect of deployment?  If you answered “being apart from family,” what is most difficult aside from that?
·      That’s it. Being apart from your family. You can’t be there to fix stuff when it’s broken or when a kid gets a broken arm or when your wife gets the flu. You miss birthdays and Christmas and you never get those months back. Depending on your understanding of marital faithfulness this can be difficult too. Obviously, as Christians we hold ourselves to a high standard. Remaining sexually pure from lust during a deployment is difficult for Christian couples. You and your wife will want to discuss what this means for you. Obviously I’m not talking about an open marriage, but what will temporary celibacy look like for the two of you. What will you covenant to guard your heart and mind from.

Family Life
·      How does your family cope with military life?  Do they like it?
·      My family loves it! We are much happier in the AF than we were in the parish life. It’s easier on my wife in so many ways.
·      How involved are they with the Air Force?
·      Only as involved as they want to be. 
·      How do your children cope with moving?
·      They get excited about it. It’s an adventure to them.

Two final summing up questions:
·      Are you happy as a chaplain?
·      I’m very happy. More importantly, I'm joyful! It has challenges and the AF is not a fun place right now due to budget cuts and personnel cuts. But, it’s a wonderful vocation and I love it.
·      Would you sign up again?
·      I’m in for the long haul. I'd sign up in a heartbeat!
How to become an Air Force Chaplain How to become an Air Force Chaplain Air Force Chaplain Requirements, USAF Chaplain Requirements, Af Chaplain Requirements, 


Andrew Young said...

Thank you for this!


You're Welcome!

rhartsc said...


Can you discuss what the physical requirements are like? What kind of shape do you need to be in?



You will need to meet the requirements for weight and height. You can find that at www.airforce.com
Also you will need to be able to complete and pass the Air Force Physical Fitness Test. You can google that to learn what you must do for your age. For example, I have to:
Run 1.5 miles in less than 14 min. I also had to due at least 27 push ups and 39 sit ups. But if I did the minimum in each category I would have failed. I ran a 13:36 mile and a half, did 50 push ups and 50 sit ups and had a 34 inch waist.

Alex - Servant of God said...

I was an associate pastor for 5.5 years and then a part-time youth pastor for 5 years. My endorsing agency credited me 9 years of ministry services. I have an MDiv and 1 unit of CPE. I have no problem with the physical requirement of the AF. I am 38 and speak two foreign languages. What's my chance of getting into the AF active duty chaplaincy?


Statistically pretty good. You've punched all the cards that you could punch for the most part. Now it depends on how you interview and the needs of the AF. Great job on the experience and we can certainly use your skills in the Chaplain Corps. Who are you endorsed by?

Alex - Servant of God said...


Thanks! I am endorsed by the Church of the Nazarene.

Alex - Servant of God said...


I have some questions I'd like to discuss with you in a confidential method. Is there other way I can contact you other than the blog? I will really appreciate this, thanks!


You are more than welcome to email me at pastorzac@yahoo.com