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June Chaplain's Reflections

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Capt. Samuel Gray, chaplain assigned to the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, October 2, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Gray, chaplain assigned to the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, October 2, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

Hello Swamp Fox family! I hope y’all are doing well. I’m writing you from an undisclosed location in the Middle East. Things are going well here and we are doing some amazing things. It has stretched and grown me in ways that have been unexpected, difficult, and rewarding.

I deployed by myself, this is pretty normal for chaplains, and I really didn’t know what to expect. Everything was going to be new, I wouldn’t know anyone, and I would feel alone. Of course I anticipated high tempo, long days, short nights, and major stresses during my deployment and it did not disappoint. Services, counseling, interventions, unit engagement, memorial services, promotions, and even a few changes of command were the norm. I did not anticipate that the bathrooms would be three blocks away from my “box” a/k/a room; that I would have to take 1.5 minute combat showers; that the water was radioactive; or that I would learn to be able to sleep while jets roared right over head. Needless to say, there have been a lot of hardships. But it wasn’t all bad.

With only a short while left to go, I look back on my time here with great joy and a real sense of accomplishment. I was appointed the flight line chaplain and experienced what it was like to not be a “nonner” for the first time! I spent much of my time with the maintainers and feel fairly confident that, were I not prohibited, could qualify as a weapons loader! Don’t worry though, I’ll stick to fixing people. I think back to the time when I did unit engagement on the flight line during a sand storm; or the when a NATO partner told me that no American would ruck march 26 miles through the desert with only water and I said “hold my beer” then later completed a solo 28 mile desert ruck march in record time. Or when Security Forces’ K-9 unit convinced me to volunteer to be attacked by their dogs. Or when I got to go off base to visit some historically significant sites. And the time when I was told “you are now the acting wing chaplain” then leading my team to gain AFCENT recognition and win the WSA Team of the month! All of them are great memories that I hope to never forget. There have been hardships and difficulties but overall ministry has been amazing as I have been able to see the fruit of the hard work in the lives of the Airmen I serve.

A deployment in a combat zone is tough. There are many, many hardships and I cannot wait to come home. But with the right attitude anyone can overcome the difficulties and discover the blessings hidden in the moment. Life is like that. It has its lows but if we choose not to allow the lows to get us down and instead choose to find the good things, we will see that things are not so bad after all. There is a quote I like that says “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it”. I have kept this quote in my mind a lot recently and I hope that you do too. Persevere in hardship and learn to stop to enjoy the moment.

I am looking forward to the moment when I get to return home and see you again. Until that day, I am comforted by the Swamp Fox logos that I see painted on picnic tables and I think, maybe I’m not alone after all. Take care of your selves and I’ll see you soon. Semper Primus!