By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Johnathon Orrell
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 24, 2010 - A Texas National Guard officer will become the Army National Guard's first Muslim chaplain in December.
Army 1st Lt. Rafael Lantigua, an ecclesiastically endorsed, fully ordained minister, will assume his post after finishing classes required by the Armed Services Chaplain Board.
"I am humbled for this opportunity to be a role model for other members of my faith throughout the military," he said.
As he was growing up, Lantigua was not a Muslim. He decided to convert when he was a teenager, he said, and he attributed that decision to the diversity of his background. His Baptist mother is an African-American, and his Roman Catholic father is from the Dominican Republic. After his parents divorced, he said, his mother married a Buddhist.
"Growing up in such diversity caused me to explore my options," Lantigua said.
That diversity, he said, enabled him to embrace the Muslim faith before he enlisted in the Air Force. He has continued to be open about his religious beliefs, he added, in the hope that he can break down the stigma surrounding Muslims since Sept. 11, 2001.
"I hope that I will be able to encourage more servicemembers of my faith to open up about their religious beliefs, especially with how we are viewed politically," he said. "I hope to show my fellow military members that Muslims are not bad people and that we are not all radical Muslim terrorists."
Lantigua said the Guard is more than ready for this move.
"The Guard is ripe for this to take place," he said. "Muslims have been with us since the formation of this great country. There were Muslims fighting with us during the Revolutionary War."
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