Air Guard chaplain’s promotion makes state history

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem
  • 147th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs
He picked her up for their first date in his white Trans Am with its distinctive red interior. The white and black screaming chicken showcased proudly on the car's elongated hood. His 8-track player pumped out the lyrics to "Dust in the Wind" by then popular musical group, Kansas, while he and his date drove to their intended destination.
The year was 1978.
Chaplain(Lt. Col.) Mack Praytor, current wing chaplain for the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, didn't know it then, but that date with Teresa, his now wife of 36 years, would be a defining moment in his life.
As he begins the next phase of his life journey - taking over as the state chaplain for the Joint Forces Headquarters Command at Camp Mabry - he reflects back on those early days.

While that song played, Praytor looked at his future wife-to-be and said, "Isn't that so true? Aren't we all just dust in the wind?"

Teresa, however, disagreed, and said life had God-given purpose. Praytor, struggling at the time with some of the big issues of life, said that statement prompted him to look into its underlying implications.

He ended up becoming a Christian and ultimately felt called by God to the chaplaincy.

Praytor's recent promotion to head chaplain for the Texas Military Forces marks the first time in state history that an Air Force chaplain will serve in this capacity; and unlike his time here at Ellington, he'll be surrounded by a lot more Army personnel.

"I'll represent the Blue, while learning a lot of Green," Praytor said.

The state chaplain oversees more than 60 chaplains and cares for the spiritual welfare of more than 2,000 Air Force, Army and State Guard members.

While some might balk at the enormity of such a task, Praytor welcomes the responsibility.

"I've been here a long time, and you can get into a routine. From time to time, all of us need a change," he said. "We need something extra - something to help us feel like we're making a difference."

Praytor seems to have made such a difference to the members of Ellington Field.

Master Sgt. Brian Srubar, 147th Safety Office, remembers a time when Praytor helped him through a difficult time during his wife's pregnancy when she was hospitalized for three months.

"The chaplain visited and prayed over my wife and me," he said. "Kind gestures such as these uplifted our spirits and renewed our confidence during a difficult time. Chaplain Praytor has served our Wing at home and on deployments with empathy, compassion, and heart."

Although Chaplain Praytor has spent time downrange - he deployed to Iraq in 2007 - he also brings a unique skill set to this position from having served as chaplain in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for two decades.

During his time as a prison chaplain, Praytor cared for the spiritual needs of a myriad of faith groups. It was at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas, that he saw at least 18 different religions represented every week.

"It's not just recognizing religious diversity, but it's also about accommodation," Praytor said. "That's the big thing, and it's one of the main reasons we have a chaplaincy."

Besides his experience with religious diversity, some also want to see him usher in a fresh perspective among the various branches.

"Because of the joint environment we have now, it just makes sense to see that connection here," said Army Master Sgt. Manuel Perez, Joint Forces Headquarters state chaplain assistant. "There will be more communication because of that joint forces connection that will help to open a lot of new doors."

Chaplain Praytor said his being "blue" is not viewed as a bad thing even amidst a sea of "green," and feels honored by that. Aside from joking about brushing up on his Army-speak, Praytor's attitude about chaplain work is serious.

"It's very humbling to know people see something in me that I can bring to the table of ministering to soldiers and airman of the state," he said.

Praytor said the wing is in good hands with the present chaplain team and feels grateful for his time here. He does, however, have some parting words of wisdom to the wing ... words he labels "Pinkstonisms" - quotes taken from a former mentor of his, Jim Pinkston:

"No matter what happens to you, no matter what people say about you, always remember to stay sweet in your spirit."

In a world full of so many things you can't control, that is one thing you can control, Praytor said, and it's helped him through many a hard time.