Chaplain's Corner: Ministry in Southwest Asia

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- How does one briefly summarize the work of a chaplain at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, a high impact base with a 24/7 mission known as the 379 AEW? I can honestly say that it defies simple and brief descriptions but let me try to paint a concise picture. 

As Air Guard chaplain of the 114 FW, I am proud to serve as senior Catholic chaplain as part of a team of eight Chaplains and four Chaplain assistants (CA). Victory Chapel is the physical center of our worship and offices, but we are not contained to that space. We might just as easily be found in the Memorial Plaza, affectionately know as the "Bra" or driving out to the flight line for visitation in our mini "Shepherd 1 and 2" vehicles. The chapel remains open for business 24/7 so as to meet the needs of our more than 8,000 coming off duty at all hours. 

Worship and spiritual education: First and foremost, chaplains exist to ensure the constitutional right to freedom of religion while serving in the Armed Forces. Whatever one's spiritual tradition, the chaplains are either leading worship services or accommodating lay leadership and providing space for groups to gather. Traditional times and space do not always connect with troops who might find it hard to attend due to operations tempo. Our solution. The Protestant chaplains have a 1 a.m. Service for those working the odd shift hours. The Catholics also take our 7 p.m. worship service to the Mall: a place to shop, sip cool lattes and find prayer refreshment at weekend Mass. Spiritual growth also means opportunities for Bible studies and other faith education. We provide twenty-four different classes as part of our Grand Slam Spiritual Growth Plan. Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University is so popular that six different classes are offered at various days and times. 

Counseling: Troops of all branches of the Armed Forces wander into our offices at all hours of the day. At times it is simply to chat with a chaplain about nothing in particular, and other times, the issues are more serious. During the initial briefing upon arrival, the chaplain reminds them of the important fact of confidentiality. The chaplain is a safe person to go to, out of the chain of command. Deployment brings with it a whole set of stresses that must be dealt with because we know that "mission comes first." We are far away from spouses, children and other support systems. Each military personnel must find ways of coping with long weeks and hours of week, new living habits (Did you remember to bring your reflective belt everywhere you go?) and other more serious events back home that we are helpless to control on this side of the globe. Chaplains make it a priority to be available any time, any place to keep our troops healthy in body, mind and soul. 

Transit ministry and ministry of presence: One of the unpredictable elements of life here in the desert is that we are a hub of troops passing through downrange and returning from downrange, on their way home. Our Victory Chapel complex by extension is a place to stop in. We service a quiet place called Jack's where the coffee pot is always on, cold water and sodas in the refrigerator and a quiet place to hang out. Chaplain teams passing through know that they can find us for ministry of welcome, access to a shower and laundry facilities and conversation with fellow chaplains. Our chaplain team wants to be known for hospitality and passionate ministry, a reminder of the holy in this fast paced mission that does not sleep.