Carrying on the Chaplain Tradition
Following in the footsteps of his father, Harold, in a military chaplaincy career came naturally for Kristian L. Carlson.
“I didn’t feel I had to be a chaplain, but my dad made it look special,” says Carlson, the fourth of six children. “He inspired me.”
Rough patches along the way didn’t deter Carlson, who moved nine times before reaching adulthood (after being born in an Army hospital in Fort Lewis, Washington). When he was 10, Carlson’s mother, Judy, began a 2½-year stretch of struggling with depression in Alaska.
At that point, in 1990, Harold (Tim) Carlson had been an Army chaplain for a decade en route to a 26-year active-duty career. He stayed the course, working as a chaplain as well as caring for the kids as his wife was hospitalized 80 days. Judy felt the Lord deliver her from depression and has been off medication the past quarter century.
“As I observed my parents inviting people to their home, extending themselves to others, my dad preaching, my mom leading youth group, it became obvious that Jesus is our only hope and joy — and people need Him,” Carlson says. “At home, my dad engaged with the kids. He didn’t feel like parenting was a burden, but rather a calling.”
Carlson had other mentors along the way, including current Army Deputy Chief of Chaplains Thomas L. Solhjem, who served as his youth pastor. Carlson sang in concert choir in high school and college and had the lead role in a college musical. From 2005-08, he led Sunday worship for soldiers in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
Tim Carlson retired as an Army colonel chaplain in 2005. The following year, Kristian was commissioned as a Navy chaplain candidate. In addition to switching branches of the service, Kristian also came under a different ecclesiastical support than his father, who represented the Evangelical Free Church of America. Kristian needed to attend seminary in order to become a chaplain, and he heard about the good reputation of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
“I’m grateful for the caliber of leaders, the missionary practitioners who poured into me,” says Carlson, who met his Chilean wife, Damaris, at AGTS.
Carlson decided to become an Assemblies of God minister after in-depth talks with AGTS professor Gary McGee and serving an internship with Scott McChrystal, U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries military endorser/representative. While working toward his chaplaincy ordination, Carlson served on the pastoral staff of Crossroads Community Cathedral, an AG megachurch in East Hartford, Connecticut.
On his first tour of duty, Carlson served in Okinawa, Japan, where his primary focus was Camp Kinser, the southernmost base on the island. Kristian and Damaris co-pastored Faith Community Church, a chapel for Marines.
Capt. Glen Wood, also an AG chaplain, served as Carlson’s supervisory chaplain in Okinawa. Wood says by the time Carlson left three years later he had turned a struggling congregation with a handful of attendees into a thriving church.
“Everybody on the base viewed him as their pastor, even if they didn’t come to church,” recalls Wood, who is now stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. “I always found him encouraging other folks, even in the midst of chaos, and praying with them. He truly did pastor that whole community.”
Wood, who has been a Navy chaplain for 25 years, says Kristian and Damaris proved to be an anointed ministry team doing God’s work. He notes that Carlson sponsored a trunk or treat event on base that attracted 600 kids.
After relocating to San Diego in 2015, Carlson deployed on the USS Bunker Hill, a guided-missile cruiser. He spent 330 days at sea during the next three years, including extended periods in the Persian Gulf and Asian Pacific, deployed with the 5th and 7th fleets. Carlson missed the birth of his son, Isak, in December 2017.
Damaris, meanwhile, is serving as women’s pastor at City View Church in San Diego.
“Counseling for me is personal and relational,” says Carlson, 38. “If someone is dealing with depression, separation from spouse and kids, or suicidal issues, I can identify with sympathy and compassion.”
Although Carlson has received classroom training on everything from marital strife to post-traumatic stress disorder, ultimately he says biblical theology is most important.
“The grace of God, the power of repentance, the nature of forgiveness — we must look to God to put situations back together,” says Carlson, who is awaiting his next deployment.