Ten years down his ministry road, Tom Walcott ’80 turned seaside. Taking that less-traveled road has made all the difference.
In 1994, Walcott was pastoring Baymeadows Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Navy personnel in his congregation told him he’d make a good chaplain. The prospect attracted him, and with his family’s blessing, Walcott was commissioned as a Navy chaplain.
“As a military chaplain, you’re in every aspect of people’s lives,” he said. “You eat where they eat, go where they go, endure what they endure. You see the sacrifices military families make supporting their service member. I enjoyed being present in all the nitty-gritty.”
For his second tour, the Navy appointed Walcott to the Coast Guard billet covering lakes Michigan and Superior. The west Michigan native felt he’d come home—but not because of the location.
“The Coast Guard’s mission is to protect the environment, our borders, and to save people,” he said. “That’s always resonated with me a lot more than putting missiles on targets.”
Whether with the Coast Guard or another military branch, Walcott has repeatedly found himself surrounded by destruction: in Iraq, at Banda Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, at Ground Zero on 9/11.
“In those horrific situations God would say, ‘Don’t worry about what you’re supposed to do. Just be there.’ People didn’t want an explanation about why God allows hurt and evil. What they wanted and needed was somebody to be present and grieve with them, to listen and to care.”
After nine different postings, in April, Walcott was installed as the 11th chaplain of the Coast Guard— in essence, chaplain to the chaplains.
“The challenge is that, like everybody else, we have more to do with diminishing resources. We’re starting a program to train civilian minsters to work as volunteers alongside our chaplains, so we can prevent rather than react to issues.
“The bonus is that the Coast Guard leadership really values chaplains and relies on us to identify issues in our workforce like racism and sexism and help address them. They trust us to tell them the truth about what’s going on.”