From Prison Ministry to the Freedom Wing

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Stephen J. Caruso
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

The 514th Air Mobility Wing chaplain staff welcomed its newest arrival in February, 2021. Maj. Marcus L. Branch, joins the chaplain staff as a traditional reserve chaplain, bringing more than a decade of experience as an ordained minister, mostly serving in federal prison ministry.

Branch, originally from Portsmouth, Va., attended Virginia Tech for college and decided to pursue a life of service after a health scare in his senior year. He entered seminary in 2004. Branch says he felt particularly called to prison ministry while studying at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, N.J.

During a summer internship at a group home in 2008, Branch worked with underprivileged youth in Oakland, Calif., where he got to know “Jake.” Jake had a very difficult life, growing up in foster care and experiencing violence as a child. Working with Jake for the summer had a profound impact on Branch, who was pursuing a master’s degree in youth ministry, in addition to his Master of Arts in Divinity.

In 2008, Branch returned to Princeton after his internship. He later learned that Jake had run away over Labor Day weekend. He also learned that Jake’s brother had been murdered in Oakland around the same time. Jake then killed his brother’s murderer and ended up in prison. Branch was devastated by the sad news.

“From that moment on, I wanted to go to [serve in] jail,” Branch said.

It was Branch’s decision to go into prison ministry that ultimately led him to the Air Force. During his orientation, Branch was advised to consider military reserve duty alongside federal employment, so he joined the Air Force Reserve as a chaplain, serving with the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

During his tenure with the 88th, Branch completed an extended active duty tour of more than two and a half years supporting the active duty chaplain staff. One of his most rewarding jobs there was overseeing the largest gospel service in the military, with an active community of more than 250 members.

“It was a full-time job outside of the unit,” Branch said. “They always had something going on.”

Another aspect he really enjoyed was the community outreach through local partnerships.

“I wanted to do a back-to-school shoe drive for disadvantaged children,” Branch said.

So he organized a project to partner with a local non-profit for underserved communities in the Dayton, Ohio, area to collect and distribute new sneakers to children in foster care. After weeks of preparation, a man showed up on the day of the shoe drive with a pick-up truck and a bed full of brand new Nike sneakers.

“He was a foster kid himself,” Branch said of the generous donor. “When he saw we were giving shoes to the foster kids, it touched his heart.”

When he can break away from full-time prison ministry, Branch looks forward to similar opportunities to serve the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and local communities, and also hopes to support the 514th mission downrange and in humanitarian efforts in the future.