AF priest, former Iceman nears 25-year milestone

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Yash Rojas
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
A Catholic priest and former 354th Fighter Wing chaplain has crossed paths with a variety of people around the world over the years and shared in their experiences.

These life experiences have helped build a strong foundation for helping guide those in need of spiritual care. His continuous endeavor of helping others find direction and understanding has led (Capt.) Father Jesus Navarrete, former 354th Fighter Wing chaplain, to a career milestone - this December marks 25 years as an ordained priest.

Navarrete found his life's calling when he was ordained Catholic priest in Madrid, Spain, in 1987. Immediately, he began working with non-profit organizations to better help serve those lacking purpose in their lives.

He wasted no time, traveling through Latin America as a missionary. While on a mission trip in Colombia, he dedicated his efforts to the growth and cultivation of the country's youth ministry.

"I've worked in Latin America as a missionary and even helped create a lasting foundation for religious communities in that area of the world," he said.

With the accessibility of today's technology, Navarrete said he has been able to see the larger picture. The use of the internet, e-mail and the rise of social media have allowed him to maintain a watchful eye on many of his projects.

"Advances in technology and communication have allowed me to see the fruits of my labor," Navarrete said. "And while it may have been a trying time filled with challenges and adversity, social media has allowed me to maintain relationships forged early in my career."

Navarrete said challenges and sometimes failures are life's best teachers. Lessons learned from them offer an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection.

"At the entrance to my office and my home I keep a photo of the first mass I gave because I want the imperfections I embrace," he said. "Each day I try to start anew from ground zero."

Navarrete said he has spent much of his career finding distinct ways of reaching out to everyone, and becoming part of the Air Force was another way to reach out to a completely different community.

After working with other chaplains and chaplain assistants to lend Airmen and their families a helping hand, lessons learned have taught Navarrete the value of remaining closely connected with God.

"The strength of our ministry is in our individual belief," said Navarrete. "We are men of God by calling, not by occupation. This means God calls upon you and you respond. Of course, you should be ready and willing to go where He needs you most."

Prior to arriving at Eielson, he had the opportunity to serve in a deployment to Afghanistan visiting more than 125 forward operating bases in five months.

"My intent was to visit as many bases as possible to take care of the military community abroad," said Navarrete.

Staff Sgt. James Peacock, 354th FW chaplain assistant and NCO in charge of logistics, said when a chaplain and a chaplain assistant, more commonly known as a religious support team, are tasked for a deployment, a unit type code is given to both. RSTs work cooperatively to ensure the religious needs of warrior Airmen and others seeking guidance are met.

Peacock said the chaplain's proactive approach was abundant in everything he did from deployments to responsibilities at home station.

"Navarrete was known to encourage Catholic [Airmen] to go to mass," said Peacock. "He had a deep desire to serve Eielson, [especially the junior Airmen] ... regardless of their faith."

Eielson was top priority to Navarrete, said Peacock, and he worked diligently to find new ways for those living on base to live full, more meaningful lives by coordinating events such as marriage retreats for married Airmen and the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Peacock helped with several of the activities and has encouraged Airmen to continue to follow the positive example Navarrete demonstrated here.

Navarrete has since changed home-station to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, as a 4th Fighter Wing chaplain.

Many Airmen and families at Eielson will remember the impact Navarrete made while stationed here.

At his new Air Force Base, he continues to strive to be a guiding light, a familiar face and a wingman to anyone who needs a helping hand. His passion for serving others has transcended into his military career proving that helping others can be a rewarding experience.