From maintainer stripes to captain bars to chaplain cross, 100th ARW officer follows higher calling to help others

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Starting his Air Force life as an enlisted maintainer in August 2005 working ground radar maintenance, Terry Owens worked hard to get his degree and in March 2017 became an aircraft maintenance officer.


From a young age, his faith grew and he realized that it would one day become his calling. It was Sept. 27, 2022, when Capt. Owens, 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director of operations at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, finally reached the path he had prepared himself for when decommissioned and recommissioned as a Chaplain-Captain, replacing one of his maintenance career field badges with a cross at a ceremony at the RAF Lakenheath Chapel.


“I was commissioning after I got my degree to get away from maintenance – I wanted to leave that life behind because I’d been a maintainer on ground radar systems since I enlisted out of high school in 2005,” said Owens. “It took me 10 years to get my undergraduate degree, but the Air Force saw fit – even though it wasn’t on my list – to make me a maintenance officer.”


“My heart sank a little bit, and initially I contacted Air Force Personnel Center to request a different job. But I’m thankful that after talking it over with my wife, Casandra, she made me realize it was the maintenance community I could help.”


The 100th AMXS director of operations explained that maintenance is one of the career fields which has very high suicide and divorce rates.


“Knowing those things was a kind of deterrent, but Casandra said to me, based on the calling of my life to ministry, ‘Don’t you think that’s where you need to be?’ As soon as she said that, I recalled my email to AFPC and I came on board, entering as a 21A maintenance officer, which is what I’ve been doing for the last five years of my career.”


Owens recalls the exact date when religion became a major part of his life.


“April 4, 1997, was when my grandmother and her pastor introduced my siblings and I to the story of Jesus Christ, and that’s where my journey started,” he said. “Back when I was 10 years old, I remember sitting in the front row seat of a Baptist church in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where I grew up, and listening to my pastor speak one Sunday evening. I just felt this pulling, this calling, which I believe was my interaction with God, saying ‘You will do this for me one day,” talking about preaching. That’s where the calling started and it was affirmed when I was at a Men of Iron (spiritual retreat) conference in March 2020, while finishing up my masters. It was then I felt it was time to step out and begin full-time ministry.”



When deciding to join the Air Force, Owens recalled that he had wanted to be a physical therapist, because he really enjoyed working with people. Instead, he received his number two job of ground radar maintenance.


“It wasn’t until years later that I realized it wasn’t necessarily the human body, but the human mind and the human heart is what I was drawn to work on, so to speak. What drew me to becoming an officer is like the analogy of a pebble versus a boulder; when you throw a pebble into a pond, it only makes a few ripples, but throwing a rock in has a bigger effect. I knew that as I was learning and growing as a person, as a man, as a leader in the military, I could have that effect and make more change as an officer versus being enlisted. So, as I was finishing my bachelors and undergraduate in Christian Leadership and Management, I went ahead and applied, and was selected in 2016,” he said.


“In May 2020, COVID-19 had just kicked off and it was around that time I was getting ready to Permanent Change of Station to England. I’d already known since I was 10 years old that I was called to the ministry, but by then I felt the affirming call; it was time to do what I needed to do to become a chaplain.”


The opportunity to enter full-time ministry soon presented itself when Owens and his family PCSd to England, where they would lead a christian center. The center is an innovation of a religiously oriented private organization, the first of its kind in the U.S. Air Force. It began in Mildenhall Village, and later moved to RAF Feltwell when they needed much more space. Their church partners with the RAF Lakenheath Chapel, providing additional ministerial support for the tri-base community. With so many Airmen, US civilians and families within the tri-base community, having this extra avenue where people can worship is vital in providing extra support for military families.


In order to apply to become an active-duty chaplain, the requirement is two years post-graduate ministry experience.


“Coming to Mildenhall allowed me to take over from a pastor who was departing and gave me the avenue to not only do what I was called to do – start full-time ministry right away – but also provided the experience I needed to become a chaplain,” said Owens.


“I’ve had to overcome a lot of adversity, much of which, if I’m being honest, is self-induced, having gone through divorce – not only experiencing it as a child, but in my own life having seen first-hand how the military can have the potential to break apart families, I wanted to use my remaining time in the military to fight for marriages and those struggling with suicide; to fight for souls and give people back their purpose and their calling, to let them know that no matter how dark things can be there is a light and a way. I just want to help people be the best version of themselves while they continue to serve their country,” remarked Owens.


Chaplains are part of a different category of officers, which Owens explained is the reason he had to decommission as a non-rated officer, and recommission as a chaplain.


“You have your non-rated traditional officers, along with rated officers such as flyers, then a special category of officers which includes chaplains and judge advocates. Chaplains require a very specialized skillset with at least a Masters’ of Divinity, at least 72 hours of religious training you’re in, plus two years post-graduate ministry experience and an ecclesiastical endorsement, so it’s a completely different kind of officer,” he said. “Most chaplains coming directly into active duty would need seven years of ministry experience to commission as a captain, otherwise they commission as a first lieutenant. But because of my military experience, combined with my ministry experience, I’m allowed to continue serving and am now a fully fledged, ‘blessed’ captain-chaplain.”


Owens is now at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, and will hit the ground running after having signed into his new base the day after leaving RAF Mildenhall.


He shared his thanks not only to his wife and three children, but to his 21A maintenance family and 100th Air Refueling Wing leadership, who together allowed him to follow his calling, and to his church family for their support.


“I look forward to continuing to do ministry from a different perspective over the next 10 to 15 years in the Chapel Corps. I was able to conclude my maintenance career as the director of operations – which is a position usually held by senior captains or majors – and was able to be a part of different operations while here. To be a part of that generation effort, and to be part of the Bloody Hundredth heritage that will outlive all of us, it’s been so humbling to finish my maintenance career on something that will be forever remembered in the history books of the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense,” he remarked.