Chaplain in Iraq
Wears Two Hats
by Gord Wilson

AFSC stands for Air Force Specialty Code. Like an Army MOS, it signifies an
airman's job specialty. Lt. Col Gerald McManus' specialty code is 52R3: Chaplain. For deployment purposes, he is also coded as a C3 which identifies him as a Catholic Chaplain. He serves as Wing Chaplain at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, and is presently deployed as Group Chaplain for the 506th Air Expeditionary Group at Freedom Air Base, Kirkuk, Iraq.

Q: How did you become involved in the chaplaincy?

A: I was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia 25 years ago. During the first thirteen years of my priesthood, I served in three different parish assignments in the Archidocese.  During the last ten of those years, beginning in 1982, I was also serving as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve...putting on the uniform and serving at nearby Air Bases. In 1992, Cardinal Bevilacqua, former Archbishop of Philadelphia, gave me permission to enter the active duty Air Force.  Since then I've been a full-time, active duty Air Force Chaplain.

Q: What do you see as your mission in Iraq?

A: We're here to assist the Coalition Forces in the rebuilding of Iraq, to help build hospitals and schools, protect them and help them get back on their feet after the last regime. But I don't see my role here as political.  I am here to support the spiritual health of our military members.

Q: What is your role as a chaplain?

A: It's a dual role. As a Catholic priest I minister to the Catholic community, which includes Army and Air Force members, civilian contractors and third country nationals working in Iraq, many of them from India and the Philippines. But for all chaplains, our ministry goes beyond denominational lines. The purpose of the chaplaincy is to provide for free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. As a chaplain, my responsibility is to provide for all Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and other faith groups. It's a rewarding challenge to have first hand experience with members of other faith groups and to minister to them.

Q: The military often advertises for chaplains in religious publications. Is there a shortage of Catholic chaplains?

A: Vocations are a critical issue in our country across the board. The Archdiocese for the Military Services does not train or ordain its own priests. It relies on the generosity of diocesan bishops to meet the requirements of the military services for priests in uniform. But the truth is that every diocese has members serving in the military. The bishops are recognizing that fact and allowing their priests to wear the uniform for a period of time. That could be on a part-time basis for chaplains in the Guard or Reserve, or full-time for the active duty Services.  The Military Archdiocese also supplies priest chaplains to meet the needs of the Veterans Administration.

Q: If someone is interested in the chaplaincy, what should they do?

A: Talk to your local priest or contact the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA in Washington D.C. at (202) 269-9100 or through their website at

Note: (For more information on the chaplaincy, contact a minister, rabbi or other clergy).

© copyright Gord Wilson, 2004.

Left: Airmen install fiber optic communications cable;
Center: Coalition Forces Flag Plaza, Qatar;
Right: Airmen install a manhole in Kirkuk, Iraq

Choir prepares for Protestant Chapel

SSgt Kellen Martini and airmen, Kirkuk, Iraq

The Water Palace, Baghdad, one of Sadam Hussein's numerous palaces

Palace interior view of the spiral staircase and chandelier

Palace interior courtyard and pool.

Sra Andy Hoar of the Ohio Air National Guard

The author in Iraq

(Click on photos for larger pictures).