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    Fort Bragg Garrison Religious Support Office goes virtual with spiritual commitment



    Story by Jacqueline Thomas 

    Fort Bragg Garrison Public Affairs Office

    FORT BRAGG, N.C. - When Fort Bragg shifted to mission-essential personnel in March due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the installation’s Religious Support Office still had a spiritual commitment to its followers.

    From therapy sessions to worship services, the RSO used social media platforms, video-conferencing sites and outdoor venues to engage with people one-on-one and in group settings.

    “The week that everything shutdown, I was sitting with a client in an in-person therapy session,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Colt Randles, garrison Family life chaplain, RSO. “After that session, I got the phone call to cease all in-person therapy. My thought then became, ‘the need is still critical, but how do we connect in a way that maintains 100 percent confidentially, a unique aspect that we offer as chaplains.’”

    Randles said after receiving guidance from the Office of the Chief of Chaplains on what HIPAA-compliant platform to utilize to protect confidentiality, counseling was back on track – virtually. He said he counsels about a dozen clients a week and more than 190 counseling sessions have been conducted by unit chaplains.

    When worship services became virtual, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jeffery Masengale, the deputy garrison chaplain, RSO, said he called the social media guru and public affairs representative Holly Smith from the All-American Chapel to get the RSO up to speed.

    “Holly has taken us to a new level with social media,” Masengale said. “From creating links to the various services, posting three-to-four times a day and answering questions … we’ve grown, thanks to her.”

    Smith said for about a year, the All-American Chapel worship services were already being livestreamed due to deployments.

    “When the call came March 13 about having to make a change due to COVID-19, it wasn’t so much about our service going virtual, we were already there,” Smith said. “It was how were we going to stream with a higher audio and video quality and get the other worship services up and running virtually.”

    To consolidate the worship services, Smith said she created a photo album by taking a profile picture from each chapel service and created a direct link to their Facebook page. She then took the photo album and uploaded it to the “About” section on the RSO’s Facebook page. Although not all the religious groups have a Facebook page, any information about their services is posted.

    “The evolution of religious support on post, because of the COVID-19 restrictions, did not come without hiccups, and there’s blooper reels as proof,” said Randles as Smith chuckled. “However, most platforms are now running smoothly.”

    Masengale said the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, was very instrumental in helping with Fort Bragg’s virtual religious services footprint.

    “IMCOM takes care of 52 garrisons,” he said. “For us to get 10 cameras, 10 microphones and extra battery packs was wonderful. There was a need presented, and they responded immediately to help us get better equipment to move to a virtual platform.”

    Chaplain (Maj.) Phillip Rittermeyer, garrison operations chaplain, RSO, said virtual attendance skyrocketed following the March 22 launch. There have been 165 worship services with 49,543 views and 245 religious studies/devotionals with 30,552 views.

    “During the first few weeks, we had between 5,000 to 6,000 people viewing the online services,” he said. “Our outdoor services, which started three weeks ago, were high in numbers, as well.”

    The Main Post Parade Field, known for its pageantry and changes of command, is one of several sites for outdoor services, Masengale said. Other venues include the All-American Chapel, JFK Memorial Chapel and Smith Lake.

    “When I visited the first outdoor service on the Main Post Parade Field, it was as if the field had been converted into a community church,” Masengale said. “You had those living around the parade field listening to the message, a couple of kids riding their bikes stopping to listen, a Family sitting in their car and listening and another Family walking their dog stopping to listen. That is the one thing you miss when you are in the church with the doors shut – it is kind of like a private meeting. Being outdoors is making it more public.”

    Rittermeyer said no one was extremely caught off guard with the change in the worship services due to the restrictions. Flying in, setting up on the back of a Humvee tailgate – not a problem. However, this was here at home, not during a deployment and it was different.

    “This speaks to how the chaplaincy operates – it’s just what Army chaplains do, we adapt,” he said. “We provide service to wherever people are and whatever conditions they are in. We don’t have to have a chapel, we don’t have to have fancy altar linens, we don’t have to have pews, we just have to have people who want to practice their religion.”

    Masengale said they are still working through the plans of how to integrate back to worshipping inside, but the changes that were made due to COVID-19 have made Families, the RSO and the installation stronger.

    “We’re not walking out of this weaker, but more spiritually awakened,” he said. “When you stay so busy, you’re just in the rut of being busy. Rather than focusing on the negative of what you cannot do, reflect on the positive. Honestly, this pause in our everyday lives has been a hidden blessing.”



    Date Taken: 06.03.2020
    Date Posted: 06.03.2020 15:09
    Story ID: 371378
    Location: FORT BRAGG, NC, US 

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