The following transcription is from an interview between Reverend Father Benedict Groeschel and Reverend Monsignor Thomas Sandi.
Msgr. Sandi was 24 years as an Air Force Chaplain.
He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and is now retired.
Here he describes what it means to be a Catholic Chaplain (A vocation within a vocation).
… As Saint Paul said, ‘We become what the people are to whom we are serving,’ and so, I had to become an airman.
I had to wear the same uniform, abide by the same rules/regulations/instructions.
I had to be with their families in time of need.
(I had to be) transferred every second or third year, for 24 years. Imagine!
And it’s all possible because the Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion.
So, when I put my cross (he touched the little cross on his black suitcoat’s left lapel with his right hand), so this is a miniature version of my Chaplain’s Cross, when I put that on every day, over my heart, I reminded myself I was to be a missionary to all…
Catholics, of course, first and foremost, but actually to everyone who practices his faith or those who choose not to practice at all. Because…
Among our duties, in providing for spiritual care, pastoral aide and so forth, is to advise Commanders of ethical and moral concerns.
And the Chaplains have always been held in high regard for that service that they provide.
… The United States of America paid me to wear the Cross, that insignia is the only insignia, Cross or Mosaic Tablets, Islamic Crescent and so forth, that can be worn above a pilot’s wings and in the Air Force that’s the highest you could go as it were…
Only the Chaplain’s insignia can be worn above a pilot’s wings.
I always thought that was a great reaffirmation of the free exercise of religion.
With respect to people who are agnostic, or looking for God and have yet to find Him, or those who say that they are atheist. What about these people who are not religious?
… The Chaplain is available for any one who wishes to worship God.
Or do things with the people of God that would build up the community.
Because, there is a direct connection between ‘moral acting’ and ‘good order’ in the service.
The Chaplaincy was founded in 1775 A.D. and the order of General Washington (issued several years later) was that everyone could have access to a Chaplain and the Chaplain could have a horse.
…Well one of the things that attracted me to the service, and I was happy that it was there, was the opportunity to go around…
Your business was, you could describe it, as the ‘ministry of presence.’
Of course you would see your own people. If they knew you were Catholic, protestants – protestants, Jews –Jews, but you could come across atheists and agnostics and just strike up a conversation, because the Chaplain was doing the same things they were doing, dressed the same way, (obeying the) same rules and regulations, they had a different standing for them. And…
There are many people who I encountered who had terrific discussions with me about seeking faith.
The entire interview can be watched at this link: Sunday Night Prime 24 June 2012 A.D.