The first female Reserve Buddhist chaplain was commissioned at Won Buddhism temple in Los Angeles on Aug. 6.
Newly commissioned Lt. Saejeong Ilshun Kim said that when recruited in 2016, after finishing graduate training in South Korea, she felt that being a chaplain in the U.S. Navy was a great opportunity to meet and support people who are in need.
Born in Chicago and raised in South Korea, Kim has a diverse cultural background and has served in various capacities as a Buddhist minister. She said she feels her unique experiences may help understand each individual’s differences with openness, which will allow her to connect with Sailors.
Balancing the roles of officer and clergy in the Navy bring harmony, peace and worthwhile human development within the military community, explained Kim. She can support Sailors by working with all faiths on multiple human issues.
“As a Reserve Navy chaplain, I can bring Buddhist spirituality to service members,” said Kim. “My expectations would also be to support Navy family members suffering from stress and intra-family differences.”
Lt. Cmdr. Jason Matthew DiPinto, command chaplain at U.S. Coast Guard District Eleven, said he believes that considering the cultural connections the military has with Buddhist countries, like South Korea and Japan, it makes sense to work hard to increase representation of Buddhist faith chaplains.
“While Buddhist representation in the U.S. military is not terribly large,” said DiPinto, he explained how it is a community that deserves representation.
Kim’s recruitment through the Direct Commission Officer (DCO) program was routine. However, she did face challenges such as needing her foreign education validated and endorsed as a Buddhist ministry official.
Assigned to Navy Recruiting Command at the time, DiPinto said Kim showed sincerity, passion and patience throughout the commissioning process and challenges that emerged, which she overcame with the help of the chaplain community.
“Her professionalism,” said DiPinto, “her strong sense of religious identity, and willingness to patiently work through the process let me know that she was a serious candidate, a viable candidate, and somebody I really wanted to try and help out in any way that I could.”
Kim chose the Won Buddhist temple for her commissioning ceremony to incorporate her religious culture with military tradition.
“I want to share this special moment with my congregation,” said Kim. “(I) feel honored and humbled…I am grateful for the opportunity to serve, excited for the new journey and curious about the path I am taking.”