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MEEKER I Being a man of faith and being in the military could seem like a contradiction.
Not to Aaron Zielinske.
He is a Marine veteran and a pastor. Doing both has been a goal of his since high school.
“I knew when I graduated, that was my intention, to go in the military for four years and then go to Bible college, and that’s what I did,” said Zielinske, who is pastor of the Assembly of God Church.
Zielinske spent four years in the Marines and had three deployments, including in 2003, during the initial invasion of Iraq.
“I loved it,” he said of his time in the military. “I was in the infantry. I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than that, if I were to stay in. But that’s just not really conducive to family life. That’s rough.”
In fact, Zielinske would have most likely gone to Afghanistan, if he had stayed in the Marines.
“If we weren’t on our way to getting married, I probably would have done that,” he said. “Even if I was going to be a chaplain, I would have made it my aim to be dispatched to an infantry unit, and then you’d have all of the things that are not great for family life.”
But Zielinske did end up not re-enlisting and getting married before his discharge from the Marines. He and his wife, Gina, now have three children: Jordan, 4; Aaliyah 2; and Josiah, 8 months. They moved to Meeker in November 2008, after Zielinske was graduated from a Bible college in Springfield, Mo.
“We sent resumes all over the southeast and the midwest, but nothing came up at all,” Zielinske said. “A friend suggested I should check out the Rocky Mountain District. Within a month, we were driving out here for an interview. Within another month, we were moving. This is the way the Lord worked it out.”
If anything, when he was in the military, Zielinske’s faith deepened.
“In all of my deployments, it was a huge time of spiritual growth,” he said. “When I was stationed on a ship on my first deployment, we had a Bible study almost every night of the week. We just really encouraged each other. I probably grew as much in those six months as any point in my life. In a combat area, people are more open to talking about God.”
He may young to be a pastor — he’s 28 — but Zielinske said his age hasn’t been an obstacle, even though he was confused once for being a student at Meeker High School, where he was substitute teaching.
“The first time I subbed, I was getting something from one of the other teachers and she thought I was a student. But, really, I don’t think it’s been an issue at all, either in the church or out of the church,” said Zielinske, who was recently named president of the Meeker Ministerial Alliance. “Obviously, they didn’t view me as too young. If there was an issue with my age, I don’t think that would’ve happened.”
For Zielinske, being a Marine has made him a better pastor, even though he was discouraged by some from being a foot soldier.
“They were like, don’t be a dumb grunt,” he said. “I said no, if I’m going to be pastoring, what better way to learn leadership than to be in the Marine Corps infantry. There are leadership principles I don’t think you could learn any other way.”