Friends, family and colleagues gathered at St. Jude's in the Mountains Anglican Church Sunday afternoon to honor the commitment and dedication of Col. Wesley J. Clare, a chaplain who retired from the Air Force in February after 34 years of service.
Although the ceremony for Clare was postponed until last weekend due to coronavirus, the celebration was just as heartfelt and joyous for the man known by many in the community as Father Clare.
"This is strictly a military retirement, but I will continue serving as a priest at St. Jude's Church," said Clare, who has been with the church since 2002.
An impressive bio
Clare was first commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force through ROTC. In 1986, he became a navigator and electronic warfare officer. He served nuclear alert duty with Strategic Air Command and flew 25 combat missions for Operation Desert Storm in the B-52G with 129 combat hours. He concluded his flying career as the wing electronic warfare officer and a tactics instructor for the 379th Bombardment Wing, Wurtsmith AFB, Mich., in 1992, to attend seminary and began service as a priest in the Anglican Communion.
In 2002, Clare arrived in Tehachapi with his wife, Wendy, and four children, Stephanie, who they call their "ceasefire baby" because she was born during the ceasefire; Warren, who they call their "seminary baby" because he was born a week after Clare graduated from seminary school; and Hannah and Erin, their two "Wyoming babies" after the state of their birth.
He received his commission as a chaplain, first serving the 119th Fighter Wing in the North Dakota Air National Guard. In 2005, he began his service with the California Air National Guard as a chaplain for the 144th Fighter Wing.
That same year, he deployed as the chaplain for the 1/144th Field Artillery Battalion, supporting relief efforts from Hurricane Katrina, as one of the first joint operational deployments of ANG chaplains to support ARNG operations. In 2007, he served two tours as a battalion level chaplain for JTF San Diego and JTF El Centro for Operation Jump Start.
Clare became the wing chaplain of the 144th Fighter Wing in 2008, and that same year was trained as the primary chaplain for the California CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package. In 2009, he deployed to serve the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Joint Base Balad for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Clare served as the CA JFHQ chaplain from April 2013 until his retirement in February, and served US Northern Command from May 2015 to August 2018.
During his years of service, Clare served as Joint Forces Headquarters chaplain for the California National Guard from 2013 to 2020. He was also the Air National Guard Assistant to the command chaplain of NORAD/US Northern Command from 2015 to 2018.
As the California JFHQ chaplain, he managed the readiness and operations of the Chaplain Corps for the Army National Guard, Air National Guard and State Military Reserve for the California Military Department.
"As the state chaplain, I was responsible for the training for the largest in the nation for over 120 people," said Clare.
Clare's educational achievements include a bachelor of science degree in computer science ,which he earned in 1985 from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. He then went on to earn his master of divinity from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Penn., in 1995.
Clare received numerous decorations during his career, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters and the Army Commendation Medal, among other awards. He is also an Eagle Scout.
His military education includes Squadron Officer School (2004), Air Command and Staff College (2009), and Air War College (2013). He has also had extensive training in HAZMAT operations and mass casualty disaster operations, serving as cadre for Homeland Response Force (HRF) training and CERFP training for the Air National Guard.
A most rewarding career
Asked what he would miss most about his service, Clare said, "The people. Especially the fellow chaplains that I have enjoyed working with and some of the commanders that I got to know. They are amazing folks to work with."
He said the most joyous part about serving his community as a chaplain was rescuing marriages.
"Some of the men in Iraq got served while they were there," Clare said. "We were able to save almost all of those marriages. I helped them to reconnect."
Other than saving marriages, Clare said he spent time preventing suicides.
Said Clare, "The most rewarding part is that we do intervene more than anyone else."
Asked how if feels to pass the baton to his successors, Clare said, "Relief, in a way. I feel like we built the most successful mass casualty disaster team in the nation. The fact that I was a part of that was a very gratifying feeling."
A fond farewell
Sunday's retirement ceremony began with an invocation delivered by Chaplain Army Major Saul Castillo.
“We're here today to honor a man who answered God’s call to serving military service members in our state and this country," said Castillo.
Several other people shared words about Clare during the retirement ceremony, including his daughter, Hannah Clare.
“We are so proud of you, dad. Thank you for all you do, and for following God’s lifetime plan for you,” Hannah Clare told her father.
During the ceremony, Army Master Sgt. Desmond Knight presented Clare with a Friendship Award.
“A true friend walks in when others step out. You have always been that kind of man,” Knight told Clare.
Wendy Clare was also presented with a certificate of appreciation in honor of her partnership with her husband throughout his military career.
"One of the things that worked in our favor, aside from the fact that we both have a very strong faith, was that was the foundation of our relationship. I always knew that I belonged to God first and him second, which was fine," said Wendy.
Due to his service obligations, Wendy said most of her marriage with Wes was long distance.
"I really think God was preparing us," Wendy said. "Of course I missed him, but I knew that he was born for that purpose. One of my main callings as a military wife was to support him."
No moss will grow under this man of perpetual motion during his retirement. Although he and Wendy say they will look forward to staying home more, they plan to remain active in the church they love.