Chaplain Retires after 46 Years of Service

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Rich Murphy
  • 185th Public Affairs
Lt. Col. Carl Groh sits back in his office chair, reflecting on another drill weekend, this one his last. After 46 years serving in the armed forces, Lt. Col. Groh will retire from the 185th Air Refueling Wing, of the Iowa Air National Guard. His retirement concludes one of the longest and most interesting military careers recorded at the 185th.

"You know, I will miss it here. I have grown old with so many on this base" said Groh. "I have served this long because I truly like the people in the 185th and throughout the military. I am proud to have worked with them."

Col. Brian Miller, the current commander of the 185th, commended Groh's service and commented on the quality of his career. "Col. Groh gets it. From my office to Camp Leatherneck, Chaplain Groh is there when Airmen need a lift. I have learned much about both leadership and life from Carl. It is a privilege to serve with him and to call him my friend."

Groh began his military career in 1966, enlisting in the Marine Corps after one year of college. "After I graduated high school, I went to college, but I just could not find my calling. I was racking up college debt, so I decided to join the military. The education benefits like the G.I. Bill were just too good to pass up."

Groh said the Marine Corps was an easy choice for him. "My father and my uncles were all in the Navy and they hated Marines. So, of course, I decided to join the Corp. But honestly, the Marine Corps saved me from being a punk kid on the north side of Chicago."

While in the Marines, Groh completed a tour in Vietnam. He said one of his most memorable moments came from his time in Vietnam. "Through bad luck and decisions, I became the ranking guy left. We had to get everyone back to camp and I did not lose anyone. That is still one of my proudest moments."

After spending over three years on active duty and seven years in the inactive reserve, Groh earned a Bachelor's Degree in Bio-Chemistry from Northern Iowa University-Dekalb. With his degree, he hoped to be an officer in the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, he was past the age limit so the Marine Corps would not accept him. So, in 1978, Groh took a commission with the U.S. Air Force as a Space Systems Operations Officer, where he worked on weather satellites and missile warning systems. In 1985, Groh left the active duty forces and teamed up with the Missouri Air National Guard and took over as the director of combat communications.

In 1989, Groh graduated from seminary and was assigned his first parish in Wentworth, South Dakota. For years he attempted to transfer to the 185th, but they did not have Chaplain positions available. Groh said, "I finally came on base and spoke with the base commander, Col. [Dennis] Swanstrom. After talking with him for some time, the colonel decided to give me a spot."

Groh retired from his parish in 2009 and immediately volunteered for two deployments. His first deployment was to help with dignified transfers at Dover Air Force base. "In the 60s, I lost some very close friends in Vietnam. I wanted to escort them back home, but I was unable to. This deployment was my way to make amends. This deployment was emotionally wrenching. Every time I saw a young service member return home in a casket, it reminded me of my boys."

During his Dover deployment, Groh found a renewed faith in the future of the U.S. military. "I was very impressed with the honor guard at Dover. They paid close attention to detail and did the right things. Not because people were watching, but because the owed it to the men and women who gave their lives. It really took away my cynicism about the future of my country."

After returning from his deployment to Dover, Groh volunteered to serve in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He saw action on his first day. "The first day I was on base, we were having dinner in the mess hall and the alarms went off. It was my first of many rocket attacks. Everyone took cover under the table. Keep in mind, I have not eaten for hours. So I reached over the table and grabbed a sandwich. Everyone looked at me like I was fearless. In truth, I was just really hungry."

Groh compared his experiences in Vietnam to his experiences in Afghanistan. "In both places, you don't really know who your enemy is until he is shooting at you. Both were very violent conflicts. An intense bookend for a great career."

In Afghanistan, Groh was a part of the Air Force's 50th anniversary party. During the ceremony, the commander asked the youngest and oldest service members to cut the cake, Groh was honored as the oldest. He said Afghanistan really made him aware that he was getting older. "When I called home and complained about how tough the tour was, one of my sons said, 'For God's sake dad, you are not a kid anymore."

Now, at the end of his long career, Groh offers advice to many young airmen entering into the force. "I tell them, focus on your co-workers and on your mission. This applies to everything in your life, not just the guard. If you do your job to the best of your ability and you attend to your co-worker's needs, you will be successful."

After reflecting on his long career, Groh said, "It is my humble privilege to serve. People in the military uniform are the best. I served this long because I like the people in the military. I am proud to have worked with all of them."

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