Recent training exercise provides wartime realism for chaplain candidates

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
They stand ready to provide spiritual care and guidance at a moment's notice, in any given situation, anywhere in the world.

To help prepare them for that responsibility, 22 second lieutenants in the Chaplain Candidate Program - were immersed in combat scenarios earlier this month at the 5th Combat Communications Group's Combat Readiness School