7/14/2014 - 7/6/2014 - FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska --
If you have attended Catholic Mass at the Fort Wainwright chapel during the past four weeks, you might have noticed a new face leading the service. U.S. Air Force Maj. Chad Zielinski, 354th Fighter Wing Catholic chaplain, has been assisting the Ft Wainwright Chaplain Corps during a five-week absence of a Catholic Chaplain.
Usually a Catholic priest from Fairbanks would fill in but the local Dioceses in Fairbanks are critically short of Catholic priests and can't fill the gap. Wainwright's garrison chaplain asked if Eielson would be able to support them during their Catholic chaplain shortfall.
"Not having a priest could negatively impact the cohesiveness of the Fort Wainwright community, especially with it being an overseas assignment," said Zielinski. "Catholic community members would have to go to the churches in the local area, taking away from the close-knit community your post chapel provides."
"The biggest thing we get from Father Zielinski covering during our chaplains absence is in keeping our community together," said Joe Malen, Fort Wainwright environmental cleanup program manager. "The winters are long and the summers are short so we try to be there for one another. We're able to be a community at large because we are a community at church."
This is not the first time that Zielinski has worked with the Army; in 2010, he was deployed for six months as the chaplain for the 173rd Airborne Brigade combat team.
It didn't take Zielinski long to fit in as the Fort Wainwright Catholic chaplain.
"Chaplain Zielinski related very well to the congregation here," said Malen. "He has a fabulous personality that allows people to warm up to him quickly. He brought a lot to the parish; he is a blessed man who has a great spirit of giving and people can sense that right away."
Zielinski not only presides over Catholic mass on Sundays, he is also on-call in case there is a Soldier that needs his council.
"Whenever you can identify with a pastor of your faith group, there is a close connection," said Zielinski. "In the Catholic faith you have traditional prayers that we say with a family, which helps to bring peace and comfort in a time of sorrow."
Even though his time filling in as Fort Wainwright's Catholic chaplain has been short, Zielinski has made a lasting impact and kept their community together and strong.
Catholic Service Information for Fort Wainwright can be found at http://www.wainwright.army.mil/postchap/ or http://www.usarak.army.mil/Chaplain/.