Chaplain helps others through own experience

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling
  • 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
The road to faith can be a rocky path, but the attitude along the way is what makes the trip worthwhile.

Chaplain Jim Bridgham, 140th Wing chaplain, believes that every good story has drama and shapes who a person becomes.

Throughout his life, Bridgham had many bumps in the road, but he always used them as learning experiences.

Bridgham grew up in government housing in a poor suburb of Boston, with a very limited faith background. However, he received a scholarship to attend a local Catholic school because of his family's occasional attendance to the church. Both of Bridgham's parents worked full time and his father also went to school, so he was left to take public transportation. While his parents were at work Bridgham's grandfather, a retired Navy chief, took care of him.

"The only thing I remember wanting to do as a kid was to be in the military," Bridgham said.

According to Bridgham, the education he received through the Catholic school allowed him to receive a ROTC scholarship. That was the only way he was able to go to college.

While at the University of Tampa, Bridgham met his wife and, through a local group, they both became Christians. This changed the course of their lives and, throughout his college career, Bridgham led several Bible studies and worked at a local church.
After college Bridgham commissioned as an active duty intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. During his time on active duty, he travelled around the United States and also had three overseas deployments. Bridgham then decided to attend Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado, and during his first year there became a chapel candidate, which meant starting back at the bottom of the officer tier.

"I got to be a second lieutenant twice in my career, which is my little claim to fame," said Bridgham.

During his three years in seminary, Bridgham did not make much money to support his wife and their two children so he worked as a janitor every day, before and after class. His family also received aid from local churches and a food bank.

The stress that he felt throughout seminary caused him to gain a lot of weight from drinking Mountain Dew to stay awake and get all of his work done.  After one tough day of physical assessments and school testing failures, Bridgham decided it was time to ditch the Dew and start a healthier lifestyle.

"Over the course of six months I lost over 90 pounds and ran my first half marathon," said Bridgham. "I also scored nearly perfect on my fitness assessment, with a 99 percent."

Running helps Bridgham in his everyday life by providing a stress relief and he continues to be a runner today.

As a father of three, a husband and now a Colorado Air National Guard chaplain, Bridgham juggles a lot of tasks, such as activities for his kids and helping all branches of the military in not only work but also personal matters.

The people of Team Buckley are the focus of Bridgham's work and he wants everyone to be as successful as they can be.

"I genuinely care for the people I interact with, what I do is who I am," said Bridgham.
A big way that the chaplain helps people is by being there as a guiding light during times of tragedy. He supports people during the deaths of loved ones, internal struggles and issues with deployments. The hardest part of the job is notification of death when there are children involved, said Bridgham. It doesn't matter whether it is suicide or wartime death, the family still hurts.

Chaplain Bridgham prides himself on relating to everyone so that he can help them in the way they need.

"I love being with people, I love seeing their stories and helping them connect the pieces, so they can see when they've had a rough patch that that's just part of a great story that they're writing," said Bridgham. "I believe that with all my heart."

Bridgham finds that if he can connect with people on their level then he can help them sort through their problems better.

"One of my big passions is gaming and working with folks who love games," said Bridgham. "Recently I started an initiative where I've been writing and talking at venues about the intersection of faith and gaming."

The goal of Bridgham's project is to show people that you can connect faith to any interest you may have.

"I will never shove my faith down your throat, but what I will do is help you get through whatever it is you are going through no matter what it is," said Bridgham.

The job of being a chaplain is difficult, and requires a lot of understanding, passion and caring. Chaplain Bridgham exudes all these characteristics and he asks for little in return. His simple request is he wants to leave a great legacy.

All of the hardships Bridgham encountered during his childhood, college years and adult life have shaped him into a valuable resource for Team Buckley. He hopes to continue to serve Buckley AFB and make an impact on as many people as possible, both in and out of the chapel.