From Vietnam to Iraq--chaplain retires after distinguished career

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Williams
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A career that spanned four decades, two wars, numerous deployments and resulted in changed lives of military members across the globe, will ended when Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Charles Perry, 934th Airlift Wing senior wing chaplain, retired May 4. 

Chaplain Perry entered basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas in January 1969 and was assigned as an F-100 aircraft crew chief at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., until his deployment to the 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Phan Rang Air Base, Vietnam in June 1970 where he was promoted to Sergeant. Having been Airman of the Month, Safety Man of the Month and Crew Chief of the Month, he was nominated for Airman of the Year for Pacific Air Forces. 

Upon returning from Vietnam in June 1971, Sergeant Perry was assigned to Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., where he set up an aircraft records section for the first A-7D Corsairs delivered to the Air Force. 

"I worked hard and it paid off," Chaplain Perry said. "I had a tough childhood and wanted to feel like I was somebody. When I joined the Air Force, for once in my life I felt accepted and had a chance to feel like I had value. The Air Force rewards you for your performance. I was performance orientated and I thrived on that."
His first Air Force career ended when his enlistment expired in January 1973 after four years of active duty. 

"I got out thinking life would be even better on the outside, but found it not to be so. After a little over six months, I tried to get back on active duty, but couldn't get back in, because I had passed the six month time period allowed to re-enter. I was told that I could go into the guard or the reserve but was not interested at that time."
As a civilian, he managed a baseball batting cage in Coney Island, N.Y., worked on the Alaska pipeline and worked as an electrician in Alaska. In 1978, while living in Alaska, a head-on collision with a pickup truck dramatically helped turn his life around.
"Standing on the highway that day, I promised God that I would go to church the next time I was asked," Chaplain Perry said. "A few weeks later, I was invited to the North Kenia Assembly of God church. The pastor preached on how God could change my life and I could have a new start." 

"Nearly all of my life, I felt lonely and unloved; like there was something wrong with me" he continued. "Growing up, I felt empty inside and hurting. I knew that I needed what this pastor was offering. I gave God control of my life and asked him to change me. After I did that, I knew I was a new man and would never be the same again."
That decision eventually led to the ministry, and a return to the military as a chaplain. After earning bachelor's degrees in Christian education and bible from Northwest Bible College in Minot, N.D., he earned his Master's of Divinity from the School of Theology in Cleveland, Tenn. 

"I needed to go back into the military," he said. "I remembered how messed up I had been and also knew there were others as messed up as I was. I wanted to help. That was 30 years ago, April 1978."
He reentered the military as an Army Reserve chaplain in 1988 and transferred to the 934th Airlift Wing in September 1995.
He was at Wing Chaplain School at Maxwell AFB, Miss., on Sept. 11, 2001 when he received word of the attacks at the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
"We were on a retreat. Our instructor told us to spend time in the rose garden with God. When they rang the bell, we were to return to the building and share our reflections together," he said. 

"We were out only a short time when the bell rang. It was then when they told us what happened. I was the only one there who wept when I heard the news that so many lives were lost."
He finished the course the following week and returned home. The Ravens from the Security Forces Squadron were called up at the same time and Chaplain Perry was asked to report to the unit to offer them support. 

"I told Col. Mark Arnold, 'Anywhere you want me and at any time, just call. I'll be there,'" the chaplain said. "Shortly after, Col. Gary Cook, our wing commander, put me on orders to support the activated troops."
He was on orders for two years and created a program that delivered coffee and doughnuts to the activated security forces. Arriving early in the morning, he tried to visit the troops on the perimeter before and after the shift change, and counseled Airmen on an as-need basis. 

Chaplain Perry deployed to St. Kitt's in the West Indies in Spring 2003 to help build a clinic and daycare facility. While there, he discovered an orphanage needed cleaning and repair. Working with the Red Horse squadron he was assigned to, he organized volunteers to make the much needed repairs do the cleaning.
In September 2003, he was sent to Masirah Island, Oman, to visit deployed Wing members.
"Being with the guys over there was great," he said. "I met with the troops and brought two cases of Bibles to chapel at the chaplain's request. I got a chance to help cook brats and hamburgers during the barbeque we had. It was a very memorable experience."
Hungering for more, he volunteered for a 90-day tour at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. 

"At Diego Garcia, there were so many needs. There were divorces and family member deaths that I had to deal with. It was a great experience, but I knew I had to do more. I had to request another deployment."
In 2005 and 2006, he spent two tours at Ali Base, Iraq spending time with the deployed Airmen, baptizing over 60 of them who gave their lives to Christ. Even his group commander and the Presidential Airlift Command commander said their lives would never be the same as a result of his ministry there.
"I got attached to a lot of people over there. To see the lives turned around over there is just really incredible. There were so many lives that had been changed. It's wonderful and I thank God for the opportunity." 

He has mixed feelings regarding his upcoming retirement. "My career has been like running a marathon and I can now see the finish line. That part feels good," the chaplain said. "When I see how far I have come and how much God has done in people's lives, it hurts to think about leaving. In a way, I don't want it to end. I am so grateful to God for calling me to be a military chaplain and using me like he has."
Asked whether he was ready for retirement, he said, "I'm going to miss it a lot, but I'm ready to move on to the next phase of life with the veterans at the Vet's Home where I work. I'm ready to call it quits." 

"When I look back on my life, this will always be the most significant part of it. I love our troops and it's been great to be here at the 934th Airlift Wing. I've seen lives changed here and I will always remember where I came from," he concluded.