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Chaplain praised during deployment to UAE

Lt. Col. Tom Curry, a Kentucky Air Guard chaplain, served for nearly 70 days at
Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, operating out of the Seven Sands Chapel. (Photo courtesy Lt. Col. Tom Curry)

Lt. Col. Tom Curry, a Kentucky Air Guard chaplain, served for nearly 70 days at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, operating out of the Seven Sands Chapel. (Photo courtesy Lt. Col. Tom Curry)

AL DHAFRA, United Arab Emirates -- It may have been his first deployment to Southwest Asia, but Lt. Col. Tom Curry's
outstanding performance made the mission seem like old hat.

During a 67-day deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, the Kentucky
Air Guard's top chaplain earned accolades from seemingly everyone in his chain of command -- including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who presented Colonel Curry with a pentagonal coin of excellence.

The chaplain also received glowing reviews from the commander of the 380th Air
Expeditionary Wing, to which he was assigned, for being an inspirational communicator
during protestant worship services that reached 975 Airmen.

The commander further praised Colonel Curry for initiating a program to personally visit every Airman assigned to the 380th on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.

The visits were well received, in part because of the high operation tempo at the 380th, which provides tanker and reconnaissance services in support of operations Iraqi
Freedom, Enduring Freedom and Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.

But the one task Colonel Curry enjoyed the most, he said, was his effort to rejuvenate
the praise band, which lost its leadership when previous members completed their Air Expeditionary Force cycles and returned home.

Within days of arriving, Colonel Curry assembled enough members to field two
praise bands -- one for day-shift churchgoers and another for night-shift worshipers.
"Everyone pitched in and made a joyful noise," he recalled. 

One of the bands even performed for Gen. Buck Buchanan, commander of US CENTAF, who lauded Colonel Curry's work. 

"General Buchanan was only scheduled for a 10-minute visit, but we sang 'I'll Fly Away,' which is an old Southern gospel song, and he just loved it," Colonel Curry said. "He ended up staying a half-hour." 

The chaplain described his desert deployment as "one of the most rewarding experiences of my life." 

"I got to be around some of the most inspiring people -- people who really wanted
to be there, doing that mission. And it was a Total Force operation, with Airmen from
the active duty, Guard and Reserve forces. Everyone had something of value to contribute." 

Now that he's home, Colonel Curry will resume dividing his attention between the
Airmen of the Kentucky Air National Guard and his civilian congregation at Louisville's
Parkland Baptist Church, where he is pastor. 

During his deployment to Al Dhafra, those civilian churchgoers kept Colonel Curry well-stocked with cookies, cakes and fudge to pass out among the Airmen of the 380th -- a circumstance that made him something of a popular Santa Claus around base. 

Colonel Curry returned the favor by making a weekly "morale call" home to his church. 

The call was patched through to his church's public address system, giving him the opportunity to begin each Sunday morning service back home in Louisville before
turning the reins over to an assistant pastor. 

"I would call the church, and our sound technician would plug me in to the sound
system right there during the service," Colonel Curry said. 

"I'd begin by saying, 'Hello, Louisville!' and I could hear the congregation hollering back over the phone. 

"I also would send them pictures each week showing where I was, and those would
be put up while I was talking. 

"It just got to be a real hoot. It kept a connection between us that generated enthusiasm
and boosted morale."