Wayland campus director honored for service to Civil Air Patrol

ALBUQUERQUE – Many young boys have the dream of being in the nation’s military, seen as heroes as they serve their country. Yet when they reach college age, the plans of many of them steer toward another profession.

Such was the case for Dr. Ben Craver, executive director of the Wayland Baptist University campus in Albuquerque, N.M. But unlike many who never pursue military service as adults, Craver has taken advantage of an opportunity to live out a dream as a chaplain for the New Mexico Civil Air Patrol.

After involvement in the CAP for only nine months, Craver was named Wing Chaplain of the Year recently, selected from all the Civil Air Patrol units in New Mexico. Both the honor and the service bring joy to Craver, a former pastor who has been in his current position with WBU since April 2007.

But the journey to this particular place was a long one. Craver said he’d thought about service to his country as a young man, but “my life got past me and I never did anything in the military.” Then in the 1990s, while pastoring the Nevada Baptist Church in Texas, Craver met a fellow pastor in the area who was serving as chaplain for the Army National Guard.

“We talked about all that entailed and I thought maybe I could still do that at least,” Craver recalled, adding that he first took the steps to receive ecclesiastical endorsement before going any further. That involved simply completing an application with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The next step was not as simple. Craver attended a few drills with the pastor friend and visited with the unit commander, who broke the bad news.

“He told me I’d have to lose some weight to qualify and that I had to pass a physical like other military personnel,” he said. “It was pretty disheartening.”

Though Craver soon completed his Master of Divinity degree, which is required for chaplaincy, he determined he was too old to pursue the position and gave up on the idea for good. By this time, Craver was working at Wayland’s San Antonio campus and had regular contact with military personnel on several installations at which WBU has a presence there.

A church friend then mentioned the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, as another possibility, and again Craver’s interest was piqued. Before he could do any investigating, though, he left Wayland to return to the pastorate in Del Rio, Texas.

After moving to Albuquerque in the spring of 2007 – home to Kirtland Air Force Base, where WBU also has a presence – the CAP idea resurfaced for Craver. He called the state wing chaplain and soon was attending a meeting of the local group just to check out the options.

“I thought I was just there to observe, but they called me up and swore me in that night before I even had a chance to investigate,” he laughs. The ecclesiastical endorsement was again required, so Craver set out to get that through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

As soon as he was “official,” Craver got right to work, even attending a Chaplains College in Colorado Springs, a week-long continuing education-type seminar that provides deeper training for those wishing to advance in the CAP. He plans to help with a similar seminar in the summer of 2009 to be held at Kirtland. He also serves as the public affairs person for his squadron – all on a voluntary basis.

“(CAP Chaplain) is a volunteer position and a civilian role,” he said. “We’re the only part of Civil Air Patrol that can actually be called by the Air Force to serve, even though we’re still civilians.”

Craver said in times of deployment, when actual Air Force chaplains sometimes are sent overseas to work with forces, the CAP chaplains have been known to fill in and assist on local bases. Even in other times, CAP chaplains are able to help at the air bases, and Craver said he’s worked with the wing chaplain at Kirtland at drill exercises in the past.

He is proud of the organization and its service.

“The Civil Air Patrol has three main functions: aerospace education, search and rescue operations and the Cadet programs,” he said. “We do exercises every so often and go up in aircraft to do various tasks, like taking photos of different things. CAP folks have also been involved in various rescue operations around the state.”

He has particularly enjoyed the sessions on emergency preparedness by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and has found all his experiences to be informational and beneficial.

The local Thunderbird Squadron meets weekly at night for various training and information sessions. As a chaplain, Craver is responsible for helping lead once a month for what the CAP calls “character development” instruction, namely discussions about ethics and moral values. Craver’s Christianity is not the focus in those sessions, but if approached by cadets about personal issues, he is able to minister openly. That’s part of what he loves the most about the role.

“My goal (as director) is trying to get Wayland’s name into the community more, and this is an entirely different group of people to reach. This could result in reaching students for Wayland, but it also extends my personal ministry,” he said. “They know I’m a Christian chaplain, and if they come to me about a concern, I can talk to them about my faith in God and the Bible.”

While the honor was a surprise, Craver said it confirmed to him that he was doing something special and necessary.

“Back when I could have done (something with the military), I didn’t want to. But now that I’m in this situation, God has let me sort of live out a dream,” he said.