21st TSC chaplain helping Soldiers to better themselves
April 12, 2012
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- At first glance, he blends in well with a slightly rugged look, tall and fibrous, wearing airborne wings, an air assault badge and a ranger tab. He has a commanding voice and comes fully loaded with all the characteristics of a hard-core Soldier. Up close he emits welcoming, un-judgmental and kind qualities, and it doesn't take long to see that this Soldier is indeed a man of faith.
The youngest of seven children, Chaplain Lt. Col. Matthew P. Pawlikowski, the deputy command chaplain for the 21st Theater Sustainment Command in Kaiserslautern, Germany, realized his calling to the priesthood as a young boy, but he never imagined the spiritual path he decided to follow would take him on the adventure of his life.
"I grew up knowing the Lord, and early on I had indications that I was called to the priesthood," said Pawlikowski, a native of Secaucus, NJ. "When I was in high school I was looking at where to go for college, thinking of getting myself set up for seminary and really the only places that held interest for me were military academies."
Feeling confused about why he was drawn to the military instead of the priesthood, Pawlikowski turned to God for answers.
"I thought I was called to be a priest, and it seemed like the Lord was leading me into the military. So I prayed about it, and that's what I ended up doing," said Pawlikowski. "It seemed like that's what God wanted for me at the time."
Pawlikowski was commissioned as an infantry officer after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1986. Following his commission he spent six years in the infantry where he served in Korea, Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Bragg, N.C.
"A lot of times people ask me how did you end up becoming a priest when you were an infantry officer, and really I think the correct question is how did I end up becoming an infantry officer when I was already moving to become a priest," said the 48-year-old chaplain. "The answer to both questions is the same. I went where God led me."
With an infantry background, Pawlikowski learned things about the military that would later help him during his chaplaincy.
"Being in the infantry first, helped me in two different ways. One, as a chaplain having an infantry background it gives me some knowledge of the rest of the military outside the chaplaincy and that helps me to connect to people better," said Pawlikowski, who was one of four honor graduates in his ranger class. "As far as the hooah badges, the airborne wings and the ranger tab, that gets me a lot of credibility with Soldiers."
"But I think on a deeper level, God was using the Army to shape me as a man in a very fundamental way," added Pawlikowski. "Specifically in the development of physical and moral courage and toughness, which I think, are things a priest is supposed to have."
Following his time in the infantry, Pawlikowski spent eight years as a chaplain candidate, and it was not until July 2000 he officially became a military chaplain. As a chaplain, he has served in places such as Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Jackson, S.C., Egypt, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., West Point and Afghanistan.
Pawlikowski says he has many goals but his number one goal is to help Soldiers feel better about themselves mentally as well as spiritually.
"As I meet Soldiers, as I say mass for them, as I hear their confessions, even if they're not catholic, as I am dealing with them in any different way, I am always trying to help them become the best version of themselves. That's certainly my number one goal," Pawlikowski added.
From realizing his calling as a young boy, receiving a commission as an infantry officer and graduating ranger, jump and air assault school, to becoming an ordained catholic priest, this hard-core Soldier continues to follow his calling.
"I feel great when God uses me as an instrument to help Soldiers," said Pawlikowski. "That is how I see my life as a priest. I'm a tool, I'm just a wedge or chisel in the hand of God and anytime he decides to pick me up and use me I am delighted."