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Andersen's new chaplain tells story from past

  • Published
  • By by Airman 1st Class Samuel Taylor
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
While at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, Chaplain (Capt.) Richard Rojas and a group of 25 SCAB members boarded a helicopter and set off for a spiritual retreat on Roatan Island, off the Honduran coast, coordinated by Chaplain Rojas.

Then the storm rolled in.

The clouds and rain reduced the helicopter crew's visibility as they were driven down lower and lower by the descending fog.

Unable to radio for help due to the weather, the crew made a forced landing at a site surrounded by a tropical jungle.

Following the landing, the helicopter was spotted by several locals who offered to lead the group through the jungle to a nearby town.

It was at this point when Chaplain Rojas' training was put to the test when he found himself on a march through the Honduran jungle, determined to lead his party to safety.

"The military entrusted me with the best training in the world," said Chaplain Rojas. "I knew I was responsible for those 25 people."

Most members were improperly dressed and equipped to navigate the tropical jungle, and were reluctant to leave the landing site. Chaplain Rojas and a few others agreed to make the trek to find assistance.

Immediately, Chaplain Rojas and the group began to encounter the dangers of the jungle.

"We were all miserable - eaten alive by mosquitoes and shivering from the cold," said Chaplain Rojas. "No one had the right footgear; most wore sandals and I was walking barefoot."

The group crossed over waterways and maneuvered the muddy terrain until they reached a town where they telephoned for help.

A member of the group suggested that they bed-down for the night and retrieve the helicopter crew and passengers the following day.

"The others were sitting out there unprotected, exposed to the jungle," said Chaplain Rojas. "I thought: It's not about me at this point. I'm not about to leave any of our group behind."

Chaplain Rojas and a few guides decided to re-enter the jungle at about 10 p.m. the same night to escort the rest of the helicopter group to safety.

After slogging through knee-deep mud in the darkness, Chaplain Rojas finally reunited with the group at the landing site.

"When they saw us, everyone at the helicopter burst out laughing," said Chaplain Rojas. "Someone snapped a picture while I stood there dripping, a leech attached to one leg."

The crew and some passengers elected to remain at the helicopter while Chaplain Rojas led the rest back to the village.

"We all just fell into bed, exhausted but grateful," said Chaplain Rojas.

The following day, he and the rest of the group returned to the helicopter and safely flew back to Soto Cano Air Base.

"God saved us from the jungle," said Chaplain Rojas.

However, more than divine forces were at work. Chaplain Rojas' training and decision making played an important role in keeping the party safe.

"I just thought of the [Airman's] Creed. It specifically says 'I will never leave an Airman behind,'" said Chaplain Rojas. "If I wouldn't leave them in combat, why would I do it in the jungle?"

In addition to sticking to the Creed, Chaplain Rojas' venture into the jungle helped confirm his commitment to his training.

"Not every day yields good weather; some days we will face trials," said Chaplain Rojas. "With God, Air Force training and the right resources, any Airman can overcome their challenges."

Chaplain Rojas' optimistic approach to challenges hasn't gone unnoticed by his coworkers at Dover AFB. One Airman who interacts with Chaplain Rojas is Staff Sgt. Javon Merritte, chaplain's assistant.

"Chaplain Rojas is full of surprises, he brings a different kind of 'let's go' energy to his work," said Sergeant Merritte.

Chaplain Rojas' work includes supporting 436th Maintenance Group personnel. He can be seen in the iconic, blue "Holy Roller" van around base occasionally. His work with the base chapel contributes to the thousands of hours of the chapel spends annually supporting servicemembers. He also consistently serves as a chaplain in the base's contemporary service.

Whether supporting servicemembers at Dover AFB, or delivering people from danger in the South American tropics, Chaplain Rojas' work ethic and dedication to service can be summed up in his personal motto: "What you live is what you believe in."

(Editor's note: Chaplain (Capt.) Richard Rojas will be serving as 36th Wing Chaplain until Aug. Portions of this article taken from "Miracles and Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Military Chaplains by Nancy B. Kennedy")