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Serving God & country: Local pastor is new chaplain for Minnesota Civil Air Patrol

WORTHINGTON -- For the Rev. James Sickmeyer, joining the Civil Air Patrol was a way to continue to serve his country as a civilian.

"I was active duty Air Force for 10 years," he explained. "I left active duty in 1992 to pursue the seminary. The year before I got my master's of divinity degree, I became involved with the Civil Air Patrol. In May 1996, I applied for appointment as an Air Force auxiliary chaplain. The Civil Air Patrol is the only official sanctioned auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.

"I am proud to have served the active duty time that I did," continued Sickmeyer, who is pastor of the Worthington Baptist Temple. "When I saw the opportunity to become a Civil Air Patrol member, I jumped at the chance. It allows me to still be part of the military in a voluntary capacity, yet serve my primary function as a pastor."

Sickmeyer has served as chaplain for the local CAP group -- the Worthington Composite Squadron Minnesota 113 -- known as the "Border Bandits." It is one of 29 units in the Minnesota Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. The Minnesota Wing is part of CAP's North Central Region, which encompasses seven states.

Sickmeyer, a lieutenant colonel in CAP, was recently appointed as the chaplain for the entire Minnesota Wing. When the former wing chaplain resigned, he was recommended for the post by several CAP colleagues after serving as protocol officer for the North Central Region and being active in the CAP Staff College and Chaplain Services as well as other aspects of the volunteer auxiliary.

"The position was offered, and after much prayer, I accepted," Sickmeyer said.

Sickmeyer's duties as wing chaplain are basically the same as for a unit chaplain, just on a bigger scope. CAP Chaplain Services is the largest all-volunteer chaplaincy in the world. CAP chaplain duties are explained as follows:

l A CAP chaplain must be a senior member of CAP and pass a background check to rule out any prior felony convictions.

l A CAP chaplain must be sensitive to religious pluralism and committed to the free exercise of religion.

l CAP chaplains support U.S. Air Force active-duty and reserve chaplains, particularly during times of war when military personnel are deployed.

l Chaplains also assist other national relief organizations in times of disaster and minister to victim families and emergency workers.

l Leaders in CAP Chaplain Services receive training in Critical Incident Stress Management, a key area of concern with threats to homeland security.

l CAP cadets receive moral leadership training as part of their educational program. CAP chaplains play an important role in this process, providing private counseling and moral leadership guidance to young people. Through individual courses and regional colleges, CAP offers its chaplains training in all aspects of volunteer service, from conducting military funerals to pastoral counseling.

Sickmeyer said a CAP chaplain's role becomes most apparent when a unit is activated during a critical incident. For example, the Worthington Composite Squadron helped in a search-and-rescue operation in December 2005. The squadron's ground team members located a downed aircraft near Arco, the crash resulting in three fatalities. Sickmeyer heads up the squadron's Critical Incident Stress Management Team and was on hand to provide counseling to the team and serve as a resource to them.

As a chaplain, and as the commander warrants, a chaplain can also provide group pastoral care, spiritual renewal seminars and assist in community religious observances. Sickmeyer has a doctorate of ministry degree in counseling and has also taken a leading role in providing suicide prevention training through CAP.

"My primary responsibility as wing chaplain is to advise the wing commander concerning morale, quality of life issues for the entire wing," detailed Sickmeyer. "I'm also responsible for approving, coordinating and training all the chaplains within the wing."

Sickmeyer can fulfill many of his wing duties via telephone, but he tries to interview chaplain candidates in person whenever possible and attends the monthly wing meeting in St. Paul. The local unit flies him to those meetings in a CAP aircraft.

The wing chaplain is a six-year appointment that Sickmeyer serves at the pleasure of the wing commander. He began his duties in January and is already settling into his new responsibilities. He also continues as chaplain of the local unit, which meets every Monday, and is also chaplain for the Worthington Police Department, a program that was started in 2000.

And, of course, he continues as pastor of the Worthington Baptist Temple. The congregation has been extremely supportive of his CAP and chaplain activities.

"It is looked upon as an extension of the ministry of our church," he said. "The members are very excited about it."

Sickmeyer stresses that his CAP activities are strictly volunteer, and he receives no pay.

"The pay for us is if a life can be changed -- one life at a time -- or helped," he said. "Who knows how many lives can be saved later?"

No matter what role he is fulfilling or whether it's for his congregation, community, CAP or country, Sickmeyer tries to follow a basic philosophy.

"We have a simple slogan that we use in our church: "It's not about me. It's not about thee. It's all about Him.'" Sickmeyer shared. "To serve in the Civil Air Patrol is a privilege and honor from the Lord Jesus Christ. That's who I serve. He's my ultimate commander in chief."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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