Faith on the frontline: Chaplains offer spiritual support for deployed Airmen

  • Published
  • By Holly Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
When Airmen are thousands of miles away in the dust of the deployed location, Air Force chaplains are there to remind them they're not alone.

Whether it's to offer a word of encouragement or lend an ear to someone who needs to be heard, chaplains work around the clock to reach out to Airmen who are facing stressful times far from their loved ones and remind them that God is in the midst no matter where they are.

Chaplain (Lt. Col) Thomas Fey, a catholic chaplain at Robins since August 2001 and wing chaplain at the base since June 2005, said chaplains bring Airmen a sense of "normalcy and hope" to their deployed lives.

Father Fey said the chaplain's presence gives hope to "the insanity of the situation the deployed Airmen find themselves in sometimes.

Chaplain (Capt.) Paul Joyner, a protestant chaplain in the Base Chapel since late July, said he and other chaplains try to make Airmen feel at home in a spiritual sense.

"When we deploy, we do most of the same things," he said. "We provide religious services for our particular groups that we can. We provide accommodation for those we can't."

Contemporary services include musical instruments like drums and the guitar, while more traditional worship services include taking communion, a service symbolic of the Lord's Supper and used as a reminder of Christ.

Airmen are invited not only to worship services, but also to Bible studies.

Chaplain Joyner, who last deployed from June 2005 to May 2006 while stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., said very little stands in the way of carrying out their mission in the field. Chaplain Joyner said weddings are about the only service chaplains don't provide in the deployed environment.

Unit visitations are one way chaplains speak to the hearts of deployed Airmen, Father Fey said.

"The chaplain goes out and visits," he said. "He visits different units. We usually have some kind of visitation schedule, and there, we're just making ourselves present to the deployed troops to answer questions, to deal with needs, and to help them cope with the fact of being deployed. A lot of what we're doing is helping people cope with being separated from family."

Chaplain (Capt.) Daniel Kim, a protestant chaplain with the Base Chapel since July 2004, said he would sometimes take his faith to Airmen in the sky when he was deployed to Kuwait over a four-month stretch in 2006.

Chaplain Kim said he flew with Airmen for more than 12 hours each Wednesday to minister to pilots, navigators, loadmasters and even to those in other branches of service.

The protestant chaplain said the ministry field is large in the area of responsibility.

"I focus on three things: unit visitation, worship and comfort," Chaplain Kim said.

Chaplain Joyner said chaplains provide comfort to Airmen who have lost a close family member and try to ease their hurt.

"There were probably four or five individuals who had a death of a (loved one) like a grandparent who they were very close to and they couldn't go home," he said. "So we spent a lot of time with them."

With 130-degree temperatures on the flightline and Airmen rotating out every six months, Chaplain Kim said his work of easing deployed Airmen's stress was cut out for him in Kuwait. He said he would try to provide relief for Airmen any way he could. Sometimes that meant giving out popsicles, water, Gatorade and other goodies.

Father Fey said during a 2004 deployment, he and other chaplains gave out cookies to keep Airmen smiling.

"They were homemade cookies," he said. "They were cookies that came from mom, so they were far better than anything you could get out of a package."

For Chaplain Joyner, stress relief came by way of a deployed coffee house he fondly named "Paul's Perks."

"I started a coffee shop in the Internet café," he said. "Where I was at, they had a building with just Internet computers for Airmen to use, but it was an old house. The kitchen wasn't being used for anything, so I got a couple of coffee makers and I started writing people at home and asking other officers to write their family members and have them send coffee, coffee filters, creamer and goodies."

Before long, Chaplain Joyner had coffee cups, Girl Scout cookies, and other tasty treats to help take Airmen's minds off of the war zone.

"It was something where they could make their own coffee, sit there, and be on the Internet e-mailing people at home and have a Little Debbie cake or something, all compliments of the chapel," he said.

In addition to being there for Airmen, Father Fey said chaplains are also an invaluable tool for commanders when deployed.

"The chaplain is extremely important because we become an integral part of the commander's staff, reaching out into areas that neither the commander nor the first sergeant can, because we can go into spiritual wellness and going beyond spiritual wellness, going into a social concept of wellness."

Duty chaplains are on hand to encourage deployed Airmen in need. It's that presence that helps keep Airmen grounded in their faith while they serve on the front line.