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Air Force Chief of Chaplains is retiring, but not from ‘soul care’

Presbyterian minister Major General Steven Schaick looks forward to next chapter of life in service to God

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

Chief of Chaplains Major General Steven Schaick tells members of the Air Force Chaplain Corps, “We prove our net worth by caring for Airmen, by being there, fully present with them, and saying, ‘You know what, your life, your story matters.’” (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister of Word and Sacrament, has announced his retirement, effective July 2.

Schaick was appointed in August 2018 as the 19th U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains, the most senior chaplain role in the entire Air Force. As Chief of Chaplains, he is a member of the special staff advising the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff on all matters of religious and moral welfare to Air and Space Force personnel. He is responsible for establishing programs to effectively meet the religious needs of Air and Space Force members and their families. He serves as senior pastor for more than 770,000 active duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian forces in the U.S. and overseas; leads approximately 2,200 chaplains and religious affairs Airmen from active duty and Air Reserve components of the Air Force Chaplain Corps; and serves as a member of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, which advises the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on religious, ethical and quality-of-life concerns.

Prior to his current assignment, Schaick served as the 25th U.S. Air Force Deputy Chief of Chaplains, the second senior-most chaplain in the Air Force. He can trace his call to ministry back to his growing up years in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. His parents influenced him by loving God and family and being very moral, ethical and God-fearing people. He was also inspired by the pastor of his home church, Rev. Rapp, whom everyone referred to as “Rev.,” a big man physically and also big in heart, mind, soul and spirit. “I loved this guy and was always intrigued by who he was, who he had become, and the call that he had answered as a young boy,” Schaick said.

After high school, it was the educational benefits that first attracted Schaick to enlisting in the Air Force. He trained in integrated avionics and became an F-15 avionics specialist. It was during these first four years of his career that he became increasingly interested in the intersection of sound theology and ethical living. Mentors like Major Bob Foster, who led the Navigators Bible Study, took special interest, teaching him how to apply the Scriptures to his life. Staff Sergeant Jim DeSantis took 19-year-old Schaick under his wing and encouraged him to consider options and think long term.

“My collection of mentors is just so deep and rich,” Schaick said. “I’d been flying airplanes ever since I was about 17 years old, and even though I had a pitiful GPA and I was just floundering in the engineering program at the University of Wisconsin, the Air Force said they wanted to make me a pilot. I was absolutely elated,” he remembers. “I saw my dream come true.” He also met his future wife at the University of Wisconsin.

Schaick attended a mission conference in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois with fellow members of his Navigators Bible study group a couple months after he received this news from the Air Force. The last speaker of a three-day conference was “a guy by the name of Billy Graham.”

“I’ll never forget it,” Schaick said. “Billy Graham was used by God to speak to a lot of hearts, including my own. I felt, for the first time, a powerful call to ministry.” Afterward, he remembers feeling angry and arguing with God, hoping what he was experiencing was just some kind of emotional thing that would go away.

“I did not want to let go of my pilot opportunities, my flying opportunities for the Air Force,” Schaick said. Instead of fading, his call to ministry “just got stronger and stronger.”

“I turned down my pilot slot with the Air Force, removed myself from ROTC, and set my sights  on seminary,” Schaick said.

Major General Steven Schaick, 19th Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Air Force, and a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister of Word and Sacrament, will retire July 2.

He earned his Master of Divinity degree in 1986 at McCormick Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian theological school in Chicago. One year prior, he had been commissioned in the Air Force Reserve as a chaplain candidate and, in 1988, he was commissioned into active-duty chaplaincy.

He served three major commands as a staff chaplain, followed by a special-duty assignment to Arlington National Cemetery. He also led a division in the Center for Character Development at the United States Air Force Academy, served as a wing chaplain in Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Combat Command. He served as the senior staff chaplain for the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, and the command chaplain for Air Education and Training Command.

After seminary, Schaick completed Squadron Officers School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He earned a Master of Business Administration at Webster University in Washington, D.C., in 1995; a Doctor of Ministry at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, in 2005; and a Master of Strategic Studies at Air War College in 2009. His major awards and decorations include Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with silver oak and three oak leaf clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Navy Commendation Medal and Air Force Achievement Metal.

Over the years the biggest change he has noticed in Air Force chaplaincy is going from “chapel-centric” to “unit-centric” care, with emphasis on squadrons and workplaces where people are — just as Jesus left the synagogue to meet people where they happened to be.

“We have wonderful things happening in chapel, and I’ll never diminish that,” Schaick said, “but the most important soul care — the most important life-changing moments I, in my years of being a chaplain can tell you about, are those that happened outside the chapel, underneath the wing of an F-16 or in a security forces outpost. These are the places where our commanders are looking for us to shine.”

In speaking with members of the Chaplain Corps, Schaick said, “You all and the people you lead are doing extraordinary things, extraordinary ministry every day. You are the true silent professionals of the United States Air Force because most of what you do, the most heroic things you do — and the people you lead will do today — will never be found out by anybody except for that Airman who received ministry and had a friend.”

Post-retirement, Schaick and his wife will be living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, within 30 minutes of two of their three grandchildren. He looks forward to taking some time off, and then to sharing what he has learned about leadership and casting vision with a nonprofit. He said he will miss the amazing people he’s been privileged to work with and for in the highest levels of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force.

Schaick’s son, Capt. Nathan Schaick, an Air Force recruiting officer at Tulane University, will serve as the official at his father’s retirement ceremony at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., on August 10.

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