Chaplain Has Huge Impact
(January 23, 2011)
Underneath the U.S. flag Chaplain (Col.) Carl Swanson reads a prayer to honor all service members who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country during a Memorial Day ceremony at the base cemetery May 31, 2010, at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. Chaplain Swanson is the 55th Wing chief chaplain. (U.S. Air Force photo/D.P. Heard)
FORCE BASE, Neb. (1/20/2011 - AFNS) -- His hair is
white, the lines on his face show his age, yet his
eyes are warm and determined.
At 60 years
old, Chaplain (Col.) Carl J. Swanson is the senior
chaplain here and one of few Vietnam veterans still
on active duty.
As Offutt Air Force Base's
senior chaplain, Chaplain Swanson ensures that his
staff of seven do all they can to take care of the
Airmen. This is done in a variety of ways from
worship services, to bible studies and even marriage
or grief counseling. Every month, Chaplain Swanson
and his staff provide religious support for more
than 3,000 people.
A native of Rockford,
Ill., Chaplain Swanson has been in the military for
more than 30 years. In 1967, he enlisted in the
Marine Corps and served in Vietnam as a helicopter
mechanic and crewmember. During the conflict, he
also served as a radio operator during medical
While he served in
Vietnam, Chaplain Swanson said he developed a love
for the Air Force.
"I was in the northern
part of South Vietnam, and we were resupplied by Air
Force aircraft," he said. "That's how we got our
food, bullets and bandages. It all came to us from
Air Force aircraft, so we had a real love for the
Chaplain Swanson also witnessed
firsthand the close-air support and strategic air
interdiction the Air Force provided ground forces
throughout the war.
In 1971, he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.
He spent the next five years completing a Bachelor of Arts
degree in social sciences at Northern Illinois University.
The chaplain then completed his seminary work at Lutherna
Northwestern Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.|
working at a church in Wennona, Ill., for a few years,
Chaplain Swanson decided to join the Air Force in 1984, but
not as a helicopter mechanic or radio operator. Now he was a
man of God. As an Air Force chaplain, he has provided
religious support to America's sons and daughters in many
places, including Air Force hospitals. He shared some of his
experiences while deployed to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, from
February to September 2010.
"At the hospital, as a
chaplain, I was a steadying resource of maturity and
wisdom," Chaplain Swanson said. Many hospital staff members
looked to him for a sense of calm, hope and encouragement.
"It was rough business," he said. "We were doing
amputations every week. People died in our hospital, (and
we) treated enemy soldiers. (All of that) presented
challenges for youngsters who may (have been) medics, nurses
or young doctors who haven't experienced (such) carnage and
By being there and supporting them,
listening to their stories and praying with them, and most
importantly, having the strategic sense to take advantage of
his knowledge, Chaplain Swanson was able to help those
medical professionals get through the deployment.
However, the chaplain admits there were some rough days.
"We had an American who was severely wounded and it took
him five days to die," he said. "Our surgeons and medical
team did everything they possibly could, day and night. I've
been to Vietnam and other war (zones) and his wounds were
the most extensive I've ever seen. When he died, frankly,
there were some people that needed to talk about their
feelings and what they learned."
said everyone involved with trying to save this Soldier's
life learned from the experience just how precious each and
every moment of life is.
Knowing how precious life
is, Chaplain Swanson said, is one thing he's charged with
helping people understand.
"If I can bring that
preciousness into some clarity in people's lives, it would
set their future up for more fulfillment, and they're going
to be much more positive, happy and they'll have a radiant
influence on those around them," he said.
Swanson has spent nearly 10 years serving in overseas
locations as a clergyman. Some of his most important work
though, is done right here at home where he and his staff
provide a variety of faith based services.
Sgt. Timothy N. Storer, the superintendent for chapel
operations at Offutt AFB, has worked on Chaplain Swanson's
staff for the past three years and said working with him has
been a great experience.
"I have witnessed Chaplain
Swanson go above and beyond the call of duty in order to
help those in need," Sergeant Storer said.
recalled how Colonel Swanson helped a veteran who used to
frequently wander into the chapel.
The veteran was
cold, hurt and in need of special care, Sergeant Storer
said. "Chaplain Swanson treated him with compassion,
provided assistance, contacted his family in Indiana and
ensured he received treatment at a Veterans Affairs center."
The proudest moments the sergeant said he's had of the
chaplain have been during the return of fallen service
With each returning warrior, Sergeant Storer
said Colonel Swanson eagerly met with senior leaders, sister
services, family members, chapel staff and other caregivers
and agencies to ensure that the fallen hero was properly
Asked to describe the chaplain in only
three words, Sergeant Storer answered with "passionate,
patriotic and pastoral."
The former Marine is more
than just a military warrior or a man of God. He's also a
husband of more than 40 years and a father of three. He's
set to retire in April, yet the glow in his eye seems to say
that he'll miss serving the military community.
Through attentive listening and counseling those in need
chaplains provide hope, Chaplain Swanson said.
been a safe person for people to talk to (about) whatever is
going on in their hearts and minds," he said. "I've noticed
as a chaplain and pastoral care counselor that when people
get out the issue, or whatever is bugging them they can
often look at (themselves objectively) and get in touch with
their resources, intelligence, values, courage and make
decisions about how to best proceed in life so they won't be
dragged down and burdened by something that's bothering
By USAF SSgt. James M. Hodgman|
55th Wing Public Affairs
Air Force News
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