Fresh vision; Different kind of chaplain

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Oleksandra G. Manko
  • Nellis Public Affairs
What comes to your mind when you hear the word "chaplain"? What do you think their role is in the active-duty military world? When was the last time you spoke to one?

"When I was a soldier, a chaplain was someone you waived at, smiled at and ... avoided. He was just another officer you wanted to stay away from," - 1st Lt. Craig "Nak" Nakagawa shared his personal memories of chaplain encounters while enlisted.

Back in those days he was a nuclear, biological and chemical specialist in the Army. Now, after almost a decade of being out of the services, he came back as an Air Force chaplain and he is determined to bring about some changes to the way enlisted Airmen view their military chaplains.

You might have seen Chaplain Nak wondering around the dorms or through the hospital hallways playing his ukulele and picking up conversations with anyone and everyone he meets. Chaplain referred to that as the "ministry of presence." At the moment he is working on developing a dorm outreach program that will help young Airmen develop and maintain their spiritual balance.

"Many commanders and even Airmen don't know what to do with their chaplains. They don't know what the chaplain's job is, and the chaplain's job is not to preach and not to save souls or any of that. My job is to minister to you, to your beliefs, not mine, so you can exercise your believes," said Chaplain Nakagawa.

Air Force doctrine mandates that we are mentally, physically and spiritually fit. It's important to have all three of these areas taken care of. Chaplain Nakagawa offers the following explanation:

"When I was enlisted, we used to get these M-60's, you always wanted to get the one with the tripod, not the one with the bipod, because all the bipod does is hold up the front of the gun and you still got to shoulder the butt of the weapon. When firing it's ramming into your shoulder. After a while you get a tired of it smacking into you, but the weapon is useless unless you are lifting it up. On a tripod, the weapon stands by itself and your body has to take none of the brunt. The weapon won't fall over on a tripod, like on a bipod. And that's how I envision it. You have your spiritual, your mental and your physical fitness - and that's your tripod. If one of those legs is lacking, then you are out of balance. When you have all three of those legs engaged, when that M-60 is sitting upon that - you sitting upon that - you can't be knocked over, and you can effectively engage your mission."

Chaplain Nakagawa said that many people concentrate wholly on the mental and the physical. They go to gym and pass their PT tests, have families and enjoy their jobs, yet they still feel stressed and burnt out. That happens because they neglect their spiritual side, explained the chaplain. And to address that, people don't have to go to a church, temple, mosque or synagogue, something as simple as taking a walk in the park, hopping on a bike or sitting still for a few minutes and listening to yourself breathe can do a great deal for ones spiritual welfare.

"Whether you are Buddhist, Christian, agnostic or atheist, whether you believe you have a spiritual side or not, you can still find a balance and center with these simple, practical (secular) exercises," said Chaplain Nak. "For me that's what being a chaplain is about, to equip you, to help you be a better you, to help you achieve balance in your life. And if I can do that effectively, then I have prepared you for the mission, whatever that mission may be - pulling records or jumping out of helicopters."

The chapel will have presence at the newly opened Airmen's Center, for which it donated $12,000. Chaplain Nakagawa is doing active research trying to find out what the dorm residents' spiritual needs are and how they can be met.

"We don't want to repeat what outdoor recreation does and say, 'oh, it's spiritual,' just because we are doing it," said Chaplain Nakagawa. The activities and outings will be centered on fostering sense of community, fellowship and spiritual development.

"We want to try really hard to address the intangible needs," said the chaplain. "That is my passion. I want to be a better chaplain for the Airmen by being there - whether in their area of responsibility or in the hallway. I'll just be there, not necessarily trying to win them for Jesus, but just being there for them. I want to be my best. I want to help other people go through that journey and achieve that balance too."