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My 18 Year BCC Journey as a Military Chaplain

by Lt Col Brian Bohlman BCC, Air National Guard

APC Forum, October 2019, Vol. 21 No. 6


After graduating with my M.Div. in August 2000, I immediately entered a one-year, four-unit CPE residency at a large community hospital with a Level 1 trauma center. As a new CPE student and hospital chaplain intern, I enjoyed learning new ministry skills that were not part of my seminary degree program, such as pastoral formation, pastoral competence, and pastoral reflection. In the middle of my third unit, I had to withdraw from my residency to attend mandatory military chaplain training to become a fully qualified Air Force Chaplain.

Within a few months after graduating from the Air Force Basic Chaplain Course, my entire life changed on September 11, 2001, when I was placed on active duty to support military operations at home and abroad. After five deployments over 17 years--two in military trauma hospitals--I had a deep longing to return to CPE and reflect on ministering to broken service members and their families. The cost of caring for thousands our nation’s wounded warriors--coupled with my own lack of personal and spiritual self-care--resulted in compassion fatigue and post-traumatic stress.
While CPE was one outlet to help process some of my pain and brokenness, my active duty military schedule didn’t allow me to complete resident CPE in the traditional form in a hospital setting. Just as I was about to give up on returning to CPE, I learned about an ACPE accredited distance-learning program (Centered Life) in Colorado run by ACPE Certified Educator, Rev. Pam Roberts, who specializes in equine facilitated learning experiences with military veterans. Pam uses horses to help CPE students learn how to manage their emotions while caring for others. Her five horses helped teach me about pastoral authority, leadership, and use of self in negotiating caring relationships.
So, after a 16-year lapse in CPE units, I began my third (extended) unit in the summer of 2017 and completed my fourth (extended) unit at the end of February 2018. The culmination of my 18 year journey resulted in becoming a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains in March 2019. I hope my journey encourages those currently “in the trenches” of CPE with the goal of becoming board certified. Just remember to “trust the process” and you will be fine.
I want to thank the following mentors who encouraged me over this 18-year journey: Pam Roberts, Carolyn Barksdale, David Plummer, Jan McCormack, Dave DeDonato, Dallas Little, and Stan Campbell. Without their support and encouragement over the years, I would not have continued my CPE journey to become a Board Certified Chaplain.
I would also encourage military chaplains to consider enrolling in a distance-learning or extended unit CPE program for professional development and self-care. CPE provides an excellent forum and opportunity to reflect and process the unique stressors of military service. No matter how long it has been since completing your last unit of CPE, it is never too late to continue the journey. Godspeed!

Brian Bohlman, DMin, BCC currently serves as a Chaplain (Lt Col) in the Air National Guard and on the National Board of Directors of the Military Chaplains Association of the USA.

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