the Air Force’s 'Pastors'
deputy chief of chaplains for the United States Air Force,
is one of two general officers in the Air Force who serve
as chaplains. Brigadier General Richardson provides military
chaplains to USAF military units around the world. A graduate
of Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., Richardson has
been an endorsed Assemblies of God chaplain for 26 years.
He is stationed at Bolling Air Force Base, the support base
for the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C. Richardson recently
spoke with staff writer Isaac Olivarez.
PE: What are
some of your responsibilities, opportunities and challenges?
Most of my work in overseeing the Air Force’s chaplains
focuses on needs that exist within the Air Force and trying
to match our ministries to those needs. I oversee funding,
our relationship with the Pentagon and how we fit into the
military structure, and I make personnel moves. I also ensure
we’re making maximum impact into the Department of Defense
and into the Air Force in particular, and that we’re
providing for the free exercise of religion. Most important,
I oversee the quality of our worship services and religious
ministries, what we offer to military men and women through
our chapels and outreach programs.
PE: What is
your vision for military chaplaincy?
I want to stay focused on our distinctives. Two primary things
distinguish us from civilian ministry. We’re deployable
— that is, we can be sent anywhere in the world at a
moment’s notice — and we’re trained to survive
in a combat environment. I constantly look at training to
make sure Air Force chaplains are not a liability to the commanders
but an asset. One of my top priorities is to get chaplains
into areas where soldiers are in harm’s way so they
have access to a chaplain. I want to ensure our young men
and women have somebody who will pray for them and be their
pastor as they serve their country in dangerous and hostile
Has there been a spiritual awakening among soldiers due to
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
No one ever asks, “Why do we have chaplains in Iraq
and Afghanistan?” Our uniformed personnel welcome every
opportunity to talk with a chaplain. Young people today have
lots of questions to ask, and they’re just as spiritually
hungry as any generation ever. I’ve been to the Persian
Gulf region at least 40 or 50 times, and every time I go I
run out of Bibles to hand out. I’ve never left that
area without wishing I could have stayed longer and spent
more time with our troops. And I never cease to be amazed
at the quality of our young people. Their commitment and dedication
to our country will literally bring tears to your eyes.
out there in the desert they have plenty of time to think
about what’s important in life. They say, “My
family is important, my wife is important, my husband is important,
my children are important.” They also say, “My
relationship with God is important.” If they’ve
not been going to church, they consider whether their life’s
priorities are right. Throw a fear factor into that picture,
add to it the fact that they’re seeing people who are
hurt and dying, and you can easily understand why our military
people experience a sense of urgency to find God. They know
firsthand the importance of having a firm spiritual foundation
to stand on when the storms of life arise.
PE: What are
some spiritual benefits of being in your position?
Even though I outrank people and they stand when I walk in,
they still warmly receive me as their pastor. Additionally,
I have access to many of America’s senior leadership.
I was recently in the Pentagon and I noticed a name on the
hallway; it was a very senior person I had known from a few
years ago. If I were a lieutenant colonel or colonel, I never
would have walked into the office. But I knew that person
and walked in. The person said, “Chaplain, I can’t
believe you’re here. Can I talk to you?” He pulled
me into his office to discuss a current problem he was going
through. We prayed together. It was a pastoral moment God
set me up for.
PE: Was there
ever a time in your career when you doubted your faith?
No. I’ve never doubted Jesus. I have seen answered prayer
and I believe the greatest faith builder is answered prayer.
I was a young two-striper airman when I first heard the gospel
and walked the aisle of an Assemblies of God church. God changed
my life at that altar. I’ll never forget that. I’ll
never stop telling people what Jesus can do.
PE: What is
your view of the spiritual status of the United States?
There are some who say America has turned from its spiritual
heritage, but I don’t see that. I speak at prayer breakfasts
at base communities — whether it’s Army, Navy,
Air Force or Marines — where soldiers get together once
a year to do a mirror operation of the National Prayer Breakfast
in Washington, D.C. The prayer breakfasts are packed out.
I thank our people for who they are and what they do. I also
thank them for wearing the uniform and standing up for their
country. I tell them about God, and I tell them God answers
prayer. Then we pray together. That encourages me. Yes, America
is spiritually challenged right now, there’s no doubt
about that. But there are still millions of sincere, committed
believers who are bringing the needs of our nation to the
Lord every day. That can’t be overlooked.
PE: During your
career have you seen God’s hand of protection?
There were times when
I had to speak up for what was right and I realized I was
putting my career on the line. Yet God watched out for me.
I saw the protecting hand of God when I was at the scene of
the American Embassy terrorist bombing in Nairobi, Kenya,
in 1999 and there was carnage all about me. Death everywhere.
Bodies, blood, grieving families, panicked people. In the
midst of it was some of the most wonderful ministry I’ve
ever experienced. Just by walking into the bombed-out building
wearing a cross on my uniform, people came to me and asked
me to show them something in the Bible or to pray with them.
The presence of a minister made all the difference because
those people were literally grappling with faith issues and
the meaning of life. God only knows how many people have been
affected for the Kingdom by the presence of a chaplain or
by a word fitly spoken by a chaplain.
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