Reservist transitions from infantry to divinity

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Madelyn McCullough
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The 446th Airlift Wing Chaplain Office welcomed a former Soldier as its newest chaplain, Sept. 12, 2015.

After serving 12 total years in the Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve, Chaplain (1st Lt.) Karl Heitman stepped away from his green roots to begin a blue career in the Air Force Reserve.

Heitman said the Air Force provided him an opportunity to follow an alternate path.

"I appreciated the model of the Air Force chaplaincy," he said. "The Army is different."

In the Army, every battalion has a chaplain who is integrated into the staff, and lead by the battalion commander, Heitman continued. In the Air Force, chaplains work with other chaplains. This is beneficial because they are better able to understand and support each other.

"That's what I felt was right for me," he added.

A native of the "Windy City", Heitman started his military career enlisting as an infantryman, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. He served for four years, during that time in which he deployed to Iraq for a year-long stint.

From active duty, he transitioned to the Alaska National Guard where he served in an Active Guard Reserve (full-time) position as a supply sergeant.

Heitman finished his enlisted career as an Army staff sergeant, which led to an officer commission in the Army Reserve. He held a position as a chaplain candidate while working towards his Master of Divinity degree from Master's Seminary in Sun Valley, California. After shadowing the chaplain of the 446th AW, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Pierre Allegre, Heitman submitted a request to join Allegre's team.

"I wanted to be a chaplain because I believe spiritual health is the most important," Heitman said. "The spiritual realm is what answers life's most important questions. It gives people hope; it gives people a reason to live; and it gives people purpose in life. I believe that's where I can help people."

Because of his vast range of experiences, Allegre believes Heitman will be a valuable asset to the wing.

"Being prior enlisted and prior Army, he brings a new perspective to our chaplaincy," he said.

Heitman's Army experience should easily help him interface with the joint environment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Allegre said. His experience as a pastor and preacher at the Carnation Bible Church in Carnation, Washington, translates to his ministry skills in the Reserve.

"I think even though it's a different mission and a different culture, my enlisted time still helps me relate to the enlisted folks who are out there doing the dirty work," Heitman said.

Based on his experience, Heitman has an idea of the chaplain he'd like to be.

"The good thing about the Army experience is the chaplain goes where his unit goes," he said. "If the unit goes to the field and sleeps on the ground, the chaplain goes with them. When the unit goes on deployment, the chaplain is expected to go to the [Forward Operating Base], go on missions, and interact with the religious leaders in the combat zone. I'm not going to go be the chaplain that sits in the office and waits for people to come. I'm going to get out there and see what people do."

Heitman's wish will be granted since having three chaplains in the office now increases the ability of the chaplain team to more effectively reach out to the wing.

"Now that we have the ability to provide more localized religious support, rather than everyone coming to us, we might actually go to the squadrons and provide short services," Allegre said. "We're going to explore getting better coverage, not only with visitation in terms of our ministry of presence, but we'll explore opportunities for us to provide services in the workplace. We want to be more mobile with our services."