OTS Victory: A Vocation Within a Vocation by Fr. Peter Julia

Feb 24, 2024

On December 22, 2023, I graduated from Officer’s Training School (OTS) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery Alabama as Captain Julia, Chaplain for the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard in Portland, OR. Officer’s Training School is an intensive sixty-day course to learn how to be an officer in the best Air Force in the World, but few people realize that the journey for me started about ten years ago.

When I began studies in theology at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Archbishop Broglio, the Archbishop for Military Services, along with priest-chaplains for all branches of the military came to speak to seminarians interested in serving our country as a military chaplain. A group of about thirty men were in the room, when I heard a statistic that seemed unbelievable to me. The United States military is over 300% under capacity for priests serving Catholics in the military. Now, the truth is that every military chaplain serves all their soldiers or airmen, but in the chaplaincy, we say that we either “provide” or “provide for.” For a Catholic priest like me, it means I can directly provide all the sacraments that the Church has ordained me to provide, but if an airman of another faith tradition needs an accommodation, I will do my best to help find someone that can provide that for them. During that meeting in Rome, I thought of all the men and women that could be deployed in harm’s way or on a ship in the middle of the ocean that would go months without any sacraments. I felt a strong movement in my heart that said, “Here am I, send me!”

Just as there is a shortage of priests in many parts of the world, that shortage also exists in the military, so it’s difficult for bishops to release men to serve in the military, especially on active-duty status. However, a situation was presented to me to serve our local state and federal mission in the Air National Guard right by PDX Airport. One our senior priests, Fr. Rick Siriani proudly served the 142nd for 23 years. The 142nd is centered around the 123rd F-15 Fighter Squadron and 125th Special Tactics Squadron along with the 116th Air Control Squadron in Warrenton, OR on the coast. This was an opportunity for me to simultaneously serve in the Archdiocese while serving the people of God in the military as well. Many may remember the old commercials of the National Guard. “One weekend a month, two weeks a year.” My main commitment is as a drill status guardsman (DSG) when all the airmen of the 142nd gather to practice our job to prepare for deployment and war one weekend per month. Although I’ve just recently completed OTS, I have already completed my first year serving the 142nd Wing.

OTS was interesting as a 44-year-old clergyman. The training itself had elements of what the movies portray during Basic Training such as Military Training Instructors (MTI’s), regularly yelling at the trainees about marching, loose threads on uniforms, talking in the chow hall, and everything else you can imagine. I’m here to say, yes, all of that is true, but in OTS we also focus far more on academics and the art and history of leadership in the military. One of the things I will never forget is waking up at 4:30am by reveille playing over the loudspeaker with the expectation that all 150 trainees be formed up in columns by 4:37am, “To sing the first verse of the Air Force song, followed by the Space Force song, followed by the Airmen’s Creed, loud proud and together! I don’t know if I’ll ever forget those three things!

Ultimately, I had many encounters with airmen that were new to the military like me, but many more who were prior-enlisted, Catholic, and non-Catholic alike. The Lord presented opportunities for me to be Christ to others in the most unlikely of situations, and like many movies depicting the military, I grew closest to those in my 15-person flight and our squadron. I realized very quickly that I would be willing to fight and die with each one of them as different as we all are. The Air Force core values are integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do! I believe the priesthood prepared me for just that.

Fr. Peter Julia completes the Assault Obstacle course.

The Mustang flight patch is named after the P-51 Mustang.

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