A crucial element of a war-fighting force is its chaplain corps. Providing spiritual and moral support to both religious and non-religious service members, chaplains help all troops in their formations. The chaplain corps of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is a very new one. In recent years, embedded civilian clergy were replaced with commissioned officers. With their country in an all-out war, the chaplain corps had to grow. Helping with this is Ukrainian-American Air National Guard Chaplain (Capt.) Vladimir Marius Steliac.
Born in Ukraine, Steliac literally won the lottery to come to America. In 1997, he immigrated to the U.S. after winning a green card lottery that selected 10,000 people across Europe and offered them a unique path to citizenship. After living in the U.S. for five years, Steliac earned his full citizenship. In 2001, he began serving at St. Andrew Cathedral, a Ukrainian-Orthodox parish, in Silver Spring, Maryland. After 9/11, he volunteered to serve as a military chaplain. "...this was my new country, this was my new world, and I wanted to support it," Steliac told Army News Europe.
However, the Army National Guard was on 15-month deployment cycles and Steliac's bishop would not allow him to leave his large parish for that long. Undeterred, Steliac contacted the Maryland National Guard's chaplain at the time, Chaplain Sean Lee. Lee told Steliac about the Maryland Defense Force where Steliac could serve as a uniformed chaplain and support the Maryland National Guard. Although the position was voluntary and unpaid, Steliac joined up and served for 12 years.
Attracted by the shorter deployments of the Air Force, Steliac later transitioned to the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard. In May 2023, still part of the 175th, Steliac was requested at the 7th Army Training Command's Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany. There, a 14-day Armed Forces of Ukraine Chaplain Training Course is being taught by chaplains from other NATO countries including Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK. Steliac was called up to serve as an interpreter and cultural/religious advisor.
The war in his home country hits hard for Steliac. "It saddens me greatly that they had to experience so much death," he said. "Even if they weren’t Ukrainians, which they are close to my heart, I would still be saddened and dismayed by what Ukraine had to go through for absolutely no reason at all and be part of this diabolical and unprovoked war."
The chaplain course aims to advise and educate Ukrainian chaplains on NATO chaplaincy procedures. However, many of the chaplain students experienced combat as fighters before becoming chaplains and have their own unique perspectives to offer their instructors. "There are many Orthodox priests, which I am as well, so we have a lot of commonalities," Steliac said of the Ukrainians that he trained. "...they brought with them so much combat experience as chaplains because they served as volunteers for years." Steliac continues to serve the St. Andrew Orthodox parish in Silver Spring.