Chaplain's many paths to service

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Natasha Stannard
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Chaplain (Capt.) Paul Joyner, a 52nd Fighter Wing chaplain, has done it all when it comes to serving his country in three military branches.

Six weeks after graduating high school at the age of 17, Joyner finally had the opportunity to do what he had always wanted to do -- serve. He did this in more ways than one.

"On my 18th Birthday, I was on leave from boot camp," Joyner said. "I was a private then ... Oct. 19, it will be 30 years since I graduated from the Marine's bootcamp in Parris Island, S.C."

From 1981 - 1986, Joyner was in the Marines under the 2nd Battalion Infantry with the 1st Marine Regiment 1st Marine Division as a radio operator.

"[Being in the Marines] was such a good experience. It was a way of living and thinking that's embedded deep in your heart," he said. "The Marine Corps' whole existence is about duty, honor and commitment, and that's what being a chaplain is about."

Once he left the Marines in 1987, he joined the Air Force Reserve.

"The Marine Corps had a Reserve unit where I was living, but so did the Air Force, and I thought 'hey why not try another service and see what it's like,'" he said.

He gave the Air Force a try and worked in radio communications. He did this until he was offered a fitting opportunity as a Combat Arms Training and Maintenance instructor.

"It [CATM] was a perfect fit for me because at that point," said the chaplain who played with cap guns and hunted with his father as a child, "I was a deputy sheriff and had a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, which is odd for a chaplain because most have a religious degree, but I had a different path."

This path did not lead him to becoming a chaplain in the Air Force quite yet. He put his hands to use on radios once again, but this time in the Army.

He spent 11 months with the South Carolina Army National Guard to finish his third enlistment. He went green to spend more time with his family.

"I was working at CATM for two years, and that was three hours away, which was straining," he said. "But, an Army National Guard unit was in the same town I was in, so they let me switch over to that unit."

While crossing to the green brought him closer to home, it was a little too close for comfort.

"As the county sheriff, I had put a lot of people in jail," he said. "During the first drill meeting, I started looking around at everyone and noticed, 'Wow, I've put him in jail, and I have a warrant for him. I should call a patrol car right now."

He never called the patrol car, and after getting out of the Army, he also took a different direction in his civilian career. Rather than putting people into jail, he stopped them from going in the first place as a religious drug and alcohol counselor at a homeless shelter.

Joyner did this while he went to school to become a pastor.

"I had actually just started my new job in my last semester," he said of his job as a drug and alcohol counselor; a job he loved. "I had a real desire to help people [who were] controlled by drugs and alcohol. I worked there for two years before returning to active duty."

His last semester ended shortly after terrorists attacked America Sept. 11, 2001. That's when he quit the job he loved to serve the country he loves.

"When the towers fell, I had two thoughts," said the chaplain, who keeps a photo of his hero, his father, hanging over his desk to remind him of the man he strives to be. "One was, 'not on my watch' and the second was 'if I can serve again, I'll go where nobody else wants to go and do my job and do my duty to encourage others to do their duty.'"

As a chaplain with the 52nd FW here, he is fulfilling these obligations and the jobs he's held before this are continuing to help him every step of the way.

"With my background, I've been called to diffuse a lot of situations," Joyner said. "To work as a chaplain we have to be able to do that. Our role is to do things that nobody is really aware of for the benefit of our people and our country."

While not everyone is aware of the work chaplains do, a chaplain assistant here sees the effects of Joyner's work.

"A lot of people request to speak with him specifically," said Tech. Sgt. Douglas Withim, 52nd FW chaplain assistant. "He's got a real great knack for relating to Airmen."

This knack also comes out with the Airmen he works with.

"He is an absolute pleasure to work with," Withim said. "It would be an honor to deploy with him. He's the kind of guy that would have my back."

While Joyner's work and deployments do not involve shooting weapons, arresting criminals or chasing relapsed drug addicts anymore, he is using those experiences to do what he has always done--serve.

"I'm not in the infantry anymore, but serving in this capacity is quite an honor," Joyner said.