Academy's Mormon chaplain has name recognition

  • Published
  • By David Edwards
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
The Air Force Academy's Mormon chaplain shares his first name with a Colorado legend, but he's making a name for himself at the Air Force Academy for different reasons thanks to his new job and the fact that he's something of a rarity.

Chaplain (Capt.) Zebulon Beck is the second Mormon chaplain at the Academy, and he fills a void that has existed since the early 1990s, due in part to a small pool of Mormon chaplains: the Air Force only has nine on active duty.

Previously stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, Chaplain Beck has settled into in his new assignment. He has been at the Academy for a little more than a month, and he has been a welcome addition for the Academy's more than 100 Mormon cadets.

As is the case with other Mormons of similar age, many cadets interrupt their studies for the mandatory two-year mission. Those who do so often come back changed people.

"What we find is that cadets who go on their mission and come back tend to do better than they did before," Chaplain Beck said. "Many of them work in places like Eastern Europe. They come back fluent in a second language and with enhanced ability for leadership. In addition, they're more spiritually in tune with their faith."

He knows that from firsthand personal experience. His Air Force career and his religion have combined to take him to a plethora of places across multiple continents.

Although his first name appears to be a nod to Colorado, he was named for his great -grandfather, not the discoverer of Pikes Peak. As a child, he lived on a ranch in southwestern Wyoming. His father served in the Air Force and fought in the Korean War.

Chaplain Beck said he was taught from a young age to respect the United States and its military. That went hand in hand with his faith and its emphasis on family values. For his Mormon mission, he went to Lima, Peru.

He has also served in the Air Force for 14 years, with prior enlisted service as a nuclear weapons technician. While ministering to the Academy's cadets is the main reason he's here, there's more to it than that, he said.

"One of the other reasons that I'm here is that the Air Force places great value on religious diversity and making sure the cadets' religious needs are met," Chaplain Beck said. "The chapel staff is really a model of American religious freedom. For all the chaplains, it's a distinguished honor to be assigned to the Air Force Academy. This is a special ministry that is really a highlight to anyone's career."

That highlight is due to last three or four years. During that time the athletics schedule promises to throw some challenges to his loyalties at him. But Chaplain Beck said he isn't conflicted by the presence of Wyoming and Brigham Young University in the same conference as Air Force.

BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall is scheduled to lead a devotion at the Cadet Chapel the evening of Sept. 10, the day before the Cougars and Falcons knock heads on the gridiron. Chaplain Beck said the devotion is a token of Coach Mendenhall's great respect for the Air Force Academy. As for the newest chaplain, he won't be sitting on the fence -- for the time being, anyway.

"While I'm here, I'm definitely a Falcon," he said. "I have family members who play for BYU. But again, I'll be wearing my Air Force blue."