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From enlisted to enlightened: One Airman’s journey to becoming a chaplain

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kyle Wilson

Spiritual fitness. It’s one of the four pillars that comprise Comprehensive Airman Fitness. It enables Airmen to maintain the resilience needed to accomplish the mission in the face of any challenge. Within the Air Force, there are personnel specifically tasked with being spiritual leaders and providing guidance to Airmen to bolster their spiritual fitness. These individuals are known as chaplains. Staff Sgt. Daniel Starr, chapel augmentee flight's noncommissioned officer in charge, has answered the call to become one of the Air Force’s newest chaplains.

Starr’s career in the Air Force began 10 years ago as a B-52 Stratofortress avionics specialist at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. Early on, he encountered challenges with his own spiritual and mental fitness. He says, at that time, the support systems in place for Airmen were lacking. These experiences inspired him to set the goal of becoming a chaplain himself someday.

“Early in my career, I got to see the mental and spiritual health systems of the Air Force firsthand,” said Starr. “Through that, I realized they needed more help.”

The journey to become a chaplain has been a lengthy one for Starr. Through hard work and determination, he has paved the path to accomplishing his goal. Recently, he was selected to attend Air Force Officer Training School and commission as a chaplain.

“In order to be a chaplain, you have to have a master of divinity degree,” said Starr. “At the time I started this process, I didn’t even have my bachelor’s degree. It’s been a long road.”

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Starr learned about a program offered by the Air Force called the Career Intermission Program. This program allows eligible Airmen the opportunity to take up to a three-year temporary break from active duty to pursue personal and professional development.

“For 26 months, I was gone from the Air Force attending divinity school,” said Starr. “In that time, I accomplished 90 credit hours along with my master’s thesis and I worked at a hospital as a chaplain as well.”

Because of his prior experience as an enlisted Airman, Starr believes he can bring a unique and valuable perspective to the Chaplain Corps. He says it will allow him to better understand and empathize with Airmen.

“I’ve been an Airman 1st Class out on the flightline shoveling snow in minus 20 degree weather, I’ve been there,” said Starr. “So they might think, ‘maybe this guy understands us a bit more’.”

Once he officially becomes a chaplain, there are some initiatives that Starr says he would like to implement. According to him, some Airmen may be intimidated by chaplains or reluctant to speak openly with them because of their status as commissioned officers.

“There’s a divide where Airmen are reluctant to talk to chaplains because they have this perception of ‘oh they’re an officer’,” said Starr. “Chaplains are special, they have the power to bridge that gap and connect with both realms; enlisted and officer.”

Amongst the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, Starr believes spiritual fitness isn’t emphasized as much as it should be. He believes chaplains are the key to fostering spiritual fitness to build resiliency and connectedness within Airmen. 

“Chaplains are the subject matter experts on spiritual fitness; you’re not going to find anyone better to facilitate that than a chaplain” said Starr. “We help create families and if you’re an Airmen and you’re missing your family, come be a part of ours.”