HUNTSVILLE, Ala. –
The 2nd Recruiting Brigade is now home to the U.S. Army’s top active-duty chaplain.
The Military Chaplains Association along with the Chief of Chaplains Office named Chaplain Maj. Bill Kim the 2021 Active Duty Chaplain of the Year during a ceremony at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Oct. 5.
It is an honor that Kim, the son of an immigrant and veteran, humbly accepted as an acknowledgment of a job well done.
“For me that is quite an honor and very humbling,” Kim said. “Honestly I feel like I don't deserve the award because I'm doing what I normally do taking care of Soldiers and families.”
2nd Recruiting Brigade Commander Col. James Welch said he believes Kim’s work with the Soldiers is worth recognition.
“This is a well-deserved award to recognize the exceptional work Chaplain Kim does on behalf of our Soldiers, civilians and family members,” Welch said. “Our unit ministry team works tirelessly to provide spiritual guidance and meet the needs of our formation. I’m very thankful to see Chaplain Kim recognized for his work at the national level.”
Kim was commissioned in May 2002 as a second lieutenant. He began his career as a military intelligence officer. Joining the Army was something he knew he wanted because it was a big part of his family life.“
My father had been in a long time ago. He actually received his citizenship by joining the Army back in the mid-70s when he came to the country. He was originally from South Korea,” Kim said. “He came here, he had $50 in his pocket, so he decided, ‘I can join the Army and get my citizenship and that could be a pathway.’”
His father, Rev. Dr. Sung Kim, entered seminary following his enlistment. That, was the beginning of Kim’s journey to the chaplaincy. But it was his first overseas experience that ultimately led him down that path.
“Originally I wasn't intent on becoming a chaplain,” Kim said. “I wanted nothing to do with the ministry side just knowing what my father went through in the church and such, but then I just saw the need for it …. The first time I ever experienced that was when I was on an exchange trip overseas to Japan actually. That's where I believe I received my pastoral calling. When I returned, I decided instead of going the military intelligence route, which I originally was going to do and just continue to serve on active duty as an MI officer, then I decided to see if I could become an Army chaplain.”
Kim received his seminary education at Duke University and entered the Army on active duty, immediately deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Most of my time on my first assignment was spent downrange,” he said, “so it was almost trial by fire. Here I am, a brand new Army chaplain. I knew the staff side of things being trained as a cadet, but I had no idea about the chaplaincy aspect of it, so it was really feet to the fire.”
In 2020, Kim was stationed at 2nd Recruiting Brigade Headquarters, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. It was a difficult assignment from the start as COVID-19 protocols had changed everything.
“One big challenge was just when I was coming to the unit here, because of the COVID restrictions, that PCS process was extremely difficult,” Kim said. “I'm sure the Soldiers who have (changed duty stations) in or out during 2020, they found it extremely hectic just because of the extra steps that's required.”
Kim believes his place as a spiritual leader is with the Soldiers, so the inability to travel to recruiting stations made his task of caring for Soldiers and their families much harder.
“It was such a challenge, especially with the unit ministry team,” he said. “One of our primary things is to actually visit people and have that face-to-face interaction. You get to understand and know people. We did the next second best thing and tried to work around that challenge and actually connect and offer what we can do from a virtual way through distance.”
Kim and his team created a number of topical videos with interviews and more relaxed “fireside chats” to make up for the lack of one-on-one interaction. He believes those videos truly kept him in the minds of the Soldiers across the brigade’s footprint that includes eight states across the southeastern United States as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Welch recognizes that hard work and its effect on the Soldiers.
“Chaplain Kim makes a tremendous impact on our brigade,” Welch said. “Due to the continuous nature of recruiting and the difficulties our recruiting NCOs sometimes face to recruit the all-volunteer force, an assignment in recruiting can be tough. Under Chaplain Kim’s leadership, our UMT plays a direct role in helping our force overcome some of those challenges. There is no doubt in my mind that Chaplain Kim has a positive effect on our Soldiers and the mission.”
As pandemic-related restrictions have started to lift, Kim and his team have again begun traveling to recruiting stations for in-person visits. The travel aspect of the job is difficult because it means time away from his wife and daughter.
“One challenge of being away on (temporary duty travel) for so long is that I have periods where I will miss time with my family,” he said.
Getting back to the mission also comes as he prepares for his next assignment. A move that is a somewhat bittersweet for him.
“I'm sad that I'm leaving early,” Kim said. “They selected me to go to the school house (at Fort Jackson) and the Chief of Chaplains Office there. I would prefer to stay longer because I've gained such an appreciation for our recruiters.”