New chaplain's first deployment

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Joseph G. Wright, IV
  • 96th Test Wing
"Don't worry, they won't deploy you in your first two years of service," the recruiter told me when I was applying to be an Air Force chaplain in September 2011.

"They wouldn't send you out there if you haven't been fully trained," he said before I began Commissioned Officer Training at Maxwell AFB, Ala. in January 2012.

"They want you to have plenty of military experience before they deploy you to theater," he explained when I mentioned I had no prior military experience.

However, less than six months after setting foot at my first assignment, I received a tasking to an "undisclosed location in Southwest Asia." So much for not deploying within the first two years of service!

My family and I took the news in stride. After all, this is why I became a chaplain--to be with the people I was ministering to as they faced the hardships and difficulties of life. But the prospect of being away from my wife and three children was a difficult one to face, not just for me, but the entire family.

We prayed, and we prepared. We read a book about preparing for deployment. It advised not to simply survive deployment, but thrive during it. Two retired colonels authored the book and emphasized the importance of trusting God and His plan. They shared the conviction that God is directing my family's time of separation, because through it, He would be growing, maturing, and developing all of us in ways impossible if we stayed together.

I've been deployed now for four months. It has been remarkable and wonderfully fulfilling. It has been difficult...but surprisingly exciting. If I had to sum up my deployment in one word, it would be: challenging.

I have seen, both through my own experiences, and in hours upon hours of counseling others through theirs, that deployments are fraught with challenges. The one lesson I would like to share is this: Be ready for significant challenges, and determine resolutely to meet each one with a positive attitude. Resiliency depends on attitude.

Since I've been here, I've had three very different job assignments; chaplain to the maintenance group, installation chaplain at a forward-deployed location, and currently the operations group chaplain. In my counseling, I rarely meet Airmen actually doing the jobs they have been trained to do.

The tasks here seem to be very specific to this mission and require significant flexibility and on the job training. I have learned to be ready to learn new things. I have learned that developing new skill sets often includes initial mistakes. I have learned to take advice. Most importantly, I have learned that the old adage is true, "attitude is everything."

It has been humbling...and indescribably empowering. Each change has brought an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to develop.

Whether we are married or not, have children or not, have very close family and friends or not, we will all face challenges during deployment. The health, financial, educational, and relational issues that arise during deployments are pervasive. Murphy's law states, "things that can go wrong, will go wrong" and I would add, especially during a deployment.

My first deployment came earlier, much earlier than I expected, but I'm glad that it did. It taught me to face the challenges of life with a positive attitude, no matter what. Through the experiences I've had, the challenges I've faced, and the grace of Almighty God, I truly believe when I return to my family and my base, I will be a better husband, a better father, a better chaplain, and a better Airman.