By Rick Wolcott*
“I, Luigi Perez Perez, having been appointed a chaplain first lieutenant in the United States Air Force, do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the office in which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
On Sunday, October 18, the Rev. Luigi Perez stood in front of the chaplain display at the MAPS Air Museum in Green and took the oath of office, becoming a chaplain first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. The oath was administered by the Rev. Les Peine, who retired in 1995 as a chaplain lieutenant colonel after serving 28 years in active duty in the Air Force.
The two pastors met each other at the East Ohio Conference Clergy Executive Session at Ashland University in June 2019 when Perez joined colleagues at a table where Peine was already seated. During group conversation, Perez learned that Peine had served as a military chaplain, which created an opening for a nearly two-hour conversation later that day about his shared interest in the Air Force.
“That was a God thing. This whole large room. He could have sat at any table, but he sat there at the table with me,” Peine recalled. “When he said he was interested in the chaplaincy I thought, ‘you’d make a great chaplain.’ I saw a man of quality and character and a man of faith, and that’s what they need in the military. We serve country but we serve God; God and country both.”
“I am very fortunate to be able to do this to serve God and country especially in a country that has welcomed me and my family and has given me the freedoms that I never imagined having before. It’s a true blessing and I can’t wait to serve and give back to this great nation,” said Perez, who made a harrowing escape from Cuba and came to the United States in 2008.
“It’s been a long journey, but God has been at the center of it working in many ways since the beginning,” shared Yusdenis Perez, who smiled as her husband took the oath of office in front of her, their three sons, his parents, and his brother and sister-in-law. “We have had good support from Les, The United Methodist Church, the East Ohio Conference and Bishop Malone. We are grateful for everything that she does. It’s going to be great. Wherever you go if you go with God everything’s going to work well.”
The day began with Perez leading his last service at LaPorte United Methodist (Firelands District) in Elyria.
“His call to be a chaplain is good, very few are chosen. We are sad to see him go but we understand why,” said Carl Smith, chair of the LaPorte UMC administrative council. “He’ll be good. He has knowledge and wisdom and heart that he puts out there for everybody. He’s a good guy.”
Having passed his background check and been cleared medically by the Air Force, being sworn in by another Air Force chaplain was the last step in the process for Perez, who had already been approved by the East Ohio Conference board of ministry and the division of chaplains at the Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church.
He will spend the next two months in officer training school at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama before beginning his work as a chaplain at Joint Base Andrews in Washington, D.C.
“He’ll be part of a chaplain program much like a church but a bigger part of it is a lot of counseling, visitation to the entire base community, and possibly deployment because we don’t know what the future holds,” Peine shared.
Perez said that being sworn in as an Air Force chaplain first lieutenant means a lot to him.
“It means that I am embraced by a nation that has already welcomed me but has given me an opportunity to give back in a way that I never expected before and never dreamed of until I met Chaplain Les Peine. It means that I can serve people beyond the local church and following in my Wesleyan roots I feel that this day is just the threshold for me to make the world my parish.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.