News: Chaplain veers from straight, narrow care
Story by Senior Airman Alyssa Miles
SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq -- What do K-9 training, pouring cement and changing high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle brakes have in common here?
For Chaplain (Capt.) Chad Montgomery, 447th Air Expeditionary Group, each activity is one that he will readily participate in to bond with Airmen. While most chaplains visit their assigned units on a regular basis, Montgomery has made it his goal to lay hands on Airmen's training and daily mission.
"I call it incarnation visitation," Montgomery said. "Really what that means is, it's one thing to show up and care -- that's great. But a lot of guys -- males and females -- won't open up. They don't know you, they don't know if they can trust you."
To build the Airmen's faith in him, the chaplain has spent hours outside of the chapel helping Airmen with their tasks — from military working dog bite training with the 447th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, to changing brakes on a vehicle with Airmen from the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.
"I don't think people realize or know what your job is unless they do it," the chaplain said. "I think people just think chaplains play with flannel graphs or something, just tell Sunday school stories.
"When they see you out there sweating to the point you feel like puking, when you're pushing pallets with them, when you're out there getting attacked by a dog, saying 'Hey, I'm here with you' -- it's amazing the conversations that'll come up," the chaplain said.
The captain's road to being a chaplain began with a notion from a family friend in his hometown of Newtown Square, Pa., more than 30 years ago.
"There was someone in my life who, when I was five years old, she said that's my little minister, he's going to be a pastor some day," said the chaplain. "The seeds that my parents planted in me as a child have grown to fruition. That's a big thing -- the music they had us listen to, the love that they showed me. A lot of what I do as a chaplain honestly comes from them.
"I feel like I learned how to listen from my mother, and how to care for people," he said. "My dad also taught me that, but dad was really good at 'you talk while you work.' We had many of our best conversations shoveling up rocks, cutting grass in the evening, and so I just apply that."
His practice has proven to be successful. Colorado Springs, Colo., native Staff Sgt. David Newell, 447th ESFS, says the chaplain has participated in many of their day-to-day missions.
"We search vehicles, do walking patrols, conduct aircraft and convoy sweeps -- whatever is needed from us," said the sergeant, who is deployed from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. "The chaplain has done a lot of what we do.
"Seeing the chaplain out doing this kind of stuff makes him more approachable," Newell continued. "By talking to him, he seems like he's a normal, nice guy. It's not like 'I don't know the chaplain, so I'm not comfortable talking to him."
Montgomery uses this same technique at his home station, Lackland AFB, Texas, where he serves as a basic military training chaplain.
"I've been through the gas chamber like 20 times -- I know, it's sick," he chuckled. "We see who can take the pain for as long as possible. We're not about promoting ourselves -- God gets the glory, that's the ultimate key in everything. It's also showing that you're not a wimp when you become a chaplain."
Showing support through his actions is something the chaplain says he will continue to do throughout his career, God-willing.
"The encouragement has been great," he said. "Not that we need it, but it's nice to know if God's using you in people's lives. There have been a bunch of people who have come up and said 'thank you for helping me with my marriage, and for being willing to say things that come across tough but I needed to hear to grow.'"
Those who do not have a specific religious belief should not feel apprehensive about approaching a chaplain for counseling.
"I am a pastor to some, but a chaplain to all," Montgomery said. "I talk to people who aren't interested in God. It doesn't matter what their beliefs are; that doesn't change my care or the ability to have fun with them. I'm the beneficiary for people who have poured themselves into my life, and now it's my opportunity and privilege to pour into other's lives for their benefit."