FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Bob Wichman was just a teenager in a congregation of about 500 followers who faithfully filled the pews of the local Methodist church in Westwood, Ohio, every week. But no matter what the pastor preached, Wichman always sensed the message was his to hear and heed.
"Every Sunday, I felt that he was speaking directly to me," said Wichman, now an Army colonel and the Defense Logistics Agency's new command chaplain.
Wichman has been a chaplain for 25 years, meeting the spiritual needs of Soldiers in battalions, brigades, hospitals and even a military prison. He deployed twice to the Middle East and was also a chaplaincy resource manager at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he ensured 21 unit ministry teams had the supplies they needed to conduct religious services and complete projects like chapel renovations. That diverse background has prepared him for his new role overseeing religious-supply support to all Department of Defense chaplains.
"Coming into this environment as a non-logistician is tremendously exciting," he said. "I'm learning something new and growing every day. One of my philosophies is that when you cease growing you begin to die, so this particular setting is very life-giving."
Wichman felt the call to ministry soon after graduating high school in 1977 and knew in his mid-20s that he wanted to serve in the military. Yet he struggled for years between what he believed was God's will and his dad's plans.
"My father was a horticulturist. He owned a commercial and residential landscaping company with a garden center and large nursery. He always thought he'd turn that over to me," Wichman said.
After three long days of praying and contemplating -- he doesn't recall eating or sleeping in that time -- Wichman finally told his dad about his desire to serve God through military ministry. He expected disappointment and criticism. Instead, Wichman's dad read the conviction on his son's face and said, "Bob, I know you can do anything you set out to do."
"I never expected that," Wichman said. "Most young men seek positive reinforcement from their parents, and receiving that, for me, was a direct sign of God to continue the path he'd placed me on."
Four years of college followed, and in 1991 he entered the Army's Chaplain Candidate Program, which allows individuals to train to become Army chaplains while completing seminary. He chose the Army over the other services because he liked that chaplains were integrated into units in a way that made service members feel closer to their chaplains.
"When Soldiers go to the field, the chaplain goes to the field. And when Soldiers go to battle, the chaplain follows. That model of ministry really appealed to me," he said.
Although he is a leader in the Church of the Nazarene, a Protestant faith that follows the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, Wichman appreciates the goal of military chaplains to meet Solders' spiritual needs regardless of which religion they practice.
"People have often asked me, 'Do you do everything for everybody?' The answer is no. As chaplains, we have a requirement to be supportive of our denomination, and we have a doctrine of perform or provide," he said.
A non-Catholic chaplain can't receive confession or lead Catholic communion, for example, but can and will arrange Catholic support. The construct brings Army chaplains together as one team, a completely different approach from what's practiced in civilian ministry, Wichman added.
In addition to overseeing DLA's religious-supply program, he will provide religious support during ceremonial events and pastoral counseling to the agency's workforce.
"No one person or team is able to provide religious support to over 26,000 individuals, so coordinating with other sites and leveraging whatever religious-support assets are available at those locations will be one of my goals," he said.
Suicide awareness and resiliency are other areas important to Wichman.
"I plan to look at our spiritual-resiliency efforts and further implement them in a way that our personnel can bend without being broken," he continued. "The goal is for them to be in a healthier state at the end of a difficult time or situation than they were in the beginning."
His experience working at the former Army Regional Confinement Facility at Fort Knox also inspires Wichman to evaluate whether the agency can improve religious-supply support to prisoners. Some ready-to-eat meals contain heating elements that inmates could use to inflict harm on themselves or others, for example, and a contract modification might be possible to remove the heaters from meals destined for such customers, he said.
He also hopes to contribute to DLA's Whole of Government efforts by using what he learned as a chaplain at Brook Army Medical Center to extend supply support to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Looking back on 27 years of military service, I know God has equipped me in every way to perform my duties and meet new challenges," he added. "That's allowed me to serve him anew each and every day, and I trust God will continue to guide me in my time here at DLA."