Share this article

print logo


The Rev. John Gaglione delivers desserts in the desert.

He serves as chaplain to the 914th Tactical Airlift Group, and he gives out the weekly ice cream treat in the afternoon heat.

"You can't sit in the chapel and wait for people to come to you," he said. "The ice cream was something started by the temporary chaplains who were here the first 30 days, and we inherited it."

On the flight lines, in the hangars and at security checkpoints here, Father Gaglione uses dry ice to keep the ice cream cold and a warm smile to help keep tempers cool.

"It gives you a chance to talk to them and get to know them," he said, "and at the same time, you are giving them something."

The Diocese of Buffalo's director of priest personnel when he wears a Roman collar, Father Gaglione wears camouflage fatigues and captain's bars as the Catholic chaplain here. With the Rev. Ron Nuckles of the Church of Christ serving as the Protestant pastor, he runs a discreetly marked tent church in one corner of the Air Force compound here.

In the middle of a tense Islamic world, he noted, "we do try and keep a low profile."

But in this tent and shack city built on sand, Father Gaglione looks for silver linings.

"The desert experience, it really fits into the Advent theme," he said. "We talk about it at Mass every week."

In this land of gold, frankincense and myrrh, though, Christmas also will remind the men and women stationed here of families left 9,000 miles away.

This week, morale took another dip as the reservists of the 914th started getting letters from Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y.

Just after the unit's return home was postponed from New Year's until spring, "a lot of us wrote to our congressmen, in the belief we were being abused," said Master Sgt. Gerald Schoenle, a Buffalo police lieutenant at the Genesee Station.

While the stalemate in the sand drags on, they wanted to know why the four activated cargo-air-plane units couldn't be replaced by some of the units still in the States.

"The bottom line is, nobody's complaining about being here to do a job," said Tech Sgt. Allen Wanderlich. "It's the 90-day extension that hurt everyone."

"The reserve is used to rotating. We weren't given much notice, and we were told we'd be gone only for 90 days unless a war broke out.

"Since there's no war going on, we just can't find a satisfactory answer. But we're in the reserves, and we're honoring our commitment. There wasn't any question about that."

D'Amato's response noted his disappointment in the letter-writing and promoted his efforts to get replacements for some of the unit's aging aircraft. Reservists here didn't expect their congressmen to do anything, but they took the snub with dismay.

"I've read the letter," Father Gaglione said. "My own feeling is that he misconstrued the message that the men were trying to send him. And I think he was insensitive."

The supply transport wing here -- a mix of regular Air Force, reserve and National Guard personnel -- takes pride in its record for flights and maintenance, tops among all the C-130 Hercules units.

Their commander said everyone, including those who gripe the loudest, is "doing the job fantastically."

"All the money they've spent training us, it's time to give that back and do what we've been trained to do," said Col. Paul R. Cooper, who heads the 914th and is vice commander of the combined airlift wing stationed here.

To Father Gaglione, who delivers solace with ice cream, it's all in a day's work:

"The most challenging part of my job is trying to keep my morale up, as well as everybody else's."

"The low point came when we got extended. People are worried about their jobs back home, and family problems, but now things are started to level off. Even when things were down, though, everybody still did their job."

As for delivering ice cream in the desert -- well, the Wise Men may have had it easier with the frankincense and myrrh.

"There are some days," Father Gaglione concedes, "when it tends to melt a little."

There are no comments - be the first to comment