For years, the Reverend Paul Barkey’s career required him to jump to the ground from an airplane, sometimes even in the dark.
“At night, you can’t see the trees,” Barkey said. “You can’t tell the difference between a road and a stream.”
Barkey spent 24 years in the air while serving as a chaplain with several airborne units of the U.S. Army. He retired in 1992 from Fort Riley as a member of the 1st Infantry Division, and now serves the community as a preacher at Ashland Community Church.
After separating from the Army, Barkey worked as a hospital chaplain before he came to Ashland around 15 years ago.
“It’s what you think of as an ideal community church,” he said.
Barkey said he enjoys working with the young families and working with the children at Sunday school and vacation Bible school.
“I enjoy conducting services and sharing with people, and encouraging them in their walk with the Lord.”
Although Barkey has spent his entire career doing this, it began in a much different context.
Barkey was commissioned from Colorado State University’s ROTC in 1968 and went to jump school in 1973. His jump log says he completed around 130 jumps during his career, although Barkey said he stopped counting after 100.
“They wanted younger, athletic, dumb chaplains, so I qualified,” Barkey said.
He was stationed several places during his long career, including Fort Carson in Colorado, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and even in Germany.
As a jump master, Barkey would check each jumper’s equipment before they left the aircraft. He found that the soldiers appreciated having a chaplain with them before a jump.
“Soldiers understand that life can be short,” he said.
Barkey liked working with an airborne unit, in part because of the individual moments he could have with each jumper.
“It gave me a chance to eyeball every soldier before every jump,” he said.
Sometimes, the job got a bit more harrowing. Barkey experienced more than one dangerous incident during his career.
One of the more frightening events he survived occurred at Fort Bragg. While the unit was getting ready for a jump, a hydraulic line burst, spraying everyone with fluid and rendering their back-up parachutes useless.
The line continued to leak, and the pilot flew the plane around for some extra miles, trying to bleed off some of the fluid.
“Usually these things are coming back empty, but this one was coming back full of paratroopers,” Barkey said.
Because the hydraulics were out, every landing operation – such as lowering the wheels – had to be done manually.
“We come screaming in there, and the pilot probably stretched the barbed wire,” Barkey said. “He used every inch of concrete to stop that plane.”
Not every jump was that eventful, but for Barkey, the job was never boring.
“Being in a airborne unit is days and weeks of boredom interjected by a few seconds of sheer terror,” he said.