Chaplain follows 'coincidence' to Keesler

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
The colonel was on a temporary duty assignment for training, as he has been many times before. It wasn't a long stay, and he didn't know anyone on base, but when he stopped by the base exchange, he ran into an old friend who happened to also be TDY for only a day and happened to stop by the exchange, in the same aisle, at the same time.

The chances of this happening are incalculable, but the innocuous meeting sticks in Terrinoni's mind today.

Chaplain (Col.) David Terrinoni arrived at Keesler a couple months ago, and he made his long journey here by paying attention to coincidence and living his life with purpose.

"Coincidence is when God decides to remain anonymous," the chaplain said. "Whenever you get that 'Hmm, what a coincidence' feeling, it's probably more than just chance."

The Past

Terrinoni's path to Keesler began after his family and career were already established in the 80s.

"I'm a second career minister," said Terrinoni. "I already had a certificate in electronics, my associate's degree in business, and my bachelors of science in zoology. I was part-owner of a business in Chicago when Vicki and I got married and had twin girls."

"How did becoming a minister come up?" the chaplain asked, anticipating the question.

"It was night time, and I was upstairs writing out bills in my office," said Terrinoni. "My daughters were sleeping. I was thinking about my family and our future, and I suddenly had this feeling that I had to be a minister. I went downstairs to tell my wife, and she didn't even bat an eye and she just said, 'I always said you'd make a good minister.'"

Vicki, who met the chaplain through his brother in college, supported her husband without question.

"I didn't know he was going to say it, exactly," Vicki said. "But I wasn't surprised when he decided to become a minister."

The choice to change his career from business to something more personal, his education from science to religion, is met with a shrug.

"Science is the evidence of God's handiwork," Terrinoni said.

"I attended McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, and I spent a year there knowing I was supposed to be there, but didn't know exactly why until an Air Force chaplain recruiter visited," he recalled.

Terrinoni knew immediately that the Air Force was the path for him.

"The Chaplain Candidate program is unique," Terrinoni explained. "You come in as a second lieutenant and go active duty for a short amount of time to get the feel for the job and for the military to get a feel for you."

He was the first of his generation to join the military, said Vicki.

"We fit in rather quickly," she continued. "Our first base was O'Hare Air Reserve Station, Chicago, which is now closed. After that we went to Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. Our tour around the world progressed like this; each base very different from the last."

The Terrinoni family was stationed at nine different bases before arriving at Keesler.

The Present

The chaplain's office at Larcher Chapel is akin to a small library with his many bases and deployments chronicled across the walls and large bookcases.

Terrinoni plans to make Keesler feel like home, even though he's never even visited Mississippi before, he said.

"Keesler is the first base we've been where we haven't known anyone," Vicki added. "At most bases, we meet people from previous bases or from TDYs, but Keesler is brand new. There must be a reason for that."

  Meeting people won't be a problem for them, however, Vicki said.

"I'm a people person," said the chaplain. "I like watching and studying people. I read about people, what they would do in particular situations. The people make the difference wherever you're stationed, and the people around here are a pleasure on and off base."

Coincidentally, this skill doubles as a reason the chaplain corps is so dear to Terrinoni.

"As the senior pastor, I'm really here for everyone," he said. "I don't lead the services, but the chaplain corps is based on the First Amendment rights of military members, supplying the resources and spaces for worship of all kinds, and I plan on doing that to the best of my ability."

And with more than 20 years experience as a minister, he has his leadership style down to a science.

"The type of leadership style you apply depends on the type of people you have to lead," Terrinoni explained. "For example, if you have an inexperienced or unmotivated staff, leadership has to be a bit more authoritative -- 'I'm sorry, you're going to do this,' or 'you need to learn how to do that.' But, in the case of the Keesler staff, they are very knowledgeable, motivated and capable, so I don't need to be authoritative. For the most part, I'm one to give directions, goals and timelines and let them take care of it."

Bringing such leadership to Keesler chapel services might just be all the purpose Terrinoni needs, as the way ahead may prove to be challenging.

The Future

"We will have to start operating a bit differently to members of the base," Terrinoni stated. "At any given time we will have about four or five chaplains and three or four assistants on base for the thousands of permanent party and student personnel. My first goal is to get our staff to develop the mission and vision of how we will work into the future."

To prepare for his new role, Terrinoni held an off-site retreat with his office shortly after arriving at Keesler. There the small band of chaplains and assistants got acquainted and planned their mission priorities.

"Dave is very analytical," said Vicki. "He never makes snap judgments when he comes to a new place. He thinks it through."

The chaplain corps may be reworking its focus on Keesler, but it follows a logical process, said Terrinoni.

"The Fishbowl ministry in the Triangle is priority one," said Terrinoni. "It is a huge mission and demographic on base, and it's where the students are asking 'what am I doing here?' types of questions."

"The medical center is also a large chunk of our focus," he added. "It's a teaching hospital and there are a lot of personnel who work there."

The chaplain corps is here to serve all base residents and personnel, and Terrinoni is intent on upholding this.

"It doesn't matter your religion," said Vicki. "Troops come from all over with all different backgrounds."

"Dave is very caring and compassionate," Vicki added. "He lives to serve others. It's no coincidence that he makes such a great chaplain."

Terrinoni has the experience to make his stay at Keesler a meaningful chapter in his life and the lives of base personnel. Whatever the chances that brought him to the Gulf Coast, there must be a reason.