BRADLEY ANG BASE, Conn. --
Air Force Master Sgt. Tamara Dabney recently spoke with Air Force Capt. Seth Johnson, a chaplain assigned to the 103rd Airlift Wing. In the conversation, they addressed why Johnson chose to become a minister and what his plans are for Airmen at the 103rd.
Johnson is originally from Enfield, Connecticut, located just minutes away from Bradley Air National Guard Base, the home of the 103rd. He and his wife Judy have seven children and have been married for 25 years. Inspired by the military service of his brother-in-law and two sons, Johnson decided to join the Connecticut Air National Guard in February 2021. He has no prior military experience.
Dabney: What led you to join the Air National Guard?
Johnson: I've got two sons who are in the military. My eldest joined the Army three years ago and my second son is a loadmaster here in the 103rd. And I have a brother-in-law who's also been encouraging me about the opportunities to serve as a chaplain. They kind of paved the way for me to see what the needs are within the military, to serve as a chaplain.
Dabney: I’ve heard from other people that you have a lot of experience in ministry. Can you tell me about your background?
Johnson: I went to school out in the cornfields of Ohio at Cedarville University. I was a Bible major looking at a track to go towards a seminary degree. After I graduated seminary, I had some opportunities to give back and help with the church planting here in New England. I came across an opportunity to serve as pastor out in Manchester, so I served as the pastor of a church in Manchester for nearly 17 years.
Dabney: What led you to want to become a minister?
Johnson: Well, I started off as a nursing major. I realized that my real joy was not the medicine part, although that was fine- I wasn't afraid of blood or anything- but what I really enjoyed was working with people in a time of need. I wanted to figure out ways to come alongside them and help them. That dovetails nicely into growing up in a church, and just loving the experience of meeting people with critical needs and coming alongside to see how I can help them. So I shifted out of the nursing department into the Bible department- so, kind of from one heart to another.
Dabney: What do you hope to achieve as a chaplain at the 103rd?
Johnson: Big goals and big dreams. The main goal is to be as encouraging as I can to everyone that I meet, and to represent my faith in Christ and my hope in what God does to encourage us.
Dabney: Some people are hesitant to go to a chaplain when they need help. How do you hope to address the doubts or fears that people may have about seeking help from you?
Johnson: One of the challenges, I think, for a lot of people is that there's a belief that chaplains or pastors sit in an ivory tower somewhere, and we just think God-thoughts and religious thoughts, and we can't identify with people who aren't up in that ivory tower. But real answers for real things that people are going through is stuff that I've been dealing with for 17 years. So what you see in me is what you get. I'm not trying to put a religious aura around me that there's something holy, although we do strive to be holy in our lives. But I want to be as regular with people as I can so that they can get help, or just converse about their life; not just their spiritual life, but how things are going in their home, with their families, the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows. I want to be able to interact with people so that they get a sense of kindness from me and from the other chaplains- that we are here, not to beat them up spiritually, but to encourage them. I want to help them know how God might be working in their life when they don't even realize it.
Dabney: Can you point to an example in your life where you've really had to encourage someone who was afraid of the prospect of talking to a chaplain or going to a chaplain-led service?
Johnson: The example that comes to mind is I was speaking with a young guy at one of the local retail stores, and he didn't have any kind of background going to church. He noticed that I was a chaplain for the police department, which I've been doing for a number of years. His fear about what he was going to do in life was evident, as we just talked at the cash register. So I just asked him, where do you want to go and how can I help encourage you, and it turned into a long standing relationship. I helped him find his way into some job opportunities, explore different work, and get his driver's license. He came back and told me at Christmas, two years ago, that he actually joined the Army. So we gave him a big celebration and a big meal and send-off in our home. That's one of the ways that we kind of just break down the fear about what a pastor is like, or what does a chaplain like. That's one where, even just prior to becoming a chaplain here in the Connecticut Air Guard, I saw opportunities to steer a young man into success in life, and now he's serving our country in the Army.
Dabney: What motivates you every day?
Johnson: One of the greatest joys I have is to see people move from a place of worry, or fear, or being upset, to a place that they find hope, and there's growth. Anything I can do to encourage somebody to grow in their life- spiritually, in their marriage, in their relationship with their with their kids, or at work- seeing that growth just puts a smile on my face and delights my soul.
Dabney: If there were a young Airman at the wing and they approached you for guidance, what would you say to them?
Johnson: We'd sit down and I'd ask them, what areas they’re having trouble in. I’d say, let's see what God's Word has for answers. There's certainly some experience that I have, or that others have, that can help them to move forward and to grow.