A Calling to Serve
By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 08, 2011
June 8, 2011 -- A lengthy line of Oregon Air National Guard Airmen wait to receive communion or a blessing from Chaplain Richard Sirianni on May 15, 2011 at the Portland Air National Guard Base, Portland, Ore. The intimate World War II era chapel is nearly full to hear Sunday Mass during the unit training assembly weekend and share in Chaplain Sirianni's final homily before his retirement from the Air National Guard.
"This is a bitter-sweet day," said Col. Michael Bieniewicz, Vice-Wing Commander of the 142nd Fighter Wing. "Father Rick has touched every single one of us individually and as in a larger sense the entire Oregon National Guard."
His fascination with airplanes began at a young age as he could hear and see aircraft fly into the Air Base from his Mt. Tabor home. Yet it was not until his mid 30's that he found the calling to serve as a military chaplain. In October of 1987, Father Richard Sirianni joined the Oregon Air National Guard with the full support from the Archdioceses of Portland.
After an officer orientation course and Chaplain Service training he began serving as the 142nd Fighter Wing base priest. "The training I have received in my 23 years of military service has been outstanding and typically 100% applicable as to what I do as a parish priest too", said Sirianni.
The early training through these two schools allowed Father Sirianni to deploy and from December of 2003 to April of 2004 he served as the staff Chaplain for 1st Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. "I turned down the job twice because I was afraid that I was not ready," Sirianni said. Eventually it was 142nd Fighter Wing commander Bradley Applegate who finally convinced Lt. Col. Sirianni he "needed to get out of his comfort zone" and take the deployment.
Building on this first deployment, it was three subsequent deployments to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where Sirianni found he could draw upon his years both as a parish priest and a military Chaplain. "The first few times in Landstuhl I worked mainly in the intensive care unit and found that fascinating."
In 2004 Father Sirianni found himself again in the ICU after the Battle of Fallujah, where almost all of the U.S. causalities were Marines. "It happened to be that most of those Marines were Catholic and I worked with their families coming to Germany," said Sirianni.
For his last deployment to Landstuhl in 2008, Sirianni requested to work in the Psychiatric Department primarily with military members suffering from post traumatic stress and depression. "I chose it specially to work more as a counselor and because I knew that the skills I learned would be helpful to the Airmen back home here."
As the former 142nd Fighter Wing Commander and now Commander at 1st Air Force, Major Gen. Garry Dean paid tribute to Chaplain Sirianni at his retirement ceremony also held on May 15 at the Portland Air Base. "He has been a mentor to me personally but a cushion and support to all the Airmen in the Guard, as we have gone from a strategic reserve to operations around the globe."
Even as Sirianni plans his retirement, he has committed to continuing service in the Oregon National Guard, helping members suffering from the stress of deployments to the everyday issues that come with being a citizen Airman.
"The Air Force has just given me too much to take that part away; I still feel that need to help those that serve."