News: Chapel corps promotes spiritual fitness
Story by Senior Airman Bahja Jones
SOUTHWEST ASIA – “Fit to Fight.” When many hear the common military expression, a physical fitness assessment comes to mind, but the Air Force also incorporates mental and spiritual fitness into the equation as well. As a personal trainer is to a member working toward improved physical fitness, so is the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing chaplain corps to deployed service members who need a spiritual pick-me-up.
“My job is to care for the Airman’s soul,” said Capt. Joseph Wright, IV, a 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Protestant chaplain deployed from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and an Anderson, S.C., native. “My lane is the spiritual lane -- to take care of [service members] ethically, morally, and make sure their morale is high.”
The chaplain corps provides spiritual care and opportunities for Airmen, and all service members here, to exercise their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion through religious services, and observances and pastoral care. They also advise leaders on ethical, moral, morale, core values and religious accommodation issues.
Seven chaplains assigned to the 379th AEW are responsible for the spiritual welfare of all service members assigned to the installation, which means going beyond the pulpit and the chapel and doing what Wright called, “the ministry of presence.” Each chaplain is assigned to a group within the wing, and responsible for making regular visits to their respective units and interacting with the Airmen.
Wright, along with his chaplain assistant Staff Sgt. Jamyal Lett, are assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Operations Group, and as a religious support team, they visit the assigned service members at their work centers.
“The highlight of this deployment has been the ability to be out in our units, meeting our Airmen, learning about their jobs and making sure they are spiritually equipped to do their mission,” said Lett who is deployed from Shaw AFB, S.C., and hails from Augusta, Ga.
Being the chaplain team assigned to the 379th EOG has also enabled Wright opportunities to go beyond the confines of the installation on missions with different squadrons.
“We are able to get a mission outlook while also ministering to, caring for and supporting the Airmen that are in the fight,” Wright said.
A common misconception is the chaplain corps exclusively provides religious support, but the services they provide are for all members, regardless of their beliefs or denominational preference.
“We are chaplains to all, and pastors to those of like precious faith,” Wright said. “As a chaplain I am there to serve all types of Airmen, irrespective of their religious background. We are called to laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep.”
Wright said one of the first question’s he asks when approached for counsel is “what is your religious background?” This method, he explained, helps him to tailor his message in a way they will receive it, and not be offended whether they are Presbyterian or Baptist, Buddhist or Hindu, Agnostic or Atheist.
In a deployed environment service members are faced with an increased workload, extended hours and the added stress of being geographically separated from loved ones. In cases where an individual needs additional support, the chaplaincy can help them get the assistance they need.
“The work we do is vital stateside, but here, the importance is heightened dramatically because [service members] have stressors they don’t have at home and it brings things out that might otherwise lay dormant,” Wright said. “We are able to be there when those questions or issues arise and help walk them through.”
Chaplain assistants also aid in identifying problems and directing members to a chaplain or the appropriate helping agency, Lett added.
“Being able to share the love of God with them has been one of the most profound joys I’ve had here,” Wright said.
The 379th AEW chaplaincy provides spiritual support and counsel to all in need, helping to keep airmen wholly “fit to fight.”