Home Church: Bethany Lutheran Church
Rank: Specialist-4th Class
Pastor Tony Pittenger was born in 1968 at Holloman AFB, White Sands, New Mexico. His father was serving as an MP (often guarding the SR-71). From Holloman they moved to Brooks Army/Air Base in San Antonio, Texas, where his father trained chimps for the space program. Later they moved to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After a few years there, his father transferred to the US Army Reserve and moved to the area of Seattle, Washington.
Pastor Pittenger joined the US Army Reserve in 1985, 17-year-old high school junior, as a 67U (Chinook helicopter mechanic). His goal was to learn helicopters from the inside-out in order to one day pilot attack helicopters. He graduated from basic training that summer at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and returned to Washington to complete his senior year of high school at Evergreen Lutheran High School, a school jointly owned/operated by the WELS and the ELS.
After high school graduation his Advanced Individual Training for 67U was at Fort Eustis, Virginia. AIT ran until the end of October 1986 and so he did not enroll in college until the next year. Instead he worked various odd jobs around the Seattle area, even commercial fishing in the Bering Sea.
In August of 1987 he moved to Mankato, Minnesota to enroll at Bethany Lutheran College. Because the nearest aviation unit (Fort Snelling, Minneapolis) was already over-strength, he joined the 3rd Infantry Division* (The Old Guard) out of Fort Snelling and cross-trained to an 11C (81mm mortars). This battalion had a small detachment in Mankato specializing in artic operations.
*This was the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Infantry, attached to the 205th Infantry Brigade but assigned to the 6th Infantry Division out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska; part of Fort Wainwright’s “Artic Light”.
No longer connected to aviation, piloting attack helicopters seemed an impossible goal. In Mankato he earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Minnesota State University in biology/ecology with a minor in geology and changed his aspirations to a career in wildlife/field research.
However, the Lord had different plans. Having led Pastor Pittenger to a place where he could also prepare for the ministry, Pittenger found that his circle of friends included many seminary and pre-seminary students. The longer he stayed in Mankato, the stronger the ministry tugged at him. To answer that question in one way or another, he studied Hebrew and Greek in addition to his Bachelor’s degree from Minnesota State. Upon completion he enrolled at Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary.
Pastor Pittenger served with the “3rd of-the 3rd“ until the his military duties conflicted with his seminary studies. Operation Desert Storm demonstrated an increased threat from the Middle East, the 3rd of the 3rd began to train for desert warfare to complement their arctic capabilities. Most often Pastor Pittenger’s unit would drive to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin on Friday afternoon, live-fire and practice small unit tactics all weekend (all night), and return home late Sunday evening. This increased training schedule meant that every month an entire weekend would pass without being able to do any of his seminary studies. Additionally, as an arctic warfare unit, the 3rd of the 3rdwould do their two weeks of active duty training every February. Missing two weeks of every winter semester was difficult while working on his Bachelor degree, it became impossible while working on his Masters. After serving for almost nine years he got out of the military as a Specialist-4th Class.
In July of 1995 Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary sent him to Port Orchard, Washington, to vicar at Bethany Lutheran Church and School. After graduation in 1996, he was assigned there permanently.
Port Orchard is a “Navy Town”. It sits across a small inlet from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, and is not far from Naval Submarine Base Bangor. (Now, both locations are jointly called Naval Station Kitsap.) McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis are only 35 miles away (now called Joint Base Lewis-McChord). Additionally, the U.S. Coast Guard operates Coast Guard Base Seattle in our region. The few Marines in our area are most often security for the “boomers”, the Trident Missile subs out of Bangor.
Between active duty, retired, and civilian shipyard workers, Bethany Lutheran Church has an unusually strong military presence. In fact, as a congregation, she was started to serve the shipyard workers who were supporting naval operations during World War II. Even the church’s bell is originally from one of the battleships serviced by the members here.
The God of Peace has used Pastor Pittenger’s childhood, personal experience, and the people in Port Orchard that He might minister to the personnel and families of our nation’s military. If there is more to learn and more that can be done, God grant us the wisdom and abilities to do so.