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
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.
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
Zygadlo said he did not fully understand
the limitations to his freedom until he immigrated to the
“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.”
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.”
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
By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
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Chaplain Father Mitch - An Unshakable Faith