After years as a registered nurse, including two tours as a combat nurse in Vietnam, Chaplain (Col.) Linda Pugsley turned from healing broken bodies to ministering to shattered souls.

Pugsley, whose three-year tenure as Civil Air Patrol chief of chaplain ends in August, is looking for qualified men and women to step into the breach to meet the spiritual needs of CAP adult members, cadets, and those CAP serves.

Right now CAP has about 400 chaplains and some 700 chaplain assistants, she said.

Pugsley and a recruiting team are working to bolster the all-volunteer ranks.

“We don’t have enough, but the chaplain assistants can teach the character development,” she said. “We have them go through courses and train them on teaching the character development lessons we give every month.”

She added, “My goal — and I’m going to croak before I see it — is to have a chaplain and a chaplain’s assistant in every unit.”

Civil Air Patrol numbers some 1,400 units. But while the chaplain corps  is 1,100 strong, some squadrons may have two chaplain assistants but no chaplain. Some have a chaplain and two assistants.

Some wings are small, so their need for chaplains may not be as great as, say, the Texas or California wings’.

Despite the shortage, Pugsley said, the chaplaincy is accomplishing its mission.

“In spite of it all, it’s a miracle that we get all of our missions done,” she said. “And we do it with what we have.”

But recruiting continues to grow the ranks.

The  chaplain corps’ mission has grown — from largely search and rescue to disaster relief and data-gathering, drug interdiction, cadet character development, and other responsibilities. So have demands on the chaplaincy.

“Part of my job is trying  to explain we do more than just church services at a weekend activity or a weeklong activity,” Pugsley said. “We provide counseling, emotional support, comfort support.

“We’re involved in critical incident stress management, suicide prevention, just a lot of things we can bring  to up-tempo missions.”

The chaplain corps does not focus on a particular denomination or specific religious faith.

“We have to make that clear to the chaplains we accept,” Pugsley said. “They have to sign that. We never ask (chaplains) to go beyond their faith tradition. When you do services, you do whatever your services are.

chap1-3“But in the general population, we’re there for support, for comfort, for love, for caring, for counseling, for anybody across the board.”

The CAP chaplaincy does draw a line and doesn’t endorse members’ individual behavior contrary to faith traditions.

“We will accept everyone,” Pugsley said. “Our acceptance in love and care, and ministry doesn’t mean we endorse their behavior. And they all understand that.”

She added, “You’ve got to work out your own behavior. It has  nothing to do with us. But we’re there to help you and comfort you  and counsel you.

“Some of the activities are against many of the faith traditions of the chaplaincy, but that doesn’t affect us in terms of working with and caring for and being with our people.”

pugsley1The CAP chaplain’s ministry is a bit different than the traditional work of a priest, rabbi, imam, or other clergy.

“They have to put all that aside when they are not doing their services,” Pugsley said. “They have to minister to everyone.”

Character and leadership development for cadets is a key component of a CAP chaplain’s calling. Lessons are taught monthly and are a part of Pugsley’s job she particularly enjoys.

She describes it this way: “Giving (members) some of the  good moral code and leadership, talking to them about honesty, steadfastness, all the things that a lot of their videos and music don’t necessarily proclaim.”

CAP chaplains must meet the same requirements as active-duty military clergy, including having a master’s degree in divinity or biblical studies from an accredited seminary, as well as five years of experience in pastoral ministry.

pugsley2Pugsley shared stories of her service in Vietnam and her more than two decades as a CAP chaplain. Both affirmed her decision to serve in those missions.

In Vietnam, where she served first in 1969 and again in 1972, she cared for a badly wounded soldier. Eyes blinded, his face disfigured, he asked Pugsley if his girlfriend would still love him despite his  horrific injuries.

“She’ll love you more,” the young nurse replied, “because you are a hero.”

And as a CAP chaplain, she has seen cadets grow up to have families and careers. She receives cards and letters from many.

“They maintain contact and are grateful for the help and the care that was given to them,” Pugsley said.

FLwingRecently, she served as chaplain at a Florida Wing encampment at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center. A winter chill gripped the camp.

But in an outdoor amphitheater, 162 cadets braved the cold to attend Pugsley’s service. Another 12 cadets attended a Jewish service officiated over by a rabbi. Some 68 attended Catholic Mass, while 12 attended a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints service.

“When I see that, I go ‘You know, there’s a need here. I’m blessed to be called to it and I’m able to help them and provide some spiritual guidance,. I’m blessed to help them along the route.,” Pugsley said. “So many of them come up afterwards and they were encouraged by the message and were encouraged in worship. We’re there to provide.”

At her service, Pugsley recounted the Old Testament story of Gideon, who with only 300 troops defeated an army of 150,000, and the importance of making good choices in life and being ready for battle.

Just like her call to ministry, the turnout on that frigid Florida day had a spark of the divine.

“It was a God thing, not a me thing.”
Paul South
Contributing Writer

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I become a CAP Chaplain?

  • CAPR 80-1: CAP Chaplain Corps defines the requirements for CAP chaplaincy.
    • You must meet all requirements for Civil Air Patrol adult membership.
    • You must be a fully ordained or qualified clergy/religious professional in your faith group.
    • You must be actively engaged in or retired from a denominationally approved vocation.
    • You must obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from a faith group listed by the Armed Forces Chaplains Board.
    • You must have a bachelor’s degree from an institution listed in the ACE Higher Education Directory.
    • You must possess a post-baccalaureate graduate degree of at least 72 semester hours or 108 quarter hours in the field of theological or related studies from a qualifying educational institution.
    • Clergy without accredited graduate degree may ask for a waiver providing they have a minimum of five years’ full-time pastoral experience.
    • Contact your wing chaplain for an application.

Will I work with other faith groups in this program?

  • Yes, chaplains help ensure the free exercise of religion for all CAP personnel regardless of religious background.

What are a chaplain’s administrative requirements?

  • Chaplains are required to track their activities in the CAP Chaplain Corps Reporting System

Are there any other recommended chaplaincy resources?

  • Chaplains must be endorsed by a religious endorser recognized by the Armed Services Chaplain Board. Currently there are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist endorsers. A Hindu agency has applied for endorser status but hasn’t yet approved by the board.

More information about CAP chaplains and contacting a chaplain recruiter can be found online.