Redefining Warrior Care

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Marie Brown
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
Have you ever gone through something so devastating in your life that you thought you had no one to turn to, no one to talk to? Maybe you were afraid that if you talked to someone, it would be a career ender because they might tell your leadership. Although these thoughts worry many people, there are resources available for members to visit with full faith that not only will their communication remain confidential, but also get the support they need at a moment's notice.

The wing chapel staff is here to perform and provide decisive spiritual support today and prepare Airmen, Soldiers and civilians to execute always.

"We take care of the souls of the warfighters," said Chaplain (Capt.) Paul, currently deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy and a native of Tulsa, Okla. "We do that through the programs and services we offer here."

One of the many ways the chapel team, or religious support team, does this is through what they call unit ministries or unit engagement. These are primarily conducted through the Religious Support Teams with intentional focus on the Airman through various briefings, workplace walkthroughs as well as unit activities such as awards ceremonies, barbeques and unit physical training.

"Unit ministries are where we spend most of our time," said Chaplain (Capt.) Michael. "We do the most good amongst the people."

Sending RSTs to the units allows Airmen, Soldiers and civilians the opportunity to become comfortable and familiar with the people offering spiritual guidance.

"They are willing to tell us stuff they wouldn't tell anybody else," said Michael. "The 100 percent confidentiality that we are afforded as chaplains and chaplain assistants allow us to provide high quality care, spontaneously and scheduled, to such a degree that we are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."

Having these unit engagements also allows the chaplains and chaplain assistants more of a one-on-one interaction.

"Our biggest impact is small groups of people and small conversations," said Michael, currently deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and a native of Yuma, Ariz.

Unit ministries are just one of the ways the base chapel team is here to help. There are many other programs at the chapel that Airmen, Soldiers and civilians can take advantage of while they are deployed here.

One such initiative is Operation Home Front, in which the chapel provides private rooms for individuals to Skype or FaceTime with their families for different life events. This could be anything from attending a funeral, wedding, graduation or the birth of a child.

The chapel also often receives several care packages from support groups stateside. These packages bring in toiletry items, snacks and other various items that are free to everyone on base to take as needed.
Base personnel can also take part in the many different study groups offered at the chapel. Examples include the "Defender Study," which is primarily for the cops on base, to "Recovery," which is for anyone who has any type of addiction.

The chapel also offers resources for those Airmen who are getting ready to redeploy, such as the "Art of Marriage" seminar.

The Art of Marriage provides individuals the tools to communicate, honor vows and reconnect with their loved one. Participants learn what it means to be patient and loving while developing techniques to overcome obstacles and challenges that all marriages face.

"We give them listening skills and the encouragement to be the individuals they need to be to make their marriage last, said Michael. "By turning their hearts towards home instead of deployment, we give them specific abstract, larger-level skills to want to go back into their home prepared to embrace their mate."

One other little-known reintegration program the chapel staff offers is the Sandy Cove Ministries "Operation Oasis."

"It is for any service member who has been deployed and is a week-long family vacation," said Tech. Sgt. Lisa, NCO in-charge chapel operations. "Literally, you are spending time with the family, reintegrating back with your family and getting back to the heart and soul of that relationship."

At the end of the day, every chapel staff member agrees that they are not just a chaplain or chaplain assistant, they are a RST who bring intangible impacts to the fight.

"One of the biggest things we bring is hope," said Lisa, currently deployed from Joint Base Andrews, Md. and a native of northern Florida. "We see people in good times as well as bad, so when they need hope they look for a familiar face. Because we are the spiritual experts, they look to us for hope."

Like all military professions, the chapel team has challenges they must work to overcome so they can continue with their mission.

"I think the biggest challenge we actually have is compassion fatigue," said Lisa. "We want to help everyone but even we have limits. When we reach that limit it is kind of hard to continue to care for people, to continue to provide hope and help those who need us. That's when we use many of the skills we provide to people, including relying on each other."

No matter when a problem arises, the chapel staff is ready to help.

"We are available to the commanders and Airmen 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Michael. "If they have an issue or they just want some advice to put something into perspective, just call us. We will go anywhere, anytime and do anything we can to take care of the people."