Chaplain supporting Michigan State Police Hart Post troopers
LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) — The Rev. Tom Schmidt has served at the Michigan State Police Hart Post since 2012.
Schmidt is the chaplain, an official position, to the 30 personnel connected with the post in Hart.
Though he is an honorary captain, the Hart personnel greet him as Chaplain Tom.
The chaplain is a volunteer position, but is on-call like the troopers. Schmidt serves the areas that the post covers — Newaygo, Oceana, Mason and Lake counties.
An MSP chaplain’s role is to provide spiritual support to the troopers, commanders and staff at the post, Schmidt said.
“My responsibility is to build relationships,” he told the Ludington Daily News. “I spend a lot of time with the troopers.”
He regularly performs ride-alongs with the troopers. Though Schmidt can’t carry a weapon, he provides a second pair of eyes and back-up. He is with them when they serve warrants and give death notices.
Sometimes the situations can be intense, he said.
Sgt. Trevor Beck met Schmidt in 2016 and works with him at the Hart Post.
“He’s always available and helpful. I’ve been to scenes when he made himself available when he wasn’t working … He’s great to work with,” Beck said.
The MSP added chaplains to the posts in 1937, according to Schmidt. Those who apply to the Chaplain Corps are vetted like any trooper.
The chaplains are required to have a master’s degree, a written recommendation from a leader in their denomination and at least five years of ministerial experience.
Schmidt graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with a master’s degree in ministry. He pastored Hart Wesleyan for 14 years. He then moved to Lafayette, Indiana, and pastored a church there for 16 years before returning to Michigan. He currently lives in Fremont and serves as the district supervisor of the Great Lakes region of Wesleyan churches.
Not every post has a chaplain. The Hart Post was without a chaplain for a while until Schmidt applied to become one and was assigned there. Some people were guarded at first, he said.
“It’s key to listen. If there is one thing you learn, it is that you need to listen. And to realize that not everyone will be receptive to a chaplain because they might fell like there might be some (religious) infringement. It’s about listening and showing that you care and that it’s for the long-term. You accept people as they are,” Schmidt said.
When he offers to pray with the troopers, they don’t turn him down, he said.
Schmidt sees a lot of new faces as people transfer or new recruits come in to replace those who retire.
“I try to be (at the post) on their orientation day,” he said.
Schmidt has performed funerals and officiated weddings for the people he works with. He goes to their children’s sporting events and visits them after a baby is born. He is there for “every occasion life hands out,” he said.
“The MSP is a close-knit family, so being accepted is a real honor,” he said. “(As a chaplain), you don’t want to be seen as an outsider, but be included.”
Each chaplain is assigned to the Michigan State Police Training Academy in Lansing for one month each year. They mentor and encourage the troopers during the training by offering to contact family members and through counseling.
“It’s rigorous,” Schmidt said. “The MSP academy is one of the toughest academies in the U.S.”
Trooper Margaret Gazaryants, currently assigned to the Hart Post, met him while she was at the academy in 2018.
“He had some words of wisdom when we needed it throughout recruit school,” she said. “Recruit school is a different setting. Sometimes you needed advice from people who weren’t there to remind us what we were working for.”
Gazaryants was assigned to the Hart Post after she graduated the academy.
“He’s always been a good guy. After recruit school I was sent to his post location here. It’s just always nice to see him. I’ve met him and his wife. They are really great people,” she said.
Schmidt also serves the retired MSP personnel. He attends the monthly retirees’ breakfasts in Newaygo and Mears.
A part of the chaplain training includes learning how to form connections with the community.
“The community needs to see the MSP is dedicated to them,” he said.
One outreach activity he participates in is greeting children on the first day of school.
The Chaplain Corps has a program that trains local pastors to respond to situations where their services might be needed. In larger cities, this might include dispelling rumors and preventing riots, he said.
“I would like people to see that (chaplains) are present to build relationships with MSP family and to coordinate community activities,” he said.