A Brotherhood of Chaplains

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nestor Cruz
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
A trio of Reserve Citizen Airmen have taken the concept of a military brotherhood to a literal level. Their wives are sisters, making them brothers-in-law as well as brothers-in-arms.

Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Wilson, 944th Fighter Wing, was the first of the three to join the Air Force Reserve Command six years ago. His wife’s twin sister married Chaplain (1st Lt.) Daniel Smetana, 20th Fighter Wing, Shaw AFB, S.C.

The youngest of the three sisters married Chaplain (1st Lt.) Jonathan Ledbetter, 414th Fighter Group, Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C. All three chaplains were commissioned by the same man: their father-in-law, retired Lt. Col. Bert Campbell, Jr., who had served in the Army National Guard.

“We all made the decision to join after getting married,” said Wilson. “Our spouses never imagined we’d be in the military when we got married, but when it was first presented to me as an idea, the first person I talked to was my wife. She and her sisters had so much respect for their dad and they had seen how good his time in the military was, so they were all very supportive of us pursuing careers in the military.”

Smetana was the next to join the Reserve, receiving his commissioning two years ago. Ledbetter was the last of the three to receive his commissioning on May 4, 2018.

Ledbetter looks up to the other two brothers-in-law in both uniform and faith. “Shortly after Chaplain Wilson was commissioned as an AFRC chaplain, I began considering seriously the opportunities to serve as a chaplain as an extension of pastoral ministry in a civilian congregation,” he said. “Wilson’s compassion for Airmen and his desire to serve their families was an inspiration for me in pursuing the chaplaincy. Chaplain Smetana was commissioned more recently, so he has been my resource for specific questions regarding preparation for chaplain ministry.”

Connections in faith, family and service create a unique bond for these three chaplains.

“The greatest significance of my connection with the other two chaplains is mutual support,” said Smetana. “Being Reserve chaplains, we all have similar experiences. Yet, being in different environments, we also have varying perspectives. Knowing each other as well as we do, we are able to help each other quickly and clearly when questions come up. And being close family members, this makes for encouraging and fun family conversations as we share our various experiences.”
Ledbetter agrees, saying their shared bond is more than being fellow Reserve chaplains.

“Chaplains Wilson, Smetana and I are more than brothers-in-law,” said Ledbetter. “We, along with our other brothers-in-law, are best friends.”

Sharing experiences and constant communication are important in this family.

“Our family gets together at least twice a year and we talk on the phone often,” said Wilson. “Being in the Air Force the longest, I’m able to help the others when it comes to getting orders or taking care of travel vouchers. But when it comes to life, I have a ton of respect for them so they’ve definitely given me wise council.”
That same admiration and respect is shared by the other two chaplains.

“When it comes to a career in the Air Force, it is clear that Chaplain Wilson is the ‘older brother,’” said Smetana. “We are just trying to keep up with him. He has been in the longest, so he is our go-to guy for advice and direction. While that is a great help to us ‘younger’ guys, it also sets the bar for us and gives us something to shoot for.”

Naturally, as Reserve Citizen Airmen, the three have their own civilian duties. Wilson is director of Grand View Camp, a year-round Christian camp in the White Mountains of Arizona near the New Mexico state line. Smetana is the pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C., while Ledbetter serves as associate pastor at University Baptist Church in Clemson, S.C.
The dual nature of reserve life has been a blessing for these men of the cloth.

“Being a reservist for all three of us really helps support us to do our civilian ministry,” said Wilson. “What we’ve learned in our civilian ministry we’ve been able to bring in to the Reserve as well. Both careers strengthen the other.”

Wilson’s chaplain team recently swept the 2017 U.S. Air Force Reserve Command Chaplain Corps Awards, taking home all five awards. Does this mean a sibling rivalry exists among the three brothers?

“I think we all have a competitive nature, but that has driven us not so much to outdo one another, but to push each other to be better Airmen,” Smetana said.