Leading the Corps

September 28, 2015

Major general, Dondi Costin (’91, ’92) now serves as Chief of Chaplains of the United States Air Force. He was nominated for this position by President of the United States Barack Obama. Costin’s journey illustrates how far God can take someone, despite their personal apprehensions.

“In retrospect, I was probably called to the ministry in high school, but I made other plans because I was afraid to speak in public,” Costin said.

He joined the Air Force Academy two weeks after graduating from high school, but God used his military training to alleviate his fears. Costin compares his excuses to those of Moses in the early chapters of Exodus and remembers the day he decided to stop running from the Lord’s calling.

“(God) showed me that if He could do it for Moses, He could do it for me,” he said. “Thankfully, the Lord was patient in guiding me into His will.”

After 10 years — six as an Air Force industrial engineer and four as an Air Force ROTC instructor — Costin completed all the requirements necessary to become a chaplain. He was endorsed by Liberty Baptist Fellowship, Liberty’s endorsing agency. Along the way, Costin earned a Master of Arts in Counseling through Liberty’s distance learning program (’91) and a residential Master of Arts in Religion (’92).

Costin started ministering as a chaplain during Air Force Basic Military Training, then went on to become a flight line chaplain and senior flight line chaplain for special operations and conventional forces in Europe. Since then, he has continued to rise through the ranks, from senior Protestant chaplain, Air Staff branch chief, and, most recently, to command chaplain of the Pacific Air Forces in Hawaii.

He has been married to his wife, Vickey, for 26 years.

As chief of chaplains, Costin will oversee the religious and moral welfare of more than 664,000 active duty, guard, reserve, and civilian forces serving in the U.S. and overseas. He will be responsible for establishing programs to meet the religious needs of Air Force members and their dependents, and managing about 2,000 chaplains and chaplain assistants who minister around the world. Costin will also serve on the Armed Forces Chaplain Board, which advises the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on religious, ethical, and quality-of-life concerns in the military.

Costin spoke to the Liberty Journal as he prepared for his promotion ceremony on Aug. 28 in Washington, D.C.

What do you hope to bring to this role?

I hope to bring an unrelenting passion for the extraordinary blessing of religious free exercise that we Americans enjoy because of the First Amendment. I hope to bring a heart for airmen and their families that will drive the guidance we provide to chaplains and chaplain assistants in the field. Finally, I hope to bring faithfulness to the Lord, effective servant leadership, and godly wisdom to a job that cannot be accomplished in my own strength.

In what ways has your Liberty education helped you achieve success?

The decision to begin my graduate education at Liberty was life-changing in many ways. Studying under counseling education stalwarts like Drs. Ron Hawkins (Provost) and Tim Clinton (Executive Director, Department of Counselor Education & Family Studies) provided the perfect foundation for the military chaplaincy as they taught me how to meld biblical revelation and natural revelation via insights from counseling researchers. That perspective equipped me to minister to those who were not raised in religious homes, which has been a major component of my ministry. In short, my Liberty education equipped me with strong biblical convictions and practical ministry skills. That combination has defined my ministry as a chaplain.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of serving as a chaplain?

You have immediate access to airmen working on the flight line, flying with them in certain aircraft, and visiting them in their offices as well as everywhere else airmen can be found. Even if they don’t attend weekend chapel services, most will let you into their lives. Once there, you have the opportunity to build rapport, earn their trust, and build bridges to future conversations.

Your career has taken you to some pretty exotic places.  Describe some of the highlights of your adventure.

Vickey and I have had the privilege and the pleasure of serving twice in Europe and once in the Pacific. Plus, I got the chance to spend a year serving alongside deployed warriors throughout Southwest Asia, which was definitely a highlight of my career. We’ve greatly enjoyed experiencing the various cultures and the opportunities to pastor in places where there’s not a church on every corner. One thing is for sure: God is at work everywhere. Watching Him at work has been incredible.

What will the transition to Washington, D.C., be like?

Let’s just say that leaving Hawaii will be difficult … for all the reasons people want to vacation there and for the opportunities I’ve had to interact with airmen and their families across the Pacific. We will miss it for sure, but we’re looking forward to the leadership challenge of representing the men and women of the Air Force Chaplain Corps in D.C. As principal advocates of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion for Americans serving around the globe, our chaplains and chaplain assistants are the real heroes. I’ll get to be their primary cheerleader, and that opportunity will certainly lessen the blow of leaving Hawaii. We’re really looking forward to it.

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