Maintenance chaplain makes big impact

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

5/23/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — With the blinding sun baking down on the hot tarmac, maintenance crews strive to keep aircraft strategically poised to support troops on the ground in the area of operations. The work isn’t easy, the days are long and nerves can be frayed. That is until the maintenance group chaplain rolls up with a smile, devotion and a popsicle.

“It’s nice to know we have the support of more than just our leadership,” said Senior Airman Jonathan Donovan, a 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-130 Hercules crew chief deployed from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. “He really connects with us at the most basic levels.”

That sentiment for Chaplain (Capt.) David Dziolek is carried across the maintenance group here, but as they say, “there’s a rhyme for every reason.”

“He was maintenance like us, so we really feel like we can open up to him because he understands what we’re going through day-in and day-out,” said Airman 1st Class Paul Basirico, also a 379th EAMXS C-130 crew chief deployed from Peterson AFB.

Dziolek, a Freesoil, Mich., native, began his career in 1991 when he enlisted in the Air Force as an F-15E Strike Eagle maintainer. While he had aspirations to play basketball in the NBA, he said he was needed elsewhere.

“The Lakers wanted me, but I had a calling to serve,” he smiled.

After completing technical training, Dziolek arrived at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., where he served for five years.

“I completed Airman Leadership School there,” he said. “But I learned at Nellis a lot of what not to do and it wasn’t until my next assignment I really felt like I belonged.”

Dziolek credits his next assignment, the former Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland, for turning his life around.

“The Lord really got a hold of me up there,” he said. “I came to him broken. But he got a hold of me through the Gospels and the Navy chaplain took me under his wing and really began to mentor me.”

Losing his father at 12 years old, Dziolek hadn’t had a real mentor or even father figure until meeting this chaplain.

“He had a huge impact on me,” Dziolek said. “He was one of the first to say to me, ‘I believe in you.'”

It was under this Navy chaplain’s spiritual mentorship he began reflecting on what the future had in store.

“God was doing some major molding in my life,” he said. “He would come to me in visions while I was reading the Bible. These were moments of clarity in my life — I could literally see myself dressed up in a suit and tie preaching God’s word.”

Following his calling, Dziolek left the Air Force in 2000 to pursue the higher education necessary to be a chaplain. He attained his bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Ministry in 2003 from Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., joined the Air Force Reserves in 2005 and completed his master’s in Divinity from the Church of God Seminary, also in Cleveland, Tenn., in 2006. From there he went active duty in 2010 as a chaplain and has since been assigned to Wilford Hall Medical Facility at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.

He’s served the men and women of the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Group for the past six months as their chaplain. He said his experience here rekindled “some old energy and passion.”

These sentiments are rooted in the maintenance career field. He loves going out visiting with Airmen, because not only is he able to share God’s message of salvation, he relives the things he grew to appreciate earlier in his career.

“I absolutely love the smell of the flightline,” Dziolek said. “I love the heat baking down on you and to see those awesome planes fly.”

Maintenance at the core, the chaplain enjoyed reliving his youth here.

“I remember when the jets would break down hard and we had to troubleshoot the problem to get the aircraft back on the line,” he said. “Out here you really feel connected to the mission. But now as a chaplain, I get to do some spiritual troubleshooting and help these guys with their issues — watch them fly, spiritually.”

This gives Dziolek the greatest sense of accomplishment because at the end of the day, his work adds to the 379th’s maintainer’s spiritual readiness. But the chaplain hasn’t accomplished all he has here without the guided help of his assistant, Staff Sgt. Bernard Untalan.

“Working with Chaplain ‘DZ’ I’ve experienced profound moments of ministry,” Untalan said. “He made it a point to include me in everything he did. From our weekly devotions to simply delivering cold popsicles, I know we made a difference, but I wish we could’ve done more.”

Untalan and Dziolek both wished they could’ve spent more time with the crews, noting 25 or more units visited in a week just wasn’t enough.

“We could never visit long enough,” Untalan said. “As the chaplain’s assistant you can really tell when your presence isn’t welcome, but here, we were always welcome.”

Untalan feels like this had a lot to do with the chaplain’s enlisted and maintenance background.

“You can’t be mad when the chaplain walks in,” said Maj. Bryan Webster, the 746th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. “People couldn’t help but smile when they saw the chaplain because he did a lot to help center us.”

With unit engagement as his number one priority, Dziolek made a huge impact on the maintenance group, but if you ask the chaplain, it was God working through him.

“To God be the glory,” he said. “For all the great things he has done in my life, I’m just happy to serve.”

Published by Benjamin W. Stratton

I'm a photojournalist traveling the world sharing what I experience along the way.

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