Up, Up, and Away: Father Khoi Tran to serve as chaplain in U.S. Air Force

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

June 24, 2021

Fr. Khoi Tran in military uniform
Father Khoi Tran wearing his blue U.S. Air Force uniform (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

WICHITA FALLS — Father Khoi Tran never forgot where he came from. In fact, that’s the reason behind his upcoming step.

Next month, Fr. Tran will join the U.S. Air Force as a Catholic chaplain, and his assignment promises to be out of this world.

Fr. Tran came from Vietnam. His family immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Kansas with his extended paternal family when he was nine years old. 

Fr. Tran feels a debt of gratitude to his adopted country, and he intends to repay it.

He said, “I truly am very grateful for this country, what she has done for me and my family. I’ve always tried my best, ever since [we’ve been] here, to be a responsible and dutiful citizen, giving back what she has given us. To come from a communist country to a land of opportunity — I’m grateful for that.”

 

GETTING HIS WINGS

Looking back, Fr. Tran can see God “slowly closing and opening doors” to enable this vocation within a vocation. As a teen, he considered a military career and belonged to his high school’s U.S. Army JROTC program.

During his priestly formation, he felt a desire to minister to teens and young adults and “be a good example and walk with them” as they discover who they are and learn how to deal with injustice, hurts, and anger. 

In his current assignment with the Diocese of Fort Worth, Fr. Tran is a short drive to Sheppard Air Force Base. He worked with many base chaplains as they assisted each other in ministry, and one even suggested he would be a “great asset” for the Air Force.

Since 2015, Fr. Tran has served as the parochial administrator of St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Burkburnett, St. Paul Parish in Electra, and Christ the King Parish in Iowa Park. He estimates about 60 percent of his current parishioners have a connection to military service: active duty, reserve, retired, or dependent. In serving as their priest, he came to better understand the spiritual needs of those in the armed forces, including post-traumatic stress disorder, marriage difficulties, and personal problems.

For more than two years, Fr. Tran discerned whether God was calling him to become a military chaplain. Bishop Michael Olson was “very generous” with the discernment process and gave his approval, he said.

While he was praying and seeking God’s will, he was also losing weight to meet the physical requirements of military service. The priest changed his diet and took up running, and he has lost 95 pounds.

After he completed and passed the long application process assessing his physical, mental, pastoral, and professional aptitude, Fr. Tran fill out a form stating his first assignment’s geographic preference. He noted, “I am a Catholic priest with no dependents. I am willing to go to where I am needed the most, even outside of the U.S.”

His assignment astonished him — Vandenberg U.S. Space Force Base in California.

“It was way out of the picture, way out of what I expected. It must be providential, because that didn’t even cross my mind,” he said, reflecting on being assigned to the newest and smallest of the military branches.

 

SERVING THOSE WHO SERVE

At the end of June, Fr. Tran will take the Oath of Office and put on his uniform (blue for the Blessed Virgin Mary, he pointed out), and spend eight weeks in Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, before beginning his first assignment. 

As he prepares to join the U.S. Air Force, he prays, “If this is God’s will for me, that I do my best to be present to those who are in need. That I might be His instrument of love and peace to those who are oftentimes forgotten.”

Fr. Tran hopes to support the troops by helping with their spiritual needs. Service members may have visible physical injuries, but they may also bear spiritual wounds that are invisible, he explained.

Often, the remedy for spiritual injuries, according to Fr. Tran, is “to be able to talk and journey with them. At the end of the day, we can’t solve anyone’s problem. There’s only one Savior, and we are all His instruments. We’re just trying to be present, to listen, to care, and to say, ‘Hey, you are not alone.’ ”

The Diocese of Fort Worth has several priests who served in the military before answering God’s call to the priesthood. Might Fr. Tran inspire service members to consider a religious vocation?

He demurred, “My only desire is that I live as God calls me to be. I hope that perhaps with my example, people can see that the priesthood is a life worth living.

“It’s not just a career; it’s not just a job, but it’s truly a vocation of love. The only way that I am a priest right now is because I am in love with Christ, and I know that He loves me. I say ‘yes’ to Him even though it gets hard at times,” he concluded.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services has expressed a great need for Catholic chaplains. Slightly more than 200 Catholic priests are on active duty, and the armed services number 1.4 million active duty men and women.

Another priest from the Diocese of Fort Worth will also serve his country as a military chaplain. Newly ordained priest Jason Allan was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy last May, and he will see active duty after gaining pastoral experience in the diocese for several years.

Fr. Khoi Tran

WICHITA FALLS — Father Khoi Tran never forgot where he came from. In fact, that’s the reason behind his upcoming step.

Published (until 6/24/2040)
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