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Chaplain candidate tests the waters
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Second Lt. Brenner Campbell, speaks at the Hanscom Chapel Aug. 5. Lieutenant Campbell just completed a 35-day active duty tour as a chaplain candidate. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mark Wyatt)
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Chaplain candidate tests the waters

Posted 8/10/2011   Updated 8/10/2011 Email story   Print story


by Sarah Olaciregui
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

8/10/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- If someone would have told 2nd Lt. Brenner Campbell five years ago that he would be a member of the United States Air Force and working at Hanscom for a summer, he probably wouldn't have been too convinced.

But, as he put it, "God works in mysterious ways," and now here he is as a chaplain candidate at the base chapel, working on Vacation Bible School, giving invocations at base events, counseling those in need and tagging along with the other chaplains to find out what life as an Air Force chaplain is all about.

"I couldn't be happier about it," Lieutenant Campbell said. "I'm serving my country and my God at the same time."

The unlikely journey began for the lieutenant back in 2009. He had just decided to go back to school to pursue a master's in divinity from Truett Seminary at Baylor University. Late in the year, he was visiting with his brother-in-law and cousin in Tulsa, Okla., when his cousin, a member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, took him to the Tulsa International Airport where F-16s were based.

Lieutenant Brenner already had his private pilot's license and loved being around aircraft. He was even able to get in an F-16 flight simulator during the visit.

"My cousin told me I should look into joining the guard as a pilot," he said. "But, when he found out I was 30 years old, he knew that wasn't an option. However, he did mention that chaplains could join up to 42 years old."

Lieutenant Campbell admitted this possibility did peak his interest so when he returned home to Waco, Texas, he immediately did some research and got in touch with a chaplain recruiter.

"My father was an Air Force officer," he said. "I was born at Luke Air Force Base (Ariz.) and grew up all around the Pacific. His last duty station was Fort Worth in Texas, so serving in the military was something I knew all about. I talked to my wife about it and she was all for it."

By March 2010 he was commissioned and that summer went off to Commissioned Officers Training, followed by the Chaplain Candidate Course at Fort Jackson, S.C.

"The great thing about the chaplain candidate program is it is designed for people that are in school getting a master's degree - which is a requirement," he said. "The Air Force works with my schedule and I am able to make some adjustments as needed."

After finishing up school this past semester, the lieutenant knew his next step would be a 35-day active duty tour (ADT).

"I looked at the map and picked several CONUS (contiguous United States) bases in the north," he said. "I knew it would be 110 degrees in Waco during the summer, so I wanted to go somewhere that wouldn't be that hot."

When he got his orders to come to Hanscom, he was excited.

"From a chaplain's standpoint, this is where it all started," he said. "People came here for religious freedom."

During his time here, the candidate has learned a lot.

"I've done about 47 hours of visitation around the base, visiting units and attending commander's calls," he said. "I've done some counseling -- whether it be personal or marriage. I've gone to dorm dinners, I've preached during the protestant service and, during my free time, I've checked out some of the things Boston has to offer."

Lieutenant Campbell admits he's been busy, but it's also been a good experience.

"The chapel here is filled with people who want to serve," he said. "I'm not sure every base chapel can say that. But, everyone here has a passion to help people."

The lieutenant also appreciates how everyone works together.

"How many other ministers can say they are able to sit down and talk to a rabbi on a regular basis or get to know a catholic priest?" he said. "We all have different beliefs, but the staff here works cohesively to accomplish the mission."

He's also had a chance to make sure the Muslim population is taken care of during Ramadan.

"Although we don't have a Muslim chaplain, we've made sure anyone who wants to does have access to the prayer room during this special time."

Even though his stint at Hanscom is winding down, the chaplain candidate knows he will remember this experience for a long time to come.

From this point, Lieutenant Campbell doesn't know where the next path will lead. He will graduate from seminary in December and must accomplish another 35-day ADT. Then he must reappoint and either enter the chaplain corps as an active duty member or go into the reserves or guard. He must also get endorsements from chaplains he has worked with while completing his ADTs.

"It's a very competitive process," he said. "I was told that last year more than 1,000 people requested to reappoint to active duty and only 25 were selected, and Hanscom was blessed to receive one of those few chosen - Chaplain Gorton."

But, Lieutenant Brenner admits it's a wise process and a very unique thing for the Air Force.

"You get to get your feet wet," he said. "If you don't like it, you can back out or, if you do, you can jump in and swim. It's a great program because the last thing you need is a chaplain who shouldn't be there."

In the meantime, Lieutenant Campbell will return to his family in Texas and prepare to complete his degree. He will also continue running his own real estate development company on the civilian side. He has faith that his next step, whatever it may be, will be the right one, and encourages others to do the same.

"If someone is pursuing an undergraduate degree in religion or thinking of going to seminary, I think the chaplain candidate program is something they should think about, whether they are enlisted, already an officer or not even yet a member of the military."

The Air Force accepts endorsed and qualified applicants from every faith to include: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy. Anyone interested in becoming an Air Force chaplain may visit www.usafhc.af.mil for further information.

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