News: Taking care of Airmen ‘deploys’ chaplains to the last frontier
Story by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska - Twenty-four hours a day airmen can go to a chaplain to tell their deepest secrets in confidence, receive counseling or spiritual care, or be comforted by these non-combatant airmen who will travel the world to take care of service members and their families.
This is no different for the airmen who work and live at Clear Air Force Station, deep in America’s last frontier.
Chaplains from Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, Alaska, travel the icy roads to the remote radar station every other week to aid the airmen there in completing the mission of providing early warning of intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
“Being able to spiritually worship and have this support is critical here,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Jefferies, 13th Space Warning Squadron commander, the active duty component at CAFS. “At a remote location like this people can get depressed and have separation anxiety when family and friends are at home. Sometimes there is a void. The spiritual attention chaplains provide is absolutely imperative to operations.”
CAFS has more than 300 contractor, civilian, active duty, Canadian, and Alaska Air National Guardsmen who work seamlessly together. Active duty members live there full-time on a year remote, while civilian, contractors and Alaska Air National Guardsmen work an alternate work schedule to maintain and support the phased array radar, which also doubles to provide our nation’s space surveillance to Air Force Space Command.
“Coming to work here is always a treat,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Thomas Fussell, 354th Fighter Wing protestant chaplain. “It is like a deployment compared to working at my home duty station; I get to focus on one thing and that’s to take care of airmen.”
The small chapel, which boasts stained glass and wooden pews, is used for Bible studies, daily worship by airmen and fellowship; however, chaplains focus much of their time outside the pulpit.
“Getting out to the actual work areas like the radar site and security checkpoints is extremely beneficial to me and the airmen I’m here to serve,” Fussell said. “Without that, it is difficult to build long-term relationships since I’m here so little. Being out there having face-to-face interaction is the key.”
Chaplains provide worship services and support for their primary denomination and also for other denominations as needs arise. If they are unable to lend the proper support, they are trained to search out a solution to provide for almost any situation.
While there is only a chaplain on staff every other week, other health professionals take the seat and fill in to create a seamless support system for Clear, yet chaplains are only a phone call away.
“Having the ability to support people by phone or on call is important, but being here is really the most important part of our work,” Fussell said. “In these halls, work stations and the chapel is where the magic happens.”