November Alumni Spotlight: Captain Mark Traeger—Serving God and Country in the United States Air Force
As we honor our veterans on November 11, the story of Captain Mark Traeger, Staff Chaplain for the United States Air Force in Randolph, Texas, is an appropriate one.
Captain Traeger is a 2003 graduate of Faith Baptist Bible College. He was originally introduced to the idea of serving in the National Guard by Dave Stout, former registrar for Faith and a veteran of the National Guard. Stout told him about the linguistics program, and that the military would train him and help pay for his education.
Captain Traeger was a Biblical Studies major and is originally from Havana, Illinois. He met his wife, Cara (Burkholder ‘04) while at Faith. After graduation, he never felt called into full-time pastoral ministry, so he continued down his path with the Air Force, initially doing some communication and information technology work for them in the state of Virginia. While he was stationed there, he helped as a youth leader and decided to pursue a seminary degree through Liberty University.
“I found out they had a chaplain candidate program, so I finished my enlistment and enrolled at Liberty, full-time, for my M.Div. and then joined the chaplain candidate program,” said Traeger.
After he graduated, he and Cara got a call to plant a church in Peoria, Illinois. They did that for a year and a half, then handed off the ministry to another pastor. After that, Traeger did a residency in Clinical Pastoral Education, working in a hospital as a chaplain for a year, then as a hospice chaplain.
“I was 34 years old, my parents and brother lived in Peoria, we had a kid, and I was pretty comfortable,” said Traeger.
He knew from his time at Faith, and his time in the Word, that “comfortable” is not always what God wants for our lives.
“I had a friend who told me they needed active-duty chaplains in the Air Force, and he asked if I was interested,” said Traeger. “Initially, I wasn’t, because I was comfortable where I was at. But I applied and got accepted. We went down to Abilene, Texas, and did a three-year tour and really liked it, so we signed up for a second one. Now we are in San Antonio, Texas, doing recruiting. I’ve been enlisted for 16 years now.”
The Traegers live in Schertz, Texas, a suburb of San Antonio. His main responsibility (currently) is to travel the United States and recruit future chaplains. Traeger was on Faith’s campus this past homecoming doing some recruiting. While he was here, he was able to reunite with Dave Stout, who lives next to the seminary, across the road from Faith’s campus.
“I try to be really honest with recruits,” said Traeger. “I tell potential candidates the good and the bad of the chaplaincy. The good things are, you get to serve your country and God at the same time.”
Captain Traeger said that the key to being a great chaplain is to build relationships.
“It takes a while for people to feel comfortable with you. For a while, I was just ‘the chaplain.’ Three months in, we had a plane crash. That was the moment I became their chaplain. Even if they didn’t come to my worship services, they would still come to me with their counseling issues. My counseling went from ten a month to twenty a month.”
Four people from Captain Traeger’s unit (11 total) died in the crash. It was a C130 aircraft that was taking off in Afghanistan and had a mechanical issue.
“18-25-year-olds think they are invincible; in peak physical shape,” said Traeger. “They don’t believe they’ll ever get hurt, but then they lose their friend. So you have some really deep spiritual conversations.”
Captain Traeger conducts men’s breakfasts and Bible studies and uses opportunities to discuss religious issues and to share the gospel. Often, those conversations start with the simple question of what it means to be a Christian.
Over the years, he has had the privilege of watching people get saved, doing baptisms, discipling, and counseling.
The Traegers have two children—Lucas (three) and Toby (six). They have lived in San Antonio for two years, and will likely be there a third. After that, Captain Traeger is unsure where the Lord will lead them, but is trusting His direction for their lives.
If you know someone who is interested in the Air Force Chaplaincy, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.