New wing chaplain finds unique way to bond with Airmen
By Master Sgt. Desiree Twombly, 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 06, 2011
TUCSON, Ariz. -- In February, the 162nd Fighter Wing welcomed a new chaplain to the Guard family.
On Sunday morning of the April unit training assembly, Chaplain (1st Lt.) Nathan Mestler reported to the wing's student flight - a group of 45 brand new Airmen preparing to attend Air Force basic training - to practice marching and military discipline.
The new Protestant chaplain confesses he's brand new when it comes to the military but is willing to take on any task to have a shared experience and connect with wing members.
"I'm really in the same boat as the student flight," said Lieutenant Mestler. "This is a great way for me to connect with and get to know them. Also, I need to learn how to do the basic stuff."
Chaplains are unique in that they can become commissioned officers without attending a commission program. Like many doctors, nurses and other professional career fields, they can be commissioned immediately upon entry into the service.
"I go to [chaplain] school in about a year and so I'm just learning who to salute and about military customs. I'm catching up. When you come in this way you really miss that shared experience that everyone else has like going through basic training. The chaplains group here is helping me learn what I need to know. The whole experience has been fantastic," he said.
The lieutenant quickly proved he's not pulpit-bound. As students executed commands or dropped to the ground to do push-ups, he immediately joined in. Standing in formation and marching was his first experience with military customs.
"Not everyone is going to come in and say, 'I'm going to connect with the chaplain.' Most people will have a time in their lives where they go through trauma and they need to talk to someone. They need to know who that person is. You can't do that without building relationships. That's the most important thing about being a chaplain," said Lieutenant Mestler.
Master Sgt. Gilbert Alcaraz of the wing safety office is a former Military Training Instructor. He facilitates the training with student flight and said he was very excited to have a lieutenant participate with the students.
"It says a lot of an officer who initiates something like this. It says a lot to the students as well because they are the future of this wing. They see the chaplain go through the same experience as they learn. It's a great way to build respect and to connect to wing members," said Sergeant Alcaraz.
Mestler is a graduate of the International Baptist College in Phoenix. He is a drill status Guardsman and outside of the wing he is a professor and a dean at the same school.
"I primarily teach biblical languages; Hebrew and Greek. I'm also the dean of students and help with student life on campus. My day-to-day is really ministry. I also offer a lot of counseling," he said.
Now as the primary Protestant chaplain for the wing, Mestler will provide religious support to Airmen of all faiths. His motivation to join the Guard is simply a continuation of, as he says, "a life of service."
"Leadership is service and so is a life of ministry. That is something that the Air Force really understands. I feel so privileged to serve those who are serving our country. One of the chaplain's key functions is to be of service to people as they are going through life situations - being someone they can come to. That's primarily what I'm thinking about here and that's what I hope happens," said Lieutenant Mestler.
As characteristics apply to the chaplaincy, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael Martinez asserts that Mestler is a good fit for the wing.
"My first impression when I met him was that he was approachable and open to people. His temperament, personality, good nature and attitude fit all the qualities you should have as a chaplain. I saw all that in him," said Chaplain Martinez.
In addition to having the qualifications of a chaplain, Mestler also understands diversity. His hometown is Nairobi, Kenya.
"When I was very young my parents left the U.S. to be missionaries in Africa. They still live there and run a college. I'll be returning this summer to teach Bible studies at the school. My father and grandfather were Baptist pastors so I am the third generation in ministry," said Lieutenant Mestler.
Toward the end of training, the chaplain quietly excused himself to prepare for the morning's service. As he walked away from the group he left an impression with the students he joined that morning. Tyler Anway, one of the students training along with the chaplain, said he won't forget their shared experience.
"I'm not sure what a chaplain does, but it was awesome to have him join us this morning. I think it's great that he did push-ups and stood with us," said Anway.