Air Force

A Brief History of the Air Force Chaplain School, WW2-1980s

by Chaplain (MAJ) Daryl Densford

Chaplain (MG) Charles I. Carpenter was the first Air Force Chief of Chaplains, serving from Aug 1949 to Aug 1958 (U.S. Air Force photo).

While the Air Force as a separate branch of the military did not exist until 18 September 1947, chaplains destined for units in the Army Air Force (AAF) training at the Army Chaplain School as early as 1945 were often visited by the Air Chaplain. In June of 1945, Chaplain Emmanuel Rackman was “assigned to the school as [the Air Chaplain’s] liaison officer and as an instructor on AAF matters” (Jorgensen, The Service of Chaplains to Army Air Units, 1917-1946 n.d., 113), with the curriculum containing “a comprehensive course of AAF organization.” (Jorgensen, Air Force Chaplains, 1947-1960 n.d., 95)

During World War Two and into the beginning years of the Air Force as a separate branch, The Army Chaplain School continued to take into consideration the needs of chaplains assigned to AAF units, evidenced by the Air Chaplain’s liaison officer but also the establishment of an Army-Air Force Chaplain Board. Additionally, two of the school’s commandants from 1944-1948 had served as AAF chaplains.

Significantly, this cooperation between the Army Chaplain School and the Army Air Force’s Air Chaplain was the beginning of the two branches working together to train its chaplains until July 1953 when the first Air Force Chaplain Course was offered at Lackland Air Force Base. (Jorgensen, Air Force Chaplains, 1947-1960 n.d., 95)

However, before the separation of the Air Force from the Army and the establishment of an independent Air Force Chaplain School, the Army Air Force authorized the Air Chaplain Transition Conference Course “to train chaplains and chaplains’ assistants for better fulfillment of their responsibilities in the AAF” though it was emphasized that this course was not to replace the Army Chaplain School but rather to supplement it. (Jorgensen, The Service of Chaplains to Army Air Units, 1917-1946 n.d., 113)

The subjects covered in the Air Chaplain Transition Conference Course included AAF Organization, AAF Perspectives, War Orientation, Leadership, Choir Organization & Direction, Venereal Disease Control, Military Filing & Correspondence, Personal Counseling, Graves’ Registration, Auto Operation (Refresher), Practical Procedures, and Physical Fitness Participation” with each session being followed by a comprehensive examination. (Jorgensen, The Service of Chaplains to Army Air Units, 1917-1946 n.d., 114)

While not part of the official Chaplain School or Transition Course, there were also a number of conferences around the world which “discussed among other matters: Chaplains’ Monthly Reports, Transportation, Attendance of Chaplains at scenes of crashes, opportunity for members of command to attend religious services, chaplain’s office hours (especially evening), and moral problems” (Jorgensen, The Service of Chaplains to Army Air Units, 1917-1946 n.d., 116) with other conferences having the goal of “acquaint[ing] new chaplains and chaplain assistants with their duties” particular to the AAF. (Jorgensen, The Service of Chaplains to Army Air Units, 1917-1946 n.d., 117)

In August 1950, the Armed Forces Chaplains Board recommended “that a unified chaplain school be established under Army administration, a school in which the three services should have equal voice in policy and curriculum” (Jorgensen, Air Force Chaplains, 1947-1960 n.d., 96). While the Navy did not feel the specific needs of each service could be met in a joint environment and so kept its school separate, the Army and Air Force continued joint training for a time. Eventually, concerns about funding, policy input, the growing differences in the traditions of the Army and Air Force, as well as other issues reached a point that the Air Force decided to move its training and operate independently of the Army in 1953.

The curriculum at the new Air force Chaplain School was constantly evolving with about 350 hours of instruction over the eight week course which included instruction in “religious education, counseling, chaplain supply, and related subjects” (Jorgensen, Air Force Chaplains, 1947-1960 n.d., 97). Throughout the course, it was emphasized that “chaplains were to be clergymen,” who “were officers and should be poised and capable in this role,” as well as the philosophy of “cooperation without compromise of basic beliefs” (Jorgensen, Air Force Chaplains, 1947-1960 n.d., 98). By December 1954, the Officer Basic Military Course for Chaplains included the following courses and hours:

Air Force Administration, 49
Air Force History, 10
Management, 20
Leadership, 20
Military Justice, 20
Military Geography, 25
Intelligence, 8
Air War, 14
Problems in Officer Behavior, 9
Drill and Ceremonies, 14
Officer Effectiveness Reports, 5
Customs and Courtesies, 7
Physical Training, 24
Worship and Pastoral Functions, 27
Moral and Religious Education, 12
Personal Counseling, 19
Humanitarian Services, 1
Cultural Leadership, 1
Public Relations, 3
Devotions, 20
Comprehensive Exam. & Critique, 4
Practical Applications, 11
(Jorgensen, Air Force Chaplains, 1947-1960 n.d., 98)

The next decade brought significant changes to the United States Air Force Chaplain School as it was official designated by the Secretary of the Air Force 18 May 1960. This designation brought with it the demand for many changes and improvements in the school’s curriculum, faculty and facilities.

