Casey Bustamante was so moved by the spiritual needs of young veterans that she decided to pursue formal Theology training to help them.

It is often the same sentiment that brings people to choose a vocation in both the military and ministry: a sense of calling to a greater cause. For Casey Bustamante, who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2008 and recently received a grant through Catholic Extension’s Young Adult Leadership Initiative to study theology, the combination is natural. “I need to work for something beyond myself,” she said.

Casey, 27, was raised in a military family. She considers San Antonio, Texas, to be home, but her family has also lived in Mississippi, Nevada and Panama. Her father, an immigrant from Mexico, joined the military because of the opportunities for education and income, as well as to serve his new country. He served the United States for 23 years.

Growing up on military bases with frequent moves, Casey found great comfort in attending Mass at military chapels. She was reassured by other Catholic families who kept their faith alive despite the rigors of military life which helped her to understand the close connection between serving God and country. “You are called to serve,” she said. “It’s not about you. The last thing it’s about is you.”

Casey knew for many years that she would join the armed forces. After being accepted at several military academies for college, Casey ultimately chose the U.S. Air Force Academy.

During basic training, a time when military leaders stress the morals, values and expectations of the Academy, Casey found an opportunity to also evaluate herself and who she was. In reflecting on her own life, she realized that something was lacking. “I wasn’t living life fully for God,” she admitted. “I wasn’t always strong enough on my own and needed a faith community to challenge me.”

Casey joined a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) Bible study and a discipleship program. Her faith grew stronger. She discovered Catholics Seeking Christ (CSC), an initiative of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), supported by Catholic Extension. “I realized that a ‘yes’ to the military was a bigger ‘yes’ to Christ,” she said. She eventually became a Bible study leader – solidifying her dual commitment to the military and to ministry.

After graduation, Casey said she was “on fire and excited to be part of a Catholic community.” Her first assignment was to Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy as a cyber operations officer. In addition, she became the Aviano Catholic Young Adult Coordinator, leading her fellow service members on a pilgrimage to Rome and an excursion to World Youth Day.

While serving at military installations, both in the U.S. and abroad,
Casey Bustamante always volunteers in spiritual ministry.

Part of Casey’s overseas assignment was a six-month tour of duty in Iraq. Facing the struggles of military life, which she said are particularly grueling during deployment, again reminded Casey that she “needed to live her life for God.” To strengthen her spiritual life and that of others, she became a cantor for Masses in Iraq.

In 2011, Casey was transferred to the Joint Staff Support Center at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. where she continued her career in cyber communications. Again, feeling a need to stay connected to the Catholic Church, she volunteered as a Young Adult Leader at Saint Rita’s Parish in Alexandria, Virginia.

As she juggled her busy schedule, Casey felt a bigger pull towards ministry. She found more and more young Catholics in the military that longed to deepen their spiritual lives. “They have a desire for something more,” she said. As they face deployments and separations from family, their needs escalate. “As they go off to war, young adults have a special need to develop a strong foundation in spirituality,” Casey said, explaining that she wanted to support them in this process.

With contemplation and prayers, Casey made the difficult decision to leave active duty to pursue spiritual formation. However, she will remain involved with the military through an internship with the AMS and a job with the Air Force Reserves – allowing her to keep combining her two passions. “God has impressed on my heart a deep love for military members and wants me to continue serving them,” she said. She believes further education will strengthen her ability to bring pastoral care to colleagues.

This summer, Casey will begin a master’s degree in theology at the University of Notre Dame. She is sponsored through Catholic Extension’s Young Adult Leadership Initiative, which offers funding to young leaders aspiring to serve the Church in mission dioceses.

Casey describes her goal as “helping the AMS illuminate the world with the light of Christ by encouraging the faithful to meet young adults where they are, listening to them and welcoming them into a Church that has a place for them.”

For Casey, a love of ministry and the military go hand in hand. She said, “Military members are trained in discipline, morality and virtues in such a way that, when given hope, they can order their lives for the greater glory of God.”