Our duty to Airmen: We are here for you!

  • Published
  • By Ch. Maj. John M. Almen
  • 49th Wing Chapel, deputy wing chaplain
In the movie, "The Princess Bride," the Dread Pirate Roberts, aka Westley in disguise, tells the Princess Buttercup, "Life IS suffering, Princess, anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something." While all of life may not be suffering, there is no doubt that our Airmen undergo considerable stress. That stress does sometimes precipitate, or possibly derive from some form of suffering. When a young person embarks upon this adventure known as the United States Air Force, that individual enters a completely foreign land. The familiar world of childhood, adolescence, and High School is replaced by Big Blue. Civilian life gives way to military, and the transition isn't easy.  Following initial training, our Airmen move through various Life experiences; relationships may blossom or fade. There are weddings, births, and deployments. Manning in the shop is never what it should be. Long work hours become the rule. Tensions mount among coworkers, and, sometimes it is difficult to maintain the excitement that existed upon initial entry into the Air Force.

To be a member of the Chaplain Corps in today's Air Force means, for the chaplain, answering the call to be a professional religious leader serving within the diverse culture that is the military, and for the chaplain assistant, accepting the challenge to cross train into a career field that supports the pluralistic religious needs of their fellow Airmen. Both respond to the duty to provide comfort, encouragement, and support for our Airmen while experiencing the same realities of transition from civilian life, enduring deployments, confronting staffing shortfalls, and the stress these issues bring with them. To be a member of the USAF Chaplain Corps, officer or enlisted, means understanding the nature of military life, and being able to relate to what other Airmen endure.

Personally, I first raised my hand and swore "to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic" on 7 July 1999 in Louisville, Kentucky when I joined the Kentucky Air National Guard. As a chaplain, and a non-combatant, I do not defend the Constitution with weapons, but by actively advocating for the free exercise of religion for all Airmen. Chaplains, together with chaplain assistants, provide, or provide for freedom of religious expression. We advise commanders on requests for religious accommodation. We support the spiritual fitness of our Airmen. We meet them in the midst of life's challenges and provide counsel and support. We organize retreat opportunities to get away for a time. We provide religious rites that mark life's transitions, weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, first communion, anointing the sick, and, ultimately, funeral services. We celebrate joyous events, and provide comfort for grief.

As the title of this article states, "We Are Here for You." We can be reached 24/7/365 through the Chapel during normal duty hours or through the command post at other times. I once read a series of humorous church bulletin blunders. A favorite of mine was, "Don't suffer alone. Let the church help!" In spite of how the message actually reads, we don't want to help you suffer more, but the USAF Chaplain Corps personnel on Holloman seek to meet the intent of that statement. We seek to walk with you and help bear any burdens you carry.