In January 1957, a 2 ½ week course was added for chaplains who would be serving on Air Force staffs which included “techniques of management and administration” (Jorgensen, Air Force Chaplains, 1947-1960 n.d., 98). In 1960, it was renamed the “Advanced Chaplain Course” and accommodated 25 chaplains in each of three iterations a year.


Air Force Chaplain School Commandant, Colonel (Chaplain) Donald Harlin inspects chaplain-candidates attending a two-week training course at the school at Maxwell AFB, ca 1980s.

The importance of the training the Air Force Chaplain School provided to its chaplains is confirmed by the fact that every authorized chaplain on the books at the end of 1960 was a graduate of either the basic or advanced courses. As part of its growth as an essential aspect of Air Force training, the Chaplain School became part of the Air University in 1966 and relocated to Maxwell Air Force Base. At this time, the purpose of the Chaplain School was stated as “to motivate, orient and educate commissioned chaplains in professional and military areas that support the Air Force mission, in accordance with the policies established by the Chief of Chaplains” (Scharlemann n.d., 209). With this move came the establishment of the Senior Chaplains Course, making up three main courses for chaplains: the Basic (or orientation) Course, the Advanced Course and the Senior Chaplains Course. This aligned the Chaplain School better with the other Air Force branches being trained under the Air University.

The development of extension and continuing education courses continued from the 1950s to include by 1962 “the Unit Chaplain, Public Relations, Denominational Coverage, Chaplain Office Management, the Rehabilitation Chaplain, the Hospital Chaplain, Pastoral functions, and History of the Air Force Chaplaincy…Basic Doctrine for Character Guidance, Personal Counseling, Religious Education (Protestant) and Morale and Ideology” (Scharlemann n.d., 211).

Additionally, by 1970, ten in-service opportunities were available for Air Force chaplains. They included Academic Instructor Course; Advanced Course, The Chaplain School; Nuclear Weapons Orientation Course; Chaplain Orientation Course; Senior Chaplain Course; Professional Personnel Management Course; Air War College; Air Command and Staff College; Squadron Officer School; and Armed Forces Staff College (Scharlemann n.d., 211).

As the school continued to change to meet the needs of the Air Force’s Chaplains, by 1976 there five specific courses it offered, spread over the careers of the chaplains they were tailored for. They included the “Chaplain Candidate Course, Chaplain Orientation Course, Advanced Chaplain Course, Senior Chaplain Course, and Senior Installation Chaplain Course” (Groh, Air Force Chaplains, 1971-1980 1986, 303).

Beyond the five courses offered in residence at the Air Force Chaplain School, there were many other educational opportunities from which a chaplain could develop in the 1970s. These included “mailings from the USAF Chaplain Resource Board, command conferences, [Professional Military Education (PME)] and [Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT)] tours” to name the most significant (Groh, Air Force Chaplains, 1971-1980 1986, 478).

The 1980s brought more changes to the Chaplain School’s curriculum which hinted at the interests or issues chaplains and airmen were dealing with at the time. Classes added to the core curriculum during the 1980s included Computers in Ministry, Ministry to AIDS Victims, Moral Dimensions of Nuclear Warfare, sexuality issues, the Officer Evaluation System, Religious Accommodation and Mobility Training (Groh, Facilitators of the Free Exercise of Religion: Air Force Chaplains, 1981-1990 1991, 123).

The 1980’s also saw the introduction of more short courses for Air Force chaplains to take advantage of without being taken away from duty for as long as attending the five standard courses. These short courses held both at the Chaplain School and at times delivered to the field, included classes in Worship and Preaching, Religious Education, Church Growth and Leadership, Marriage and Family, Theological and Religious Issues, Counseling, Personal Growth and Spirituality (Groh, Facilitators of the Free Exercise of Religion: Air Force Chaplains, 1981-1990 1991, 130).




Groh, John E. Air Force Chaplains, 1971-1980. Washington, D.C.: Office, Chief of Air Force Chaplains, 1986.

—. Facilitators of the Free Exercise of Religion: Air Force Chaplains, 1981-1990. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Cheif of Chaplains, USAF, 1991.

Jorgensen, Daniel B. Air Force Chaplains, 1947-1960. Washington, D.C.: Office, Chief of Air Force Chaplains, n.d.

—. The Service of Chaplains to Army Air Units, 1917-1946. Washington, D.C.: Office, Chief of Air Force Chaplains, n.d.

Scharlemann, Martin H. Air Force Chaplains, 1961-1970. Washington, D.C.: Office, Chief of Air Force Chaplains, n.d.




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