ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Joshua Wullenweber had his life all planned out. After enlisting in the Air Force right out of high school in 2005, he began his career as a flying crew chief with thoughts of being a professional Airman and having a long career working on airplanes.
It turns out God had a different plan.
“I spent 11 years on active duty and absolutely loved my job,” he said. “My last assignment was with the 89th Maintenance Group at (Joint Base) Andrews (Maryland) as a special air mission fly crew chief flying aboard Air Force Two. We carried the vice president, secretary of state and a host of other DVs all over the world. It was an amazing assignment.”
Although he loved what he was doing, it was during his time at Andrews that Wullenweber said he started to get the feeling that God was calling him to change careers.
While he wasn’t flying around the world on Air Force Two, Wullenweber was volunteering as a youth minister at his church near Andrews. “That’s when I started to get the idea that God was calling me to the ministry full time,” he said.
“I was confused because I really thought I had my life all planned out. But when God talks to you, you can’t turn your back and pretend you don’t hear. You have to listen.”
Already holding a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, the crew chief started to go to seminary part time while still working full time for the Air Force. “Because I had such a busy flying schedule, I was only able to take one class per semester,” he said. “I quickly realized I would probably be about 45 years old when I finally finished.”
That’s when Wullenweber first heard about the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program.
“I was at a picnic and my commander happened to introduce me to a young man who was an Air Force chaplain candidate visiting Andrews for the summer. He explained the program to me and I felt like God might be showing me the path he wanted me to take.”
After more research, lots of praying and long discussions with his wife, Wullenweber decided to apply for the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program and was accepted.
“It was pretty scary because it meant I would have to leave active duty and enroll in seminary full time.
“I left active duty in November 2016 and literally the next day was commissioned as a second lieutenant chaplain candidate,” he said.
Wullenweber is now a second-year student at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, and an Air Force chaplain candidate.
The Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program is an opportunity for seminary and other professional religious school students to evaluate their compatibility and potential for commissioning as an Air Force chaplain.
“The program allows candidates to define and refine their calling as they develop their pastoral skills through a series of summer training internships,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Eusebia Rios, the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program manager.
Chaplain candidates draw upon their background, education and experience to function as part of an Air Force chapel team.
Upon graduation and ecclesiastical endorsement, successful chaplain candidates are eligible for reappointment as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, either on active duty or as a Reserve or Guard chaplain.
Wullenweber started seminary last spring. Last summer, he started the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program by going to the five-week Commissioned Officer Training Course.
“COT was pretty tough,” he said. “I went in with the mentality that it was going to be like basic training, but it was more mental than it was physical. It was difficult, but it really helped prepare me for what was coming next.”
What came next was the Chaplain Candidate Intensive Internship – a 35-day multi-base emersion into the Air Force Chaplain Corps mission that is often referred to as CCII.
“We spent 35 days touring the Air Force,” Wullenweber said. “We went to seven different bases and got to see active duty, Guard, Reserve, Special Ops. ... We saw every facet of the Air Force and got to meet chaplains from all over.”
This summer, Wullenweber is serving a 35-day annual training tour at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, spending time with active-duty, Reserve and Guard chaplains.
This tour is a homecoming of sorts for the chaplain candidate.
“Robins was my first duty assignment after I enlisted,” he said. “I was working on the KC-135s when the 19th Air Refueling Group was still here. I spent three years here and when they shut the unit down, I went to Seymour-Johnson (Air Force Base, North Carolina). I was there for two years before being picked up as a special air mission fly crew chief at Andrews. I am really excited to be back at Robins and to be able to experience the chaplaincy on the active duty, Guard and Reserve sides of the house.”
Wullenweber has spent time with the Guard’s 116th Air Control Wing, the active duty’s 78th Air Base Wing and the Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command chaplain’s office at Robins over the past few weeks.
The chaplain’s office at AFRC headquarters runs the Air Force’s Chaplain Candidate Program so Wullenweber has had the unique opportunity to help shape the program he is currently taking part in.
“I’ve learned so much here at Robins this summer,” Wullenweber said. “I’ve had the chance to see the Guard’s Joint STARS (Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) mission and what a chaplain does to keep the men and women ready for the job. The 78th here has a chapel and two congregations (Protestant and Catholic) and I’ve been able to see how Air Force chaplains get the chance to serve as pastors in that setting as well. And, of course, I’ve had the chance to see how the Reserve operates the Chaplain Candidate Program and see how the command impacts all of the wings and IMAs.”
“Lieutenant Wullenweber has done an amazing job for us this summer,” Rios said. “Like all of our chaplain candidates, he has had the opportunity to learn from some amazing chaplains while receiving some incredible on-the-job training. Having gone through CCII just last year, he has provided us with some invaluable insight to help us improve our program. He is an amazing young man who has done great work so far and we have great expectations for him in the future.”
Wullenweber has a year and half of academic studies and a one-year internship left before graduating from seminary. He is planning to do another annual training tour next summer to learn even more about the Air Force chaplain program.
“By the time they finish with our program, most of our candidates will have had between 1,500 and 1,800 total hours of training at a number of different bases. We have candidates right now at bases throughout the United States and in Japan, Spain, England, Germany and Italy sharpening the skills they will need to have to be Air Force chaplains,” Rios said.
“One of the great things about our program is the candidates are free to leave the program as they discern their call. At any time, if a candidate realizes being an Air Force chaplain is not for them, they can leave the program. We evaluate their suitability and they discern their call in this program. Another great point about our internship is that most seminaries will consider offering academic credits to our candidates for the time invested in training and in the preparations to serve in the Air Force Chaplain Corps.”
After finishing seminary and the Chaplain Candidate Program, Wullenweber is looking forward to a career as an Air Force chaplain.
“I know I am being called to share the good news and to serve the great men and women in the Air Force. The Chaplain Candidate Program is giving me the opportunity to do just that.”
Anyone interested in the Chaplain Candidate Program should contact the HQ AFRC Chaplain’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 478-327-1475.