Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Fairchild Air Force Base’s ‘parish secretary’: ‘You really have to hustle to get the job done’

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 4, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

MSgt. Mickey Lipkea, Chaplain’s Assistant at Fairchild Air Force Base west of Spokane, assists Catholic chaplain Father Peter Nguyen as he prepares to celebrate Mass. (IR photo courtesy of Fairchild Air Force Base)

Master Sergeant Mickey L. Lipkea’s title at Spokane’s Fairchild Air Force Base is Superintendent of Chapel Operations, and she’s about as close as a military base gets to having what the typical Catholic parish calls a secretary or office manager.

Although she grew MSgt. Lipkea in Johnstown, Pa., where she was an active volunteer in a nondenominational church, now home is wherever her husband and son are with her.

Back home, “I was involved with a very charismatic non-denominational Christian church, where I was ‘saved’ or ‘born-again,’ in their terms.” At age 12 she was baptized in a river. “That’s when I really got interested in God/theology/religion. I was born Catholic, though, and baptized at birth in the Catholic Church, so I suppose I will always be Catholic.”

MSgt. Lipkea works for all of the chaplains, of whatever religious tradition, who are assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base, including, of course, the Catholic chaplain, Father Peter Nguyen.

There are differences between how she functions on a military base and how a secretary or office manager functions in a civilian Catholic parish. For starters, years ago she attended a U.S. Air Force school for training. “I went through Technical School,” she said, “for what we were called then, ‘Chapel Management Personnel.’ Later, we became ‘Chaplain Service Support Personnel,’ and now we are ‘Chaplain Assistants.’”

While some civilian parish secretaries or office managers are part-time, “My job is definitely full- time,” she said. “I work Monday through Friday 0730 to 1630 (i.e. 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) and then weekends and holidays, not to mention deployments” – temporary transfers to other locations, sometimes overseas. “The weekends and holidays are shared with other Chaplain Assistants and volunteers, whom we love. The 1630 (4.30 p.m.) ends up being 1700 (5 p.m.), 1730 (5:30 p.m.) and later very easily.”

In addition to her formal air force training, she had previous experience when she was transferred to Fairchild in 2006. “From 1989 to 2001,” she said, “I was a Chaplain Assistant at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and I was a U.S. Air Force recruiter from 2002-2005.”

Similar to many parish secretaries and office managers, MSgt. Lipkea’s family sometimes gets involved in her work as a Chaplain’s Assistant. “I am married to a wonderful man named John,” she said, another Air Force master sergeant, who maintains Fairchild aircraft. He’s presently on deployment. They have three teenaged children.

“My husband does get involved in my work quite often. I can always count on him for new ideas and a fresh perspective on what I do every day; he’s my mentor. He also is a fixer; he fixes anything, especially electronics. He helps me out mainly with logistics and manual labor. My son helps, too; he enjoys going to work with Mom. In recruiting I had all the kids helping out.”

Attempting to summarize her job description, she sounds a lot like her civilian counterparts: “You name it; I do it for the Chapel. I procure money and resources, train personnel, manage personnel, perform customer service duties, provide input for and make policy for the Fairchild Chapel, clean, manage all administrative functions, and train for deployment. There’s probably more.…”

There is plenty about her job that she likes, especially the people she works with and for. “Deployed and home station,” she said, “it’s about the people. It’s two-fold; by being (an) Airman I serve to keep our country’s people free, and at the same time, as a Chaplain Assistant, I serve the Airmen to provide for the free exercise of their religion, whatever it is. I like knowing that I’m helping people and that I’m part of something bigger than myself and contribute to a higher purpose. Also the people I work with are great; I especially love our (civilian) Religious Education/Parish Coordinators, and we have a great Funds Account Manager; these other women keep me sane, and I depend on them.”

The “what I like least” part of her job is much shorter for MSgt. Lipkea: “The mountains of paperwork/stress/the cutbacks in manpower; it makes it very hard to balance your workload. You really have to hustle to get the job done.”

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