By: Chaplain, Lt Col Joseph Friedman, CO ANG
As a former congregational rabbi, I often joke (okay, not really a joke) that most congregational rabbis I know – if they knew then what they know now – would have never gone into the rabbinical field in the first place. That is not to say they don’t find satisfaction in what they do; it means they went in thinking it would be one thing, but it is rarely that.
Ironically, I feel the same way, but conversely, about the chaplaincy. If I knew then what I know now, I would have joined two decades earlier! I came to the Air Force chaplaincy relatively late in my life, and for all the wrong reasons. It was Oct 2008 and I was 45 years old. It was three years after I decided to leave the pulpit and go into business, and along with the economy that year, the business had collapsed. Deciding it was not too late to become a lawyer, I was concerned about paying off a huge student loan, when someone in synagogue – an Active Duty Air Force officer – suggested I look into being an Air National Guard chaplain. He explained all the tuition assistance programs they offer, as well as receiving pay while in law school, and then he added, “You only have to do four years, and you’re done!”
I was sold. I contacted a recruiter, and was officially gained to my new unit on 17 Dec 2009, four months after my first semester of law school began, fully intending to do my duty, get my money, and get out after the requisite four years. Well, as they say, I drank the Kool-aid, it was Air Force Blue, and I drank it copiously. I recently began my 13th year, five of which have been full-time (I am currently the full-time Wing Chaplain for the 140th Wing of the Colorado Air National Guard), and I intend to remain full-time until my retirement in 2029. I am excited to go to work each and every day, and I never dreamt how fulfilling my work would be.
I often share the fact that, as a first-generation American whose parents were both refugees to this country following the Holocaust and who found a welcoming home in this great land, I can think of no greater honor than to serve those who serve the United States. I know my parents, who have both passed on, are looking down from the Eternal World with great pride.
Originally published in the Purim 2022 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.