Air Force chaplains, Birmingham Southern graduates meet up at Fort Dix

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Maj.) Thomas B. Porter
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center
In early April I was browsing the Birmingham Southern (Ala.) Alumni Network on the Internet checking to see if there was an alumni group near me in New Jersey.

There's a north New Jersey group, but it's too far away. I was thinking how nice it would be to have an alumni group of military members closer to me with active duty, veterans or retired members.

A few days later, during the chaplain career field functional training for the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's Advanced Contingency Skills Training Course, I was talking with the Air Force chaplains and chaplain assistants and the subject of where we came from came up. I shared that I was born in Wyoming, raised in Kansas, and my hometown is Huntsville, Ala.

One of the chaplains replied, "I'm from Alabama too."

I asked, "Where?" He responded, "Birmingham."

I asked further, "Where in Birmingham?" He stated, "Bush Hills." I responded, "I know where Bush Hills is - I went to Birmingham-Southern College." He responded with a resounding "me too!"

We talked throughout the day about our school experiences, from classes to fraternities. We even identified a few common friends. The BSC Class of 1979 and 1984 came together at the USAF EC. Who would have thought?

Chaplain (Maj.) Harold B. Owens, a 1984 Graduate of Birmingham-Southern is currently preparing for his third overall deployment to the Middle East and his second deployment to Iraq. This time, Chaplain Owens will serve at the Air Force Transportation Hospital, or AFTH, in Balad Air Base. He will provide pastoral care, counseling and trauma ministry to Soldiers and Airman who have been injured in combat.

Chaplain Owens has lived in Michigan for the past 10 years and currently serves as a hospice chaplain with William Beaumont Hospital in Troy, assistant pastor with St. John A.M.E. Church in River Rouge, and a chaplain with the Ohio Air National Guard in Toledo, Ohio. Chaplain Owens will be deployed for five months.

I currently serve as the course director and instructor for the Air Force chaplain career field functional training in ACST and as exercise evaluator for the Center's Air Force Exercise Eagle Flag. I have 27 years of service as enlisted, Air Force Reserve and as an active duty officer. I've been stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Bolling AFB, D.C., RAF Menwith Hill in the United Kingdom, Kirtland AFB, N.M., and now Fort Dix. I have also deployed three times -- the last deployment with the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq after which I was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

In my current position, I've been training chaplains and chaplain assistants to forward deploy to a war zone and also teach Airmen, in general, how to survive combat stress and return home to their families and loved ones. This effort has been very rewarding.

To serve God and country has been a great opportunity for me. I've been able to do ministry in a broad expanse of service - caring for all. When we kneel to help, we are not checking identification, or race, or creed. We are reaching out in faith to a person in need of love and compassion.

The U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center has been my most rewarding assignment to date because of the importance of what we do. There also fringe benefits to my work, such as meeting up with Chaplain Owens.

That is one of the most fun parts of serving. In this case, I met not only a fellow chaplain, but a Birmingham-Southern College grad as well. It is a small world.