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Base Chaplain sees his role as giving encouragement, not instruction

Head Chaplain Capt. Joseph Baker, 137th Air Refueling Wing, aims to encourage people to follow their spiritual identity and not just live by the rules of the Bible. Baker was hired as the full-time Chaplain in July 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Tyler Woodward/Released)

Head Chaplain Capt. Joseph Baker, 137th Air Refueling Wing, aims to encourage people to follow their spiritual identity and not just live by the rules of the Bible. Baker was hired as the full-time Chaplain in July 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Tyler Woodward/Released)

WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla -- Staff Chaplain Capt. Joseph Baker, 137th Air Refueling Wing, has been in this position since the end of July. Charged with the spiritual fitness of the base, Baker wants to encourage people to be true to themselves instead of preaching about how the Bible suggests they live.

"Being true to who you are spiritually is important," said Baker. "I think people need that, and they want to follow somebody who actually follows what they believe."

According to Baker, part of spiritual fitness is a person choosing what they believe and the ability within that belief to make their own choices. If a person is healthy in their spiritual life people should be able to make strong decisions that are in their best interest.

"What are convictions, if you can't live or exercise them?" said Baker. "You become a mindless robot living according to the rules of others and have little to no identity. This is called a spiritual identity and it is an important benefit to exercise."

Strengthening the spiritual fitness on base became apparent to Col. Devin R. Wooden, 137th Wing Commander, not long before Baker was hired.  After several meetings with Angela Cunningham, 137th ARW Psychological Health Director, she informed Col. Wooden of the increase in members coming through her office. It was then decided that it was time to hire a full-time Chaplain.

Baker has 29 years of formal ministry training and experience having served as a Pastor in Texas, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. His experiences, plus his jovial personality, are why Wooden feels Baker will be an asset to the base. "

He always has a smile on his face," said Wooden. "Even if he wasn't a chaplain, you would want to be friends with him. So, the fact he can bring those qualities, plus his ministerial background is a bonus for all of us."

Though he has plenty of ministerial experience, Baker's familiarity with the military is brief having just joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard four years ago.
Despite his limited experience with service members, Baker feels like his time working in various churches and dealing with a variety of people that make up a congregation, will ease his transition.

"There were times I had to be an arbitrator," said Baker. "It taught me not what I should do, but what I shouldn't do. You can't talk to everyone the same way. Being in a church, you have a diverse group of people. Even though you all may have the same mind and heart spiritually, you're all still different people."

Baker's father served in the Army during the Korean War and brought a military lifestyle to many aspects of his life. "When we went to church and camps as kids, he treated all of us like we were in the military," said Baker. "Some of my friends joined the Marine Corps because of that, so looking back it is kind of funny."

He originally considered joining the Army, and even went through the enlistment process at the Military Entrance Processing Station, but a delay in getting his security clearance caused Baker to reconsider. Having also missed the age cut-off to join the Reserves, Baker decided on the Air National Guard and was assigned to the 137th at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base.

Though he enjoyed coming in on drill weekends, Baker cherishes being on base full-time because it gives him an opportunity to interact with everyone on base regularly.
"I wasn't able to talk to the people the way I talk to them, now," Baker said. "I've learned so much more being out here full-time, about the functions of the different departments, about families, challenges and different problems people have."

Now that he is on base full-time, Baker wants to get people on base and in the local community as involved in his chaplaincy as possible. Baker plans to start a chaplain's ministry planning group with people who have worked on base for an extended period of time. He also plans to start marriage classes because he feels this is an important aspect of military life, and doesn't think it receives the attention it deserves. He notes, however, these classes won't be counseling sessions or religious based, they will be for everyone.

"I'm talking about bringing the entire family in together for a training session so we can talk about marriages and principals in individual marriages," said Baker. "It doesn't have to be religious in nature."

Establishing relationships with local churches and church leaders is another goal of Bakers. Whether it's a synagogue, temple or civic group, Baker wants local worship groups to understand the struggles service members face.

"It's an opportunity for them to understand what we are doing at this base and ways to get involved. That way, they can better support their church members who work at the 137th," said Baker. "There are churches out there who want to help service men and women as much as they can within reason. So, if the local churches have a better understanding of what we do, then it helps all of us."

Regardless of the programs, Baker feels it's important he remains humble and in tune with the needs of people on base. He also feels it's important he doesn't dictate how members should live.

"There are a lot of guys who have proud ministries and they think they know what's best for people," said Baker. "They believe their guidance should be followed with no deviation. That's not how I look at my role. I hope people see my spirituality and are inspired to reflect and improve their own lives. That's how I see my role as a chaplain."