Wing's "holy warrior" Published Feb. 15, 2007 By Staff Sgt. Tom Talbert 442nd Fighter Wing public affairs WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Seeing him for the first time - the burly build, broad shoulders and athletic demeanor - you know this man is something special. Engage Captain James (Jim) Buckman in conversation, and it's confirmed. "Special" is the operative word. "I spent five of my 10 enlisted Army years as a special-forces Morse-code operator," Captain Buckman said. "My job was to jump out of an airplane with about 120 pounds of radio gear hanging between my legs, an M-16 strapped on my left thigh, and 70 pounds of parachutes and collect mechanical intelligence." So, how does one journey from the adventuresome lifestyle of an "enlisted-type" Army "snake-eater" to 442nd Fighter Wing Chaplain? It turns out it was more of a journey back than forward. "I was raised in West Africa as an M.K. (Missionary Kid), with two other missionary families and 50,000 villagers," he said. "I learned the importance of culture, relationships and serving people. "As a kid, I read all I could about the U.S. Military and the ideals that our Nation was built around just spoke to me," the chaplain said. Buckman's inspiration led to action, as he spent his 18th birthday at the St. Louis Military Entrance Processing Station enlisting in the U.S. Army. After ten years of active duty, he enrolled in undergraduate work at Valparaiso University in Indiana and eventually on to graduate studies at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. After starting a new church in Columbia, Pastor Jim Buckman had the growing desire, once things settled down in his hectic pastor's schedule, of becoming a military reserve chaplain. Once he assumed responsibility in 1997 for River of Life Lutheran Church in Springfield, a church of about 250 members, he made the move to become an Army Reserve chaplain with the 10th Psychological Operations Battalion in St. Louis. "In February of 2006 I transferred to the Air Force Reserve and my duties here with the 442nd Fighter Wing began," Chaplain Buckman said in his modest office. "Chaplain Buckman is the kind of guy you instantly warm up to; a magnetic personality," said Master Sgt. Chiqita Wilson, one of the wing's two chaplain's assistants. "Everyone quickly learns to be comfortable around him." Staff Sgt Allen Haas, the other chaplain's assistant added to those sentiments. "He has some incredibly innovative approaches to ministry and making worship and himself accessible to the Airman in ways never before tried," he said. Chaplain Buckman's main innovation is what he calls his "ministry of presence. "My focus is for our chaplain program to get out of the office and be with the Airmen," he said. "On a UTA weekend, we visit the 10 different locations where our Airmen work. After spending time building a rapport with them, we ask them when it would be convenient to bring a 15- or 20-minute worship service or Bible Study. "Our goal is to eventually have 10 different worship services in 10 different work locations," Chaplain Buckman said. "But first we spend time getting to know them and address their needs. "The days of crowding into a chapel with 20 chairs are over," he said. "We now come to you." So far, the new approach seems to be working. Currently four worship services are being conducted throughout the wing at different locations, with more in the works. But the ear-to-ear smiling chaplain doesn't stop the revolutionary innovation there. "I understand I am an officer, but my primary purpose is to be a religious servant here," he said. "We just did a marriage enrichment workshop and the results were phenomenal. We are now going to do quarterly workshops for the wing with topics like parenting, divorce recovery and singles. The workshops are a day long and the wing pays for lodging and provides meals and materials free." Wing Chaplain Buckman recently conducted a wedding in the wing conference room. "I am flexible and available to the Airmen," he said. "The chaplain is the only person in uniform in which airmen have complete confidentiality. You don't have to be religious to talk to the chaplain. I like talking to anyone and everyone is welcome in my office."