Through Airmen's Eyes: Priest, Chaplain, Airman

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Cacicia
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It is said you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but one Team Dover Airman has proven this old idiom incorrect.

When this Airman applied to join the Air Force, he was 43 years old, had a medical history that included torn anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees, and had a plethora of life experiences that had taken him all over the world. This is in stark contrast to average U.S. Air Force recruit, who is fresh out of high school, in peak physical condition and is leaving home for the first time.

Chaplain (Captain) Louis Mattina, 436th Airlift Wing chaplain, commonly known as "Father Lou," has served as a Roman Catholic priest for nearly 20 years. But serving as an Airman in the world's greatest Air Force is something a little new for him. Father Lou's mission as a Catholic chaplain is to not only serve Team Dover's Catholic community, but all of its Airmen. For this reason, his leadership has selected him to be highlighted for his successes in delivering spiritual resiliency to Team Dover's Airmen and their families.

"Chaplain Mattina was selected as a result of his outstanding pastoral care not only for the Catholic community, but for all of the wing's Airmen," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Dennis Saucier, 436th AW wing chaplain. "He has served for three months on two separate occasions to backfill for our deployed Catholic chaplain."

While growing up in Colonia, N.J., a suburb of New York City, Father Lou never planned on becoming a Catholic Priest, let alone a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, before making the decision to join the priesthood, he worked as a district office manager for a New Jersey State Assemblyman, and also had aspirations of pursuing a political career himself. But he was not able to find complete happiness in this. He wanted to continue to serve the community, but needed a different way. This is when he made the choice to become a priest.

Father Lou attended Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. from 1991 to 1995, after which he was ordained as a priest in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. His Bishop requested that he learn Spanish, in order to better serve the increasing Hispanic community of North Central New Jersey. Father Lou attended language schools in both New York and Mexico. After becoming fluent, he worked as a priest in Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Peru, and Costa Rica.

Not only does Father Lou conduct Hispanic ministries in his diocese, he also is involved heavily with hospital and prison ministries as well. When not serving at Dover AFB, he is in residency at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Piscataway, N.J.

Father Lou never really considered the military as an option until a fellow priest, who happened to be in the New Jersey Air National Guard, planted the seed of the idea.

"Ultimately, my decision was to serve," said Father Lou. "This led me to become a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force."

At the time Father Lou decided to join the Air Force, he was 43 years old and had a history of torn ACLs. Both of these factors would normally disqualify a hopeful recruit.

"There was such a need for priests that they were giving out waivers," said Father Lou. "There was a critical need for Catholic chaplains."

In 2010, Father Lou went through Officer Training School, commissioning into the U.S. Air Force, shortly after, he attended the Basic Chaplain Course.

Presently, Father Lou serves as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) Reservist attached to the 436th Airlift Wing chapel staff. He splits his time between working as a fulltime priest for his diocese in New Jersey and his Reservist responsibilities at Dover AFB. Currently, he is on a two-month tour filling in for Chaplain (Capt.) Son Nguyen, 436th AW HC Catholic chaplain, who is currently deployed.

An IMA is a special category of Reservist. It allows chaplains the flexibility to honor commitments to their civilian ministry. IMAs have the ability to serve in the U.S. and also overseas at active duty Air Force installations with a commitment of 12 inactive duty training days per year and one annual tour of 12 days.

Every weekend, Father Lou holds three Masses on base, with an average total attendance of 350 parishioners. Along with Staff Sgt. Victoria Camarillo, 436th AW HC chaplain assistant, he makes up a Religious Support Team that serves and engages with the professionals throughout the 436th Medical Group. He can also be found most Wednesday nights interacting with Airmen at the Eagle's Net Café Airmen Ministry Center. Furthermore, many others may recognize him for his activity with the summer sports camp put on by the chapel's Catholic parish.

"He loves what he does," said Debbie Suto, 436th AW HC Catholic pastoral associate. "It's a pleasure working with him and we are glad he is one of our Reserve chaplains."

Besides his work as a Catholic priest and as an Air Force officer, Father Lou is a passionate hockey fan, specifically the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League. He frequently attends Islanders games both in New York and on the road, especially games that pit them against their division rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Father Lou hopes to continue serving in the Air Force for as long as possible. He has aspirations in becoming a full-time active duty chaplain. He stated that he would love to be stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy in the future.

"My hope, God willing, is to serve until they throw me out," said Father Lou. "I'm hoping I can put in 20 years."