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Chaplain stands dedicated to spreading word of God

By Cpl. Kevin Paul | | September 25, 2003

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As a Navy chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Koester has a profession that has put him in places that would test any man. But Koester has always pulled through every situation because of his faith and belief that he is in the right place at the right time, thus fulfilling his mission in life: spreading the word of God.

During his 13 years of service, Koester weathered Desert Storm in the early '90s, worked several hundred yards from 4,000 Cubans trained to kill him at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and presided over more than 600 funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

"I thank God for bringing me (to the Navy)," Koester said. "This is where I was meant to be."

As is the life of a military chaplain, God has a tendency to move them to wherever they are needed.

About a week after reporting to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Koester was aboard a plane headed for Yuma to serve chaplain duties for the more than 1,000 Marines deployed with MAG-14 to participate in Exercise Striking Hawk '03.

"This is what the ministry is about," he said. "I'm used to moving about. And I've had an absolutely wonderful ministry since joining the Navy."

Koester grew up in Tonawanda, N.Y. He said the call to serve God came at an early age.

"I found the need and desire to be with people and try to reach out in ways to help them as early as the second grade," he said. "I had the desire to minister and reach out to the world."

After graduating high school his faith was a little shaky, so Koester realized he was not quite ready to become one of Jehovah's soldiers.

"I applied three different times to my seminary, but each time I got cold feet and backed out," said Koester.

After a year-long sabbatical, Koester mustered up the courage to attend a seminary.

Years later, he was ordained by the Archdiocese of Buffalo, N.Y., as a Catholic priest.

In the following years, Koester worked throughout several parishes in upstate New York, but he soon sought a change of scenery.

"I thought there might be a possibility of doing something different, so I asked about working with young people and was told the military might be a good place for that," he said. "Initially, I was told it might not be a good idea."

However, three years later, the opportunity would present itself again.

"By that point, I had changed my mind and said there's no way in God's creation I want to go into the military," he said.

Kneeling in a chapel, he decided to seek advice from the Lord.

"God, You've got a wild sense of humor," he whispered in prayer. "This is the last thing I want to do right now, but if You think it's best, I'll consider doing it."

Koester was commissioned by the Navy in May of 1990.

For his first assignment, Koester was assigned to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejuene, N.C.

Still in a state of shock, Koester said he became gripped by fear and panic for his life.

"I found out I was going to be with Marines and said, 'Oh my goodness, this is absolutely absurd," he said. "I walked in thinking Marines were war-mongering maniacs."

A month after reporting to his command, Koester was called into the battalion commander's office. The commander told him to start packing his gear Ñ Koester's battalion would be part of a larger group on its way to relieve the 1st Force Service Support Group in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm.

During Desert Storm, Koester spent his time traveling around the desert ministering to Marines.

War is dangerous, regardless of whether you travel in the front or in the rear with gear, said Koester, who earned a combat action ribbon there.

"It was dangerous," he added. "We were told to expect a 50 percent mortality rate. I may wear a combat action ribbon, but I've never carried a weapon, so as you can guess, I've been fired upon, but never fired back."

While in the desert, the wind blowing harshly and danger all around, Koester, who was still unsure if war and being around Marines was the place for him, experienced a moment of clarity within the chaos, which led to the reaffirmation of his faith and God's wisdom.

"I just knelt down and thanked God," said Koester. "I realize at that point in time that everything which happened in my life had brought me to this point Ñ doing God's work and reaching out and helping these young men who defend our country."

Koester had spent nine out of the 13 years he has been in the Navy around Marines.

"I've walked away realizing Marines are the most compassionate people in the world," he added. "I'll take an assignment with them anytime I can."

Koester was a hard man to find in his office during the time MAG-14 was in Yuma, which consisted of a box, phone and laptop in a hallway in Bldg. 200. He was either ministering, meeting and chatting with Marines up and down the flight line or driving to El Centro to be with MAG-14 Marines located there. 

"I talk to him everyday," said Cpl. Chris Feraci, administrative clerk at MAG-14 communications. "He cares very much for troop welfare."

Koester said he does not know what the future holds, but God willing, he can foresee completing a 20-year tour in the Navy.

"I have been selected for commander," he said. "I take that as a sign the Chaplain Corps is willing to keep me and wants me around to spread the word of the Lord."

Koester departed with MAG-14 Sept. 19 after the conclusion of Exercise Striking Hawk '03.

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