An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Air Force Reserve chaplain takes ministry to people

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tom Talbert
  • 442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Chaplain (Capt.) James Buckman is not a typical wing chaplain. For one thing, he looks like he would be just as comfortable serving in combat as he would be serving communion.

That's because the burly built, broad-shouldered and athletic-looking reservist spent five of his 10 enlisted Army years as a Special Forces Morse code operator.

"My job was to jump out of an airplane with about 120 pounds of radio gear hanging between my legs, an M-16 strapped on my left thigh, and 70 pounds of parachutes and collect mechanical intelligence," said Chaplain Buckman.

So, how does one journey from the adventuresome lifestyle of an Army "snake-eater" to become the 442nd Fighter Wing chaplain?

It turns out it was more of a journey back than forward.

"I was raised in West Africa as an M.K. (missionary kid) with two other missionary families and 50,000 villagers," he said. "I learned the importance of culture, relationships and serving people.

"As a kid, I read all I could about the U.S. military, and the ideals that our nation was built around just spoke to me," he said.

Chaplain Buckman's inspiration led to action, as he spent his 18th birthday at the St. Louis Military Entrance Processing Station enlisting in the U.S. Army.

After 10 years of active-duty service, he enrolled in undergraduate work at Valparaiso University in Indiana and eventually pursued graduate studies at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

After starting a new church in Columbia, Pastor Jim Buckman had the growing desire, once things settled down in his hectic pastor's schedule, of becoming a military reserve chaplain.

Once he assumed responsibility in 1997 for River of Life Lutheran Church in Springfield, a church of about 250 members, he made the move to become an Army Reserve chaplain with the 10th Psychological Operations Battalion in St. Louis.

"In February of 2006 I transferred to the Air Force Reserve, and my duties here with the 442nd Fighter Wing began," Chaplain Buckman said.

"Chaplain Buckman is the kind of guy you instantly warm up to; a magnetic personality," said Master Sgt. Chiqita Wilson, one of the wing's two chaplain's assistants. "Everyone quickly learns to be comfortable around him."

Staff Sgt Allen Haas, the other chaplain's assistant, added to those sentiments.

"(Chaplain Buckman) has some incredibly innovative approaches to ministry and making worship and himself accessible to Airmen in ways never before tried," he said.

Chaplain Buckman's main innovation is what he calls his "ministry of presence."

"My focus is for our chaplain program to get out of the office and be with the Airmen," he said. "On a unit training assembly weekend, we visit the 10 different locations where our Airmen work. After spending time building a rapport with them, we ask them when it would be convenient to bring a 15- or 20-minute worship service or Bible study.

"Our goal is to eventually have 10 different worship services in 10 different work locations," Chaplain Buckman said. "But first we spend time getting to know them and address their needs."

The days of crowding people into a chapel are over, he said.

"We now come to you," said Chaplain Buckman.

So far, the new approach seems to be working. Currently four worship services are being conducted throughout the wing at different locations, with more in the works.

But the ear-to-ear smiling chaplain doesn't stop the revolutionary innovation there.

"I understand I am an officer, but my primary purpose is to be a religious servant here," he said. "We just did a marriage enrichment workshop, and the results were phenomenal. We are now going to do quarterly workshops for the wing with topics like parenting, divorce recovery and singles. The workshops are a day long and the wing pays for lodging and provides meals and materials free."

Chaplain Buckman recently conducted a wedding in the wing conference room.

"I am flexible and available to the Airmen," he said. "The chaplain is the only person in uniform in which Airmen have complete confidentiality. You don't have to be religious to talk to the chaplain. I like talking to anyone, and everyone is welcome in my office." (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)