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Tuesday, May 07 2013 12:00 AM

Tehachapi priest serves God and country

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Father Wes Clare of St. Jude's In the Mountains Anglican Church also serves as chaplain for the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard in Fresno. Major General David S. Baldwin, The Adjutant General of the California Military Department recently appointed Lt. Colonel Clare to the position of chaplain in charge of all the Chaplain Corps in the California National Guard and the State Military Reserve on April 5. Photo by Matthew Martz/Tehachapi News

Ever since Father Wes Clare was in third grade, he was the kind of person that people came to when they needed help.

And today, the one-time Air Force combatant and two-time war veteran said he has gone from introducing people to God one way, to introducing people to God another way.

As the current priest at St. Jude's In the Mountains Anglican Church, Lt. Colonel Clare also serves as chaplain for the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard in Fresno, where he will now play a much larger role as the chaplain in charge of all the Chaplain Corps in the California National Guard and the State Military Reserve.

Major General David S. Baldwin, The Adjutant General of the California Military Department appointed Clare to the position on April 5.

And while many of the elements of pastoral care for the 23,000 souls of the California National Guard are similar to the rudiments of shepherding his congregation in Tehachapi, Clare said the problems and issues that the men and women of the Armed Services face, can sometimes be much more complex and intense.

From haunting memories of combat to the mental images of watching their comrades fall, to burned out marriages and those contemplating suicide, Clare spends hours making sure America's warriors understand that the stress of combat is something that is part of them and their story, but is not defining.

Speaking from his personal experiences, he shares his own stories of combat, but in contrast said he has no regrets -- just resilience.

It's that way of thinking that Clare tries to instill in the soldiers he counsels and comforts.

"If our warriors that go through the trauma of war can find the resilience and the recognition that God had used them," he said. "There is a blessing even through the pain and suffering of combat."

Unlike the cadre of military hardware used in a regular theatre of war, Clare relies on spiritual weapons to fight a much different battle.

As a chaplain, he offers guidance, lends assistance in emergency situations, facilitates care, presides at funerals and provides counseling to help relieve stress and disorder to soldiers and their families.

However, in a time of national crisis, Clare would be deployed as any other soldier, but said his job would be no different.

"In combat you are protecting and looking out for your buddies who are depending on you to live," he said. "But in the Chaplain Corp. we still serve in the trenches, being there to help fellow warriors bear the wounds of the battlefield whether physically or in their hearts."

Growing up in Wenatchee, Wash., Clare was always interested in flying, but graduated in 1985 from Evergreen State College with a degree in Computer Science. However, on the same day, he was also commissioned as an Air Force officer going straight to flight school to become a navigator.

Raised Episcopalian, Clare said he always knew he had a calling to serve a higher authority.

"I would just be the guy that listened to show somebody cares," he sad. "And with my own spirituality I could help them with their own connection with God."

Nevertheless, after college Clare ran away from that role as long as he could.

It wasn't until his 1991, during his involvement in "Operation Desert Storm" in Iraq that an Air Force chaplain told him he should consider the ministry.

The following year, Clare heard God's voice loud and clear, hanging up his wings and attending Trinity School for Ministry in Pittsburgh.

Ordained in 1996, he eventually arrived at St. Jude's in Tehachapi in 2002, joining the California Air National Guard as a chaplain.

And while Clare said he is excited about his new position, it's an overwhelming responsibility.

"To be honest I was mildly terrified when I got the news," he said. "But I have a vision of our chaplain corp. being the most actively engaged, most highly trained clergy in the world. Being able to care for our warriors and for those our warriors care for as well."

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