FORT KNOX, Ky. -- He celebrates his heritage crafting ornaments and other items out of wood. His love for his craft and culture entwines with his service to God and country.
Chaplain (Col.) Douglas Swift, command chaplain, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, began learning about wood working when he was very young. Just as he progressed throughout his military career, he’s also become more refined in his craft.
One glance into his office on the first floor of Fowler Hall reveals an array of wood items that he’s crafted by hand, some with the help of a router or 3-D printer.
He created a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” tall, wood Advent calendars, ornaments, religious scenes, and other wood crafts even enhanced with lighting.
“I started woodworking at an early age,” he said. “I was around five years old when my grandfather gave me a workbench with real tools.”
Like many aspiring carpenters, he then took wood shop in junior high school.
During high school and college Swift spent most of his time studying and didn’t really have a lot of free time to spend wood working.
He later picked up the hobby again after returning home from a deployment. “It’s my self-care,” the chaplain said. “It’s part of my resiliency.”
Then it became a bonding experience with his oldest son, when they started making the computer numerical control equipment to cut the wood.
The chaplain creates out of wood because he loves it. “I could spend hours in the workshop – just me, the machines and the wood,” he said. “It’s my craft.”
Swift said that he selects the wood he uses based on the end product; since wood varies in weight, strength, and imperfection. He explained how some wood just works better. “I use Baltic birch in the laser cutter because it cuts easy,” he said. “Clear pine and mahogany are some of the best woods to use for other projects.”
“A lot of my work has my German heritage in it,” Swift shared. “My family immigrated to the U.S. before the First World War, and by the end of WWII, all German things were held away,” he said.
His grandparents spoke German, his parents did not, but the colonel certainly does.
“This is a way I connect to my German culture,” Swift shared. Many of his creations would fit in with any German Christmas market. He also uses his hobby to relieve stress.
Swift said that his wood working is also an expression of his faith. He has created many laser cut religious wood scenes.
“This Easter scene is a German motif for the Roman Catholic faith,” he said pointing to a scene he keeps in his office.
Most of Swift’s family members have wooden gifts he made for them. Swift likes homemade gifts the most.
“It’s an investment in time,” he said. “Giving a homemade gift really shows that you care,” he added.
His office team receives a homemade gift from him each year.
He also donates his handmade items to support different causes and events. For this year’s Soldiers and Family Readiness Group holiday gift basket raffle held at the 1st TSC headquarters here, Swift made a large Deutsche pyramid, and a 1st TSC-themed Advent calendar kit – complete with a model of Fowler Hall on top.
For anyone wanting to begin wood working, Swift advises new woodworkers to take their time.
“It takes time to develop skills,” he said. “Start with something small like making a table or shelf.”
Swift hopes to continue sharing his love for making and sharing homemade gifts and creating out of wood. He plans to continue wood working when he retires. Until then, the art of wood working will help the chaplain stay resilient and strong.