RAF ALCONBURY, United Kingdom - A short crop of white, unruly hair betrayed his age, while a broad, almost mischievous, smile seemed to bring out the face of a young boy, born and raised in Poland.
He spoke in a melodic tone. His words heavily laden by an accent, undiminished by time spent in, and among, Americans.
“I was born 75 miles from Berlin,” said U.S. Air Force Chaplain, Maj. Mitchell Zygadlo. “Many times we went to East Germany. I didn't too much feel any oppression at that time, although we always felt the presence of communist Russia.”
U.S. Air Force chaplain, Maj. Mitchell Zygadlo, 501st Combat Support Wing Roman Catholic chaplain, delivers a sermon at the RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom, chapel, Dec. 8, 2015. Zygadlo said during times of difficulty, it is important for people to reach out and lean on others for support. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton)
Throughout his youth, Zygadlo said the political and military pressure from the Soviet Union was a constant, though not-always-felt, companion during these halcyon years. It wasn't until 1987, when he joined a Roman Catholic missionary seminary in Poznań, Poland, that he began to see the effects of living under a Communist regime.
“We started to know and realize that the fourth department of the secret police followed us,” Zygadlo said. “Each of us seminarians had a file. They wrote about us – what we said, what we did. I was not directly persecuted, but I felt the pressure.”
Zygadlo said he did not fully understand the limitations to his freedom until he immigrated to the United States.
“For me, when I came to the United States, it was most important to feel the freedom,” Zygadlo said, tapping his hand to his heart. “When I became a U.S. citizen I wanted to repay to Americans for everything they had done for us – especially the U.S. military.”
That repayment came in the form of service to his adopted country, when Zygadlo commissioned as an Air Force chaplain in 1998. His faith, instilled in him from a young age, spurred him to devote his life to the service of others.
“My parents gave me faith, which I think is the most important spiritual quality you can have to stay strong,” he said. “If you are strong spiritually then you can move the mountains and you can do everything.”
Zygadlo compared spiritual resiliency to maintaining physical fitness. If an Airman is physically weak, he or she will have difficulty passing the Air Force physical fitness test. However, he said, if an Airman is strong and trains his or her body, they will have no trouble passing the test. Zydaglo said he encourages everyone to train their faith.
“I tell people to practice their faith – whatever they believe,” he said. “For myself, the faith and spirituality are most important.”
Placing both hands on his heart in a gesture of affection, Zygadlo smiled again.
“This is my spirit,” he said, proudly. “If I am smiling, if I am giving something to other people, then this is my share of life and my faith.”
His grin seemed to stretch from ear to ear as an embodiment of a life enriched by faith. However, behind that radiant smile was a life also scarred by tragedy.
“The most difficult thing, for me as a priest, has been sharing bad news with others,” Zygadlo said, his smile fading. “Death notifications are very hard, especially with my own experience when I was young.”
By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article | Video > Chaplain Father Mitch - An Unshakable Faith