A chaplain who answered “a calling, his calling, and the call to serve a greater good” has retired after 36 years.
Col. Jeffrey Laible officially retired in October, serving first in the Air Force Reserve, then the Air National Guard. He describes it as “a heavenly assignment.”
“The call to ministry is a calling from the Lord, a knowing that God was leading me in that direction,” he said.
That inner tug to serve America via military chaplaincy came when Laible was in graduate school. Recruiters from each branch gave presentations, and upperclassmen who were already part of the Air Force’s chaplain program spoke highly of it. Laible also had a father and uncle who were service members.
“I was intrigued by the idea of military chaplaincy,” Laible, a Peoria native, said. “Not every Catholic priest would be called to serve in the military, but it was a great blessing for me, and I believe I had the best job in the reserve and National Guard.”
Laible entered the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program in 1985, the same year the original Nintendo debuted. The average home cost less than $90,000, and the comic strip “Calvin & Hobbes” first graced newspapers. Yet, Laible says, one thing hasn’t changed since 1985: the human need for wise, empathetic counsel.
“Study after study shows that having a strong spiritual life is vitally important to our service members and their families,” he said. “If there’s some type of tragedy, chaplains are the first people who get called, because that’s what we’re there for.”
Laible commissioned into the Air Force Reserve in 1990 upon finishing seminary. After nine years, including stints at Scott AFB and Little Rock AFB, Laible wanted a career change. He said his peers had previously switched from the reserves to the National Guard and encouraged him to do the same. By 1999 he joined Illinois National Guard’s 183rd Wing.
Laible, 60, has traveled around the world helping military men and women discover and strengthen their faith.
“Some of the most memorable opportunities I have had were my deployments,” Laible said.
Five of his six overseas missions were to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, ministering to wounded service members returning from combat.
“To be present for our wounded warriors, to offer them the sacraments, anointing the sick, hearing confession — it was all a tremendous gift and one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had,” he said. “It was a very powerful part of my life.”
Laible also acted as a priest to his civilian congregation throughout his time in the military. Most recently, he served as the Air National Guard Assistant to the Command Chaplain, North American Aerospace Defense Command, and U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
It was quite the juggling act, but one that Laible performed excellently, according to Maj. Gen. Peter Nezamis, assistant adjutant general of the Illinois Air National Guard.
“Through his ministry and chaplaincy, he’s touched hundreds, if not thousands of lives,” Nezamis said in a news release.
At his retirement ceremony, Laible explained his decision to retire, citing “It’s my time now to open a new chapter in my life and make way for the next generation.”
However, he isn’t retiring from service completely. He was named Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA — a position that will allow him to stay connected to the military men and women he has grown to love so much. Laible adds that the habits of the past three decades will not fade quickly.
“The longer I was in, the more I sensed that this is where God wanted me to be,” Laible said. “I feel very blessed, and I’m very grateful I was able to stay in as long as I did.”Read comments