A chaplain's story: legacy, life, love

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
As a young boy growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida, Matthew Boyd understood he was destined to serve. With two granddads in World War I and a father's return home after World War II, he simply knew he was born to be a warrior.

Now a major in the Air Force, Boyd continues the family tradition of service, not on the battlefield firing his weapon or piloting a supersonic war machine, but as a savior of souls.

"The military is my heritage," said the 86th Airlift Wing chaplain, recalling his family tree. "My grandfathers served; my father served and so my siblings and I felt we had to do the same. I thought being a chaplain would be a good way to offer guidance and contentment for those who need it."

As a teenager, Boyd didn't always know he wanted to be a chaplain. When it was time to give the family tradition a shot, he decided to do what he knew best and attended Army Reserve basic training in-between his junior and senior year in high school.

"I needed money and I knew people who went through basic training, so I thought why not join the Army Reserve," Boyd said with a smirk. "I was never forced to grow up so quickly in my life."

Shipped to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the young trainee fought off sleep deprivation, exhaustion and worst of all--drill sergeants.

"It really was my first confrontation with real life," he said. "After the first day of training, the drill sergeant came into the bay hitting a trash can and screaming things I wouldn't dare repeat.

"I think in the middle of the night, he actually got us out of bed and had us doing exercises outside in the grass while we were still in our underwear, just to help us wake up," he continued as he laughed at the thought. "Of course there were times when I wished it was all a bad dream, but after completing all the drills, I went back to high school a better man."

The young enlisted Soldier, a 13B, or howitzer cannon crew member, finished his last year as a senior and continued his path in academics. It wasn't until years later after balancing various jobs, college and military life that tragedy pushed Boyd into ministry.

"My father was 46 years old when I was born so I was pretty young when his Alzheimer's started setting in and the PTSD from his time as a paratrooper worsened." Boyd said. "It was really hard for me to spend time with him before he passed away while going to drill two weekends a month. I requested to be transferred into the Individual Ready Reserve, and I planned to stay that course until my military obligation was over."

At this point in his life, Boyd attended yearly briefings and provided the occasional readiness update. His military career soon faded in the background leaving him more time to reconnect spiritually.

"While in Seminary working on my master's degree I met some old friends who were commissioned chaplain candidates," he said. "After some convincing, I thought it would be a great way to finish up my master's degree. I also figured I already did six years in the Army; this couldn't possibly be more intense, so I gave it a shot."

Finishing Officer Training School with a pair of bronze bars on his collar and a new outlook on life, Boyd was excited to be a part of the family business again.

"Throughout my early years I was still trying to figure out what to do with myself," the major said. "OTS helped me realize what my purpose in this world is, and so began my life as an Air Force chaplain."

Not long after becoming a captain, Boyd experienced his first deployment to the Middle East, spending time in Egypt, Kuwait and Iraq.

"My career has been full of great experiences but there hasn't been anything like that deployment," he said. "It was 2003 and we were in the middle of a war ... I could see the stress, pain and hopelessness weigh on the people around me. Of course, I felt I had to try and do something.

"So during my first worship service, I met with the civil engineer guys and dug a big hole, placed a fuel bladder in it and filled the hole up with water," the chaplain continued. "Then I held a baptism; a lot of people rededicated their life to God that day."

Though there were occasions he questioned his path, Boyd never regrets becoming a chaplain. Despite a tragedy, he held his faith at his side and is proud to have continued a legacy paved by his forefathers, becoming the warrior he knew he was meant to be.