As a young Marine, Andrew Young was part of the first wave of America’s military to enter Afghanistan, just months after September 11, 2001. After tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Young became a priest, and returned to military service as a Navy and Air Force chaplain.
Fr. Young spent much of 2020 in Afghanistan, as one of the last Catholic U.S. military chaplains in the country. Now vicar general of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Fr. Young talked with The Pillar about his military and chaplaincy service, and the pastoral needs of America’s veterans.
This interview took place August 25, before a terrorist attack in Kabul killed at least 13 U.S. service members and an uncertain number of Afghan civilians. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your military and chaplaincy experience in Afghanistan.
I went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; I graduated in ‘99 and then I was commissioned a United States Marine. I served in the Marine Corps from ’99 until 2005. I was deployed before 9/11 — I was on deployment in Australia when 9/11 happened.
So my unit, we were some of the first ones to go, we went into Pakistan when the air war started. We provided search and rescue for the pilots going in during the air war. And then we came out and went into Camp Rhino, southern Afghanistan, which was the first U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after the [Twin] Towers fell.
We assisted the Northern Alliance in their push south. We were a blocking force, and then we eventually pushed up to Kandahar. And then we got swapped out and came back to the United States.
And then I changed units and I went back for the beginning of the war in Iraq.
I came back and eventually got out of the military and went to seminary. I was ordained a priest in 2012.
I served three years in our diocese, in the cathedral. And then I went and served three more years as a Navy chaplain on a ship, the USS Wasp, mostly in operations off the coast of Libya.
I came back to the diocese — the bishop called me back, but then I went back [to the military] again.
I was an Air Force chaplain for three years. There was a need for chaplains, so I went active duty, and I was first in Florida, serving with Special Operations Command, and I deployed to Afghanistan last year. I was there from April until October of 2020. I was at Bagram Air Force Base. I came pretty close to being one of the last Catholic priest chaplains deployed there.
When I was there, I believe I was the only American Catholic priest in any service for most of the time I was in Afghanistan last year. I flew around a lot to have Mass.
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