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Base's Faith Diversity Amazes 4 Chaplain Candidates

By James Coburn | 37th Training Wing Public Affairs | Nov. 20, 2006

Lackland Air Force Base, Texas — (Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part article.)

Four chaplain candidates are spending a month on base to learn what it's like to be an Air Force chaplain, and they say the faith diversity is amazing at Lackland - home to the largest religious ministry in the Air Force.

All four of the candidates are Air Force Reserve second lieutenants who completed seven weeks of commissioned officer training and the Chaplain Candidate Course at Maxwell AFB, Ala., before arriving here July 15.

One of the four, 2nd Lt. Matthew Smith, is from San Antonio. He is an independent Baptist, and he will be giving the sermon Sunday at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. during the Contemporary Service for basic trainees at the Gateway Chapel.
"It should be very interesting," he said. "I've never preached three sermons in a row - all the same sermon."

The chaplain candidate's father and mother, Ken and Debby Smith, are enlisted Air Force veterans who still live in San Antonio. The lieutenant, 24, left San Antonio to attend Pensacola (Fla.) Christian College, where he met his wife, and remained there. He entered the college's seminary after graduation, and "I have enjoyed every day of it."

Lieutenant Smith has a year remaining to obtain his Master of Divinity from the Pensacola Theological Seminary. He would like to be activated as a full-time chaplain as soon as he completes a 35-day candidate tour next summer at another base, is ordained and is reappointed as a first lieutenant, but said he most likely will be a chaplain one weekend a month for some time before he receives an active-duty appointment.

"Lackland is phenomenal," he said. "First of all, it's huge," he said of the Air Force's most populous base. He marveled at how base chaplains are pouring out their hearts as they "have a hand in molding and shaping the next generation of Airmen" during the many church services and the counseling for basic trainees.

"It's great, because it is really an amazing example of what the chaplain's role is in the armed forces, and that is providing for the free exercise of religion for all - the right to believe or not to believe. And Lackland does a great job of facilitating that."

Second Lt. Marshal Klaven, 27, from St. Louis, attending Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, said he will be leading the Jewish Service at 5:30 p.m. today at Airmen Memorial Chapel.

Lieutenant Klaven said he became interested in the chaplaincy when he was 13 years old, visited the Pentagon and saw a display honoring four chaplains - two protestant ministers, a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi - who gave their life vests and gloves to their shipmates after the USS Dorchester was torpedoed during World War II. "Those able to survive told of seeing the four chaplains on deck as the boat was going under, linked arm in arm and saying a universal prayer," he said. "Something within that story spoke to me."

The four chaplains are posthumous recipients of the Medal of Honor.

The Lackland tour has given the chaplain candidates "the ability to travel around and see what the chaplain really does," Lieutenant Klaven said. He has observed his "Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters participate in their faith as well as my own," he said, "so it's been an exciting adventure."

When he looks at the military, he said, "I see it through a world that God has intended to create, one that is full of diversity and tolerance; one that everybody, no matter what diversity we have, we're shooting for the same goal. I believe it's incredible," he said of Lackland's diversity. "I've never seen one place have so many different ways to express faith. It's been a joy, and we've been able to observe and participate in it."