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Beyond religion: a chaplain's duty

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lou Burton
  • 178th Public Affairs
There is an old saying that when in new company it is best to never discuss politics or religion. While many people subscribe to this sentiment, someone unlikely does too, the base chaplain.

Of course the politics makes sense. As members of the Ohio Air National Guard, uniform and politics don't mesh, but religion and chaplain's too?

Not on first meeting someone explained Chaplain (Maj.) Joseph Branch of the 178th Wing.

"I never start talking religion with anyone. I try to meet Airmen where they are, not where I want them to be," said Branch. "If someone is not religious, I don't push them. As a military chaplain, that is not what we do."

This welcoming demeanor lends itself to an easily approachable man who looks for opportunities to meet with everyone on the Springfield base he works at.

"As a chaplain, I get to move around and meet people of all ranks, ages, genders, races and career fields. I get to cross all of those divides," he explained.

Part of crossing divides, the chaplain's office provides a myriad of services including grief counseling, relationship counseling, substance abuse awareness and prevention, suicide awareness and prevention, and freedom of religion.

Due to the sensitivity of his work, Branch puts Airmen at ease by letting them know they can talk to him without judgment or reprise.

"My conversations are privileged communication, regardless of what it is about. Even under oath, I wouldn't say anything," said Branch.

Along with confidentiality, Branch describes his approach to helping others as just that; help without ordering.

"My job is to journey alongside an Airman, not in front or behind. I am not going to tell anyone what to do."

It would seem obvious that being a chaplain was always on Branch's radar. Although he grew up in the church and his mother was a choir director, he started his undergraduate majoring in finance.

"I always wanted to be a change agent, someone who affects people for the better," said Branch. "I wanted to be more significant than successful, that's what ultimately pushed me into the direction of being a chaplain."

Although his first attempt to join the military was based on the movie Top Gun, serendipitously his recruiter said that path wasn't possible because he wore glasses.

"I also had an uncle who served in Vietnam talk me out of the idea," he said.

While the idea of being a military member was not yet cemented for him, a calling for divinity was.

"Being a chaplain is a calling you can't shake," Branch explains. "You have to have a desire to make a difference and be able to deal with yourself, know who you are when things are most bleak."

It was the path from finance to divinity that Branch would once again meet his fate with the military.

"My seminary advisor was a retired Brigadier General that was once the assistant chaplin for the National Guard Bureau and he really opened my eyes to the possibility of being a military chaplain," said Branch.

Now, with a master's degree in divinity, licensed and ordained, Branch serves his community with a sense of reserved pride and a greater understanding of himself.

"Going through this process, I found out more about me and what part I play in life and making things better."

Having that understanding explains why he is so deeply passionate about his job.

"The most rewarding part of my job is to look at someone who had given up on life and see them smiling, to see them find hope," he said.

While Branch pastors a small church in Columbus, he is available at the 178th Wing Chaplin office, Tues. to Thurs. Branch also hosts a protestant service during the Unit Training Assembly on Sunday at 9 a.m.

"You can set up an appointment or just walk on in," said Branch.