Chalfant admits that while in high school, PLNU wasn’t initially on his radar, as he was looking to play soccer for other private universities on the West Coast. However, after being encouraged by friends from Escondido and his community at Emmanuel Faith Community Church, Chalfant’s trajectory shifted toward Point Loma.

Chalfant fondly recalls the day he first stepped onto PLNU’s campus, being in awe of the Pacific Ocean stretched before him. Visiting a dorm room filled with familiar faces from his hometown, Chalfant found a laid-back scene — surf videos playing, and someone strumming Jack Johnson on the guitar. It felt like an instant match, and Chalfant couldn’t help but think, “I love this already.”

“The atmosphere [and] the culture I found on campus was just so enticing,” Chalfant said. “I just loved the chance to enjoy the ocean views and the focus of it being a Christian school was an important aspect to me.”

“I loved the community of the track team and Point Loma … pulled me in as soon as I came on campus with its atmosphere and values.”

The Escondido native initially tried out for the PLNU Men’s Soccer Team, but after being redshirted, he was approached by head track and field Coach Jerry Arvin, who heard Chalfant ran track in high school. This prompted Chalfant to join the Men’s Track Team and run throughout his four years at PLNU.

“I loved the community of the track team and Point Loma … pulled me in as soon as I came on campus with its atmosphere and values,” Chalfant said. “Every class I had, I knew the professor, and I was able to feel like I was included. My relationship with God grew at that time [and I had] a lot of good spiritual growth.”

From Poli Sci to Navy Flight

After his first few years at PLNU, Chalfant declared a political science major emphasizing international relations by virtue of his love for the subject matter and thriving academically in related classes. This got him thinking about shaping his career toward an internationally related item.

A faculty member who helped foster this interest was the late Ron Kirkemo, Ph.D, who began the political science major and founded the Institute of Politics and Public Service at PLNU.

“He was the teacher for my first political science class and was really good about challenging me to take a focus and an area of expertise,” Chalfant said. “He presented a lot of political science subjects really well and indiscriminately and was someone who encouraged me to grow in that area.”

Chalfant had also always harbored dreams of engaging in creative work that would take him around the world. Initially, he envisioned contributing to renowned organizations like National Geographic or writing for World Vision; however, there was a lingering thought rooted in family influence — the possibility of joining the military.

Tracing back on his paternal family tree, Chalfant’s great-grandfather served in the military during WWI and his grandfather served as a doctor for the Army during the Korean War. While Chalfant’s father never donned a military uniform himself, he was deeply passionate about WWII history, and immersed himself in the defense industry as a contractor for a company similar to CACI (Consolidated Analysis Centers, Inc.) International — where Chalfant is employed today.

Chalfant next to a sign that says "Program Executive Office: Aircraft Carriers."

“I ended up thinking, because of my political science background, maybe I could go be an intelligence officer for the Navy,” Chalfant said. “It turns out the Navy that year had a shortage of pilots, and they [were] like, ‘Hey, come fly for us. You can be a pilot, You can fly aircraft jets.’ And I was just thinking to myself like, I saw the movie Top Gun. That would be awesome. So I ended up signing up for the Navy.”

After graduating from PLNU in 2006, Chalfant took on the role of a recreational and event coordinator for the City of Escondido. Concurrently, he enrolled in Officer Candidate School (OCS). The following year marked a significant shift as Chalfant embarked on his Navy journey, starting with boot camp and subsequently attending Navy Flight School in Pensacola, FL.

Once he earned his private airplane license, the Navy sent Chalfant to Texas, where he trained on a T-34C Turbomentor, a small double-seater, fixed-wing airplane. 

Following flight school, Chalfant faced a pivotal decision regarding his specialized focus as a Navy pilot. Some opted for the high-speed realm of Top Gun-style jets, while others gravitated towards larger aircraft handling cargo and diverse missions. In Chalfant’s case, he chose to become a helicopter pilot, steering his aviation career in a direction that embraced the versatility and distinctive challenges of rotary-wing aircraft.

“One of the things about being a helicopter pilot, besides the surf report, was that you’re also involved in a lot of humanitarian issues.”

“When I was at Point Loma, I would see these Navy helicopters fly past the school, in and out, and think to myself, ‘Oh, that’s the best place to get the surf break report … so they [helicopters] would be perfect,” Chalfant said.

Chalfant ended up moving to Naval Base Coronado (North Island) for four years, with the initial two years dedicated to aviation school. During this time, he had two deployments on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) aircraft carrier, and earned Helicopter Aircraft Commander (HAC) and Pilot Qualified in Model (PQM) certifications.

“One of the things about being a helicopter pilot, besides the surf report, was that you’re also involved in a lot of humanitarian issues,” Chalfant said. “That’s part of the thing that I loved about it. You really do get that international engagement, where you’re engaging with cultures all over the world, and hopefully making things better for people.”

In 2013, Chalfant enrolled in the U.S. Naval War College to pursue a master’s in National Security and Strategic Studies, a degree designed to train junior officers to understand and operate in a strategic environment. He did so through the College of Distance Education, which let him take classes while working full-time. He graduated from the college with honors in 2020.

Also in 2013, Chalfant was assigned as the Navy’s Midwest Director for the Navy’s Wounded Warrior Program in Chicago, IL. During his nearly three-year tenure in the Midwest, he managed over 75 wounded warrior cases, organized an inaugural Warrior Care Month “Captain’s Cup” event, and crafted a regional web resource model. This model served as a blueprint, contributing to the integration of resources into a redesigned Navy-wide Fleet and Family website.

“Working with a lot of those folks was a great experience and rewarding,” Chalfant said.

Afghanistan Service and Cultural Understanding

Chalfant with military group in Afghanistan.
Chalfant (center, left) in Afghanistan with Ktah Khas

In 2016, Chalfant took orders away from aviation to enter a program that captured his interest in international affairs. The program, known as AFPAK (Afghanistan-Pakistan) Hands, aimed to prepare individuals to serve as advisors to the Afghan or Pakistani military.

Within a year of joining AFPAK Hands, Chalfant earned a master’s degree in Strategic Security Studies from the National Defense University in Washington, DC, which had an emphasis on South and Central Asian studies and the geopolitical events of those regions.

“My class probably had 20 to 30 different nationalities,” Chalfant said. “That master’s was more of a senior-level officer program [with] officers from around the world. We had people from India, Pakistan, Singapore, England, Australia, various African countries, [etc.]. Basically, anyone who might be a military partner could probably send representatives to programs like that. It was a great way to connect with people in a way where you kind of have a standing invite to multiple different countries.”

Concurrently, he completed the Diplomatic Language School, where he became proficient in Dari, the primary language spoken in Afghanistan. Following his graduation in 2017, Chalfant spent a year in Afghanistan, where he was embedded with an Army Ranger Regiment. This U.S. regiment focused on training Afghan Special Forces and providing support for their operations targeting high-level terrorist threats.

“I was really surprised to find out that I spoke the best Dari and kind of understood the culture the best of anyone there,” Chalfant said. “It was interesting because I would get Afghans engaging me on all kinds of topics and questions, from housing situations to remedy pay situations. A lot of Afghans would come up to be personally and say ‘Thank you so much for respecting our culture, we know that you actually care about us, our culture, and our values — I thought that was actually valuable.”

While Chalfant’s time in Afghanistan was rewarding, Chalfant admits that it brought its challenges. 

“There were times when we had rockets shot at us … [and] unfortunately, one of the advisors I was with was shot from an insider attack [and] we lost him,” Chalfant said. “Despite all these hardships and some of the tragedies, I enjoyed … being able to form the relationships I have to the point where I still keep in contact with some of the Afghan internationals.”

Right before he went on deployment, Chalfant married his wife. Upon his return, Chalfant took the opportunity to leave active duty and found employment as a defense contractor, leveraging his experience in aviation. CACI International, a company with a Navy contract, recognized Chalfant’s unique skills — his expertise in flying on and off aircraft carriers and his understanding of air operations. 

Chalfant with his wife and kids at the beach.
Chalfant with his wife and kids

Since 2019, Chalfant has worked as an aviation integration support manager, collaborating with the Navy’s PEO Aircraft Carrier Program Office to integrate new aircraft technology into the existing U.S. aircraft carrier fleet. Chalfant remains connected to his military roots as a reservist for the Navy.

“On occasion, I come out to San Diego for some training and conferences because my base is Third Fleet,” Chalfant said.

Landing Back to his Roots

Although infrequent due to work and often coinciding with the holidays, Chalfant cherishes the opportunities he has to return to his alma mater, as he gets to reconnect with political science professor Rosco Williamson, Ph.D., history professor Bill Wood, Ph.D., and Coach Jerry Arvin.

“I always try to stop in their office, say hi, and see how they’re doing,” Chalfant said. “And then actually, this past year [2023], when I was in there to see Coach Arvin, I ended up seeing Professor Rosco Williamson, and … he had asked, ‘Oh, if you’re ever back, I’d love to have you chat to the class.’ So [in Spring 2023], I came to his class and shared a lot about government jobs and positions, my career path, and some other things.”

Wood’s lectures on the Middle East and Arabic history and culture, according to Chalfant, played a significant role in developing his cultural awareness during his deployments on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

“The first few deployments, we were out in the Middle East, stopping in port cities like Bahrain and Dubai, and in Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran,” Chalfant said.

Chalfant also expressed gratitude for Arvin, who honed into the track team’s spiritual life and growth.

“I think he sent me a birthday card, probably for the first 10 years after I graduated from Point Loma,” Chalfant said.

Reflecting God’s Heart for All

A quote that Chalfant holds close to his heart comes from the theologian and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner, who stated: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

“I see that as some kind of international capacity,” Chalfant said. “Coming from Point Loma, you have that relationship with Jesus and with God, and in my mind, God’s children are all around the world; they’re not just in California, not just in the United States.”

Motivated by a sense of privilege that comes with being American, Chalfant recognizes the abundance and opportunities available in the United States. This recognition fuels his conviction that the military, often perceived differently by many, holds a significant role in extending help to others.

For Chalfant, the military is a channel through which assistance and support reach beyond national boundaries; a service deeply rooted in empathy and a global understanding of empathy.

“Initially, [some] think the military is just engaged in armed conflict, but I’ve done more humanitarian [work] than actual armed conflict,” Chalfant said. “When I was in Afghanistan, we were working with Special Forces, which was very intense on the concept, but a lot of the work we did was not just focused on capturing terrorists, it was also trying to train the first all-female Special Forces group, and giving females the opportunity, if they wanted to, to take roles that were unheard of in Afghanistan. We [also] trained a lot of their medics on basic first aid, like understanding basic sanitation and basic medical needs that they could pass on to their communities.”

Katie Morris is a student at PLNU studying psychology and journalism. She’s currently the copy editor at The Point, PLNU’s student-run newspaper and is an intern at PLNU's Marketing and Creative Services.