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AMC promotion culminates chaplain's dream

Lt. Col. Tom Curry, 123rd Airlift Wing Chaplain, recently accepted a position as an advisor to the Air Mobility Command Chaplain and will leave the Kentucky Air National Guard after 26 years to serve at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. D. Clare)

Lt. Col. Tom Curry, 123rd Airlift Wing chaplain, recently accepted a position as advisor to the Air Mobility Command chaplain and will leave the Kentucky Air National Guard after 26 years to serve at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. D. Clare)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When Tom Curry was a young man, his ambition was to be an Air Force pilot. But a spiritual calling at age 16 took precedence.

When he came to Louisville in 1984 to be a pastor at a local church, he met Lt. Col. Bob Williams, the former 123rd Tactical Fighter Wing chaplain, who saw a military future for the young man from Louisiana.

"Brig. Gen. John L. Smith put me in the front seat of an F-4 jet as part of the interview," recalled now-Lt. Col. Tom Curry of his initial interview with the former Kentucky Air Guard commander. "I realized then that God had brought together my childhood dream with his plan. I have lived both dreams ever since."

With 23 years of traditional military service under his belt -- most of which has been spent as wing chaplain here -- Colonel Curry's future will take a new turn now as he has been selected to advise the Air Mobility Command chaplain on Air National Guard issues.

"While we will certainly miss Colonel Curry's ready presence at the 123rd Airlift Wing, it's comforting to know that his talent for serving Airmen will find a wider audience," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kraus, the Kentucky National Guard's assistant adjutant general for Air. "I'm proud of him, grateful to have served closely with him and wish him the very best as he advances forward."

Wing leaders said the colonel has been a source of support for countless Kentucky Airmen through numerous deployments and natural disasters -- in good times and in the face of tragedy.

In February 1992, when an entire aircrew was killed in an aircraft mishap, the colonel was a source of strength for an organization in mourning. He presided over the base-wide memorial service honoring the five fallen Airmen.

"It was one of the saddest and most exhausting times in my ministry -- but it was also a defining moment," Colonel Curry recalled. "Chaplains are called upon to do their duty. We offer hope and comfort for all of our members and their families."

"In 2003, when we were getting ready to deploy (for Operation Iraqi Freedom), that man was all over the base," recalled retired Col. Mike Harden, a former wing commander.

"There was a lot of turmoil. We had a member commit suicide around that time, and he was instrumental in helping us deal with that.

"Without Tommy, things during that time would have been a lot different. He kept me advised. He exemplifies what a military chaplain should be. He's in touch with the morale of the wing, and he's a tremendous advisor."

In 2005, the chaplain deployed to Southwest Asia where he ministered to Airmen supporting the Global War on Terror. "War is not good," he recently recalled. "But (deploying) was one of the highlights of my career."

The colonel presided over the last memorial service of his tenure as wing chaplain in December, honoring Command Chief Master Sgt. Tommy Downs Jr.

According to Dave Rooney, wing family support coordinator, Chaplain Curry showed the breadth of his experience and leadership as preparations were made to honor the wing's senior enlisted advisor.

"He has a quiet calm about him that demands respect," Mr. Rooney said. "He was a refuge in the storm. He focused the group and reminded us of what was truly important -- to honor Chief Downs' life and ensure the family was receiving the care and support they needed emotionally and spiritually."

Though the chaplain will be missed, he leaves behind a legacy with the team he built and shaped.

"We have three of the best chaplains the Air National Guard has ever had ready to go here," Colonel Curry said. "They provide world-class ministry. They are as good as we've ever had in Kentucky."

A husband of 30 years and the father of two sons -- both of whom are ministers -- Colonel Curry's new position will now take him away from the civilian congregation he's served since moving to Kentucky.

The Air Mobility Command is headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., while his church -- Parkland Baptist -- is in Louisville.

"They have always been a very patriotic and supporting congregation," Colonel Curry said. "The word out on the street is that their pastor is going to be a full-bird colonel, and they're very proud of that."