KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
For much of his 21 years of military service, Lt. Col. Ray Patrick Thompson, Wing Chaplain for the 403rd Wing, served the Keesler Air Force Base community, which he says allowed him to serve a more diverse group of people than if he were strictly a church pastor.
“In the military, you encounter people from all different faith backgrounds. You also run across people who have no church home,” he said. “If I were a pastor at a civilian church they would not come to me.”
Thompson’s approach to his chaplain duties sometimes inspired surprising reactions, he said.
“I once had a commander tell me because of ‘who I am,’ that I may turn off some ‘church folks,’” he said. “But that’s not my mission. I serve the folks that may never set foot inside a chapel.”
Col. Jennie R. Johnson, 403rd Wing commander, said she appreciates Thompson’s broad approach to spiritual support.
“He’s touched the lives of so many Team Keesler Airmen and their families. His impact made a tremendous difference throughout the 403rd Wing,” said Johnson.
However, the time for Reserve Citizen Airmen and their families to seek his guidance will soon draw to a close because Thompson retires July, 2, 2019.
The chaplain said he chose that date because it is his birthday, but the gift for him will be his long-term tenure in the 403rd Wing that was a solid foundation in his life.
“In the time I’ve been here, I’ve served in six different churches, along with responsibilities at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and a civilian job, but the 403rd Wing has been a constant for me,” he said.
When asked what appealed to him about being a chaplain, Thompson elaborated on a specific aspect of liberty that is a cornerstone to his military vocation.
“One of the core competencies of being a chaplain is to ensure that everyone has the right of free exercise of religion,” he said. “That’s probably what appealed to me more than anything else.”
According to his biography, Thompson joined the 403rd Wing after he earned his Master of Divinity from Emory University of Decatur, Georgia in 1994. He began his service at Keesler in 1998.
Thompson said he was a “back fill” for the Wing Chaplain. He served as a chaplain in the 403rd Wing from 2001 to 2005 until he was named the Wing Chaplain which was his final responsibility in the military.
He also served as the Yellow Ribbon representative, in which, he assisted Airmen preparing to head overseas. “The most enjoyable part of being the Yellow Ribbon representative (was that) it allowed me to work with deploying service members and their families,” he said.
In his own military career, Thompson had no deployments due to family situations and year-long commitments to serving civilian church congregations. “I have not deployed but yet I’ve always been here to serve those who do deploy. There’s a value in that,” he said.
However, there was a time when it seemed he would add the deployment experience to his military service, but there was an unexpected surprise.
“I got sick with cancer a few years back so then I couldn’t deploy,” Thompson said. Now he considers himself in good health “more or less for an old guy.”
Although his official retirement date is July 2, friends, family including his wife Patti, their daughters, grandchildren and Reserve Citizen Airmen gathered together to honor Thompson in a retirement ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, April 7th.
Col. Robert J. Stanton the 403rd Wing vice commander summarized Thompson’s professional and personal impact.
“Chaplain Thompson’s contributions to the 403d Wing have been tremendous. From his community ties, his years of experience, and dedication to Team Keesler Airmen, he will certainly be missed by many, myself included,” Stanton said.
Thompson reflected on what kind of legacy he hoped would be associated with his military career.
“I would want to be remembered as a chaplain who was open and wasn’t judging you because of who you are, where you come from, or what you believe,” he said.