JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) -- Roman Catholic priests who are interested in becoming Air Force chaplains can learn more about this career opportunity through the "Come Be With Us" tour sponsored by Air Force Recruiting Service.
The tour is the first step in the recruiting process which provides an opportunity for priests and chaplain recruiters to meet face-to-face to discuss chaplain requirements in operational and deployed environments. The chaplains also address issues such as military lifestyle and physical training requirements. Tours are held twice a year at Creech and Nellis Air Force Bases in Nevada. Each tour hosts 10 to 12 priests from around the country.
"Roman Catholic priests typically have no military background, so it's a four-day familiarization tour for them to come and learn about military expectations and how pastoral ministry takes place in the military," said Father John Kinney, the AFRS Chaplain Corps Accessions director.
Even though the tour has been successful, with an average of 70 percent of participants joining the Air Force, there is still a shortage of Catholic chaplains.
"There are currently 53 Catholic chaplains providing religious support to more than 190,000 Catholic Airmen and their families," Kinney said. "That is down from 205 Catholic chaplains 25 years ago. Within the next three months, five Catholic chaplains will be retiring. The Air Force needs 120 Catholic chaplains to meet the needs of Catholics in the Air Force."
Some priests who attend the tour may realize that military service is not meant for them but refer their colleagues to the Air Force.
"After attending a tour, priests often send us names of other priests whom they believe have an interest in the Chaplain Corps ministry so that chaplains can make contact and invite them to the tour," said Chaplain (Maj.) Laserian Nwoga, a Chaplain Recruiter.
"Recruiting Catholic priests can be difficult because first, every priest belongs to their home diocese of ordination or incardination. They have to be released by their bishop to Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the Archbishop for the Military Services in the United States, who then endorses them to the military," he said. "Every priest in the military is on loan from their ordained home diocese. Lastly, they also have to meet the Air Force commissioning requirements."
Because age waivers are no longer being granted by the Air Force, priests who want to become chaplains must also enter active duty prior to their 42nd birthday which also has made it difficult with priests' recruitment, Nwoga said.
"By eliminating the age waiver, the Air Force gives chaplains the potential for career development," Kinney said. "Chaplains can't be commissioned over the grade of captain, and the age limit to stay in the Air Force is 62. The Air Force wants to give them the potential for long-term career development. If they only stay in for five or 10 years, there is no potential for career growth. But if they come in when they are 33 years old, they have the potential to reach the rank of colonel."
Gaining a bishop's approval can take years and the application process can take anywhere from eight to 12 months.
"Part of our job as recruiters is to interact with the bishops to request the release of priests who want to become chaplains in the military," Nwoga said. "Through the tour, we are attracting foreign-born priests who are naturalized U.S. citizens into the Chaplain Corps which has been a blessing for us. We are recruiting priests from Africa, the Philippines, Vietnam, South America and Poland."
Chaplains perform duties in accordance with their faith tenets while accommodating requests from other faith groups. A Catholic chaplain is a priest for all Catholics and a chaplain for all Airmen and their families. Chaplains also advise leadership on religious, spiritual, ethical, moral and morale issues.
The next "Come Be With Us" tour is scheduled for June 16-20.
For more information about becoming a chaplain, call 1-800-803-2452 or visit the Air Force Chaplain Corps website at www.AIRFORCE.com/chaplain.