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disciples in uniform: serving america's fighting congregation

Part Two in a Three-Part Series

by CH (CPT) Richard G. Anderson

Find out more about the ministry of Free Will Baptist Chaplains at

General John W. Vessey, Jr., former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Ronald Reagan, once stated, “The spiritual health of the Armed Forces is as important as the physical health of its members or the conditions of the equipment.” Those who tend to the spiritual health of military men and women comprise the United States Chaplain Corps.

The United States Chaplain Corps includes the following three branches of service: Army (USA), Air Force (USAF), and Navy (USN). Each respective Chaplain Service provides ministry to their own branch of service; however, the Navy Chaplain Corps also serves the Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

The Chaplain Corps obtains individual chaplains through the various religious denominations represented within the continental United States. Moreover, the Chaplain Corps insists that each denomination ensure that their candidates for endorsement meet the following specific criteria:

  • United States Citizenship

  • Baccalaureate Degree (NLT 120 Semester Hours)

  • Master of Divinity Degree / Equivalent (NLT 90 Semester Hours)

  • Ordained to Pastoral Ministry

  • Minimum Two Years Pastoral Leadership Experience

  • Ecclesiastical Endorsement

  • Enter Active Duty Military Service Prior to 40 Years of Age

  • Pass Commissioning Physical and Background Security Check

  • Complete Branch Specific (USA, USAF, USN) Application

For example, having met the initial five criteria, I applied to the National Association of Free Will Baptists Home Missions Department for endorsement as a Free Will Baptist chaplain in the United States Air Force. The Home Missions Department, having approved me for ministry in the United States military, endorsed me to serve as a FWB chaplain in the USAF. Once the USAF Chaplain Service received my official endorsement from the NAFWB Home Missions Department, they sent me an application packet, which included the commissioning physical, the background security check, and a host of additional information. Once the entire application packet was completed and submitted to the USAF Chaplain Service, an accessions board convened and authorized my commissioning as a military officer.


Generally, newly commissioned chaplains enter active duty with the rank of First Lieutenant. Some chaplains, however, due to prior experience or military service, enter active duty at a higher rank. Regardless of rank, military chaplains are double-edged swords, namely ordained clergy and commissioned officers. As ordained clergy, chaplains offer ministry in accordance with their denominational faith and practice thereby providing for the free exercise of religion for military members and their families. As commissioned officers, chaplains uphold the discipline and standards of their respective branch of service.            

Nearly three years after the birth of the Chaplain Corps on July 29, 1775, General George Washington issued the following order at Valley Forge on May 2, 1778, “The Commander-in-Chief directs that divine services be performed every Sunday at eleven o’clock in each bridge which has chaplains...While we are duly performing the duty of good soldiers, we are not to be inattentive to the highest duties of religion.” As supporters of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, military chaplains have had the distinct privilege of tending to the soul of America’s Fighting Congregation.

Richard Anderson serves in the United States Air Force as a Free Will Baptist Chaplain. Currently the Senior Protestant Chaplain, Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, Anderson holds a B.S. in Bible and Secondary Education, a M.Div. with Biblical Languages (Hebrew and Greek), and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. He is also a graduate of the United States Army Medical Department, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., specializing in Clinical Pastoral Education. He is married to Faith (VanWinkle) Anderson, and they have two sons, Jack and Jonathan Wesley. Chaplain Anderson can be contacted at  


©2007 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists