Servant leadership: Capt. John (Van) Dickens

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft and Chief of Navy Chaplains Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben award the 2015 John H. Craven Servant Leadership Award to Capt. John (Van) Dickens, command chaplain at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The award is a peer-nominated award that is awarded to a senior chaplain who embodies the character and leadership of Chaplain John Craven. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft and Chief of Navy Chaplains Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben award the 2015 John H. Craven Servant Leadership Award to Capt. John (Van) Dickens, command chaplain at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The award is a peer-nominated award that is awarded to a senior chaplain who embodies the character and leadership of Chaplain John Craven. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

“Strive to become.”

It’s one of the main pieces of advice that Capt. John Dickens gives to the more than 950 cadets that he oversees in his role as command chaplain of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

And it’s an important role. Dickens helps prepare each and every cadet for their future as a Coast Guard officer by sharing the spiritual aspect of the things they do on a daily basis that prepare them for what’s to come.

Dickens mentions that the vast majority of those accepted into the Coast Guard Academy come from the top of their class and are the “cream of the crop.” But in his role, he hopes to help them as they realize that it’s not necessarily their individual accomplishments that will benefit them moving forward.

“They quickly learn that they have a long, uphill climb, and they’ve got to be willing to humble themselves as individuals and realize it’s the team that matters,” said Dickens. “Any individual success is contributed to the success of the team.”

Capt. John (Van) Dickens, command chaplain at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, is awarded the 2015 John H. Craven Servant Leadership Award. U.S. Coast Guard photo by petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Capt. John (Van) Dickens, command chaplain at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, is awarded the 2015 John H. Craven Servant Leadership Award. U.S. Coast Guard photo by petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Throughout his career, Dickens has seen a lot of teamwork. Since commissioning as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps, he’s seen deployments to Okinawa, Japan, and South Korea. In 2005, he was transferred to the U.S. Marine CorpsFirst Marine Division, where he was deployed alongside Third Battalion, Fifth Marines to Iraq to support those troops involved in counterinsurgency operations.

His role at the Coast Guard Academy has been a little different. He not only guides the cadets spiritually through their daily lives, but is an active role in the academic experience as well. In the past two years, Dickens has led two spring break mission trips to Ireland and Israel, teaching the cadets about international cultures and spirituality, while also showcasing the maritime capabilities of partner nations.

He also serves as a senior command advisor, providing guidance and counsel to senior Academy leaders including the superintendent and commandant of cadets.

In addition to his responsibilities to the corps of cadets, he also coordinates programs and provides counsel to 300 faculty and staff and 250 students at the Coast Guard’s Leadership and Development Center.

He also played an integral role in the tragic, unexpected death of two Coast Guard Academy exchange cadets earlier this year, providing grief support for the travel party and organizing vigils and memorial services for the two cadets soon after their deaths.

Throughout his time at the Coast Guard Academy, he has worked tirelessly to further the Chaplain Corps motto of ‘Called to Serve.’ His leadership at all levels made Dickens an unparalleled choice to receive the John H. Craven Servant Leadership Award.

The annual award is peer-nominated and presented to a senior Chaplain that epitomizes the character and servant leadership of Capt. John Craven, a highly decorated chaplain who ministered sailors and Marines throughout World War II.

“Tremendously humbling,” said Dickens about his receipt of the award. “It speaks to the ministry I am in right now. I’m glad that I am able to be of service.”

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

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