December 23, 2013 — Last year, Jesuit Father Mark McGregor spent the Christmas season in Southwest Asia, where he was serving as an Air Force chaplain. Tending to the spiritual needs of those deployed was especially important during the holidays, he explained in a recent article published by San Antonio Magazine.
“There were a lot of youngsters there who were experiencing their first holiday away from home or airmen who missed being with their wives or husbands or tucking their kids in,” he says.
Fr. McGregor was deployed to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia in July 2012 for a six-month stay. There, he served as the chief of chaplains on the flight line, helping with morale and spiritual needs, celebrating Mass and making people feel welcomed.
According to Fr. McGregor, the attendance at the Christmas Eve service doubled or tripled. “There was just a real hunger to celebrate Christmas. Many of them were Catholic, some of them weren’t, but they wanted to be together and share together.
“Everyone there is so focused on the mission, but the personal stories behind the men and women, that’s the real blessing of the chaplain’s life — you get to hear about those things and to speak a word of strength and comfort and to listen to them.”
Before Fr. McGregor was commissioned to Southwest Asia, he taught media studies at both Fairfield University in Connecticut and Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. He felt compelled to help the military after seeing people lose loved ones and watching soldiers coming back wounded after 9/11.
“I saw that if I didn’t do something with the military then, at 47, I probably wouldn’t do it and I would feel regret,” he explained. “It just touched a desire to serve the military and to help them know that their exercise of religion was going to be supported.”
Currently, Fr. McGregor serves as a chaplain at the Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio. He says his role there is to help people maintain their spiritual fitness, one of the four dimensions of fitness defined by the Air Force (the other three are physical, emotional and social fitness).
At the base in Texas, he ministers to soldiers on active duty, guard or reserve members of the military, retired military and their dependents. “I provide direct care to all and religious support for all,” he said. “The Jesuit in me likes the variety of religious traditions and those who claim no religious preference, yet are spiritual or want to grow spiritually.” [Source: San Antonio Magazine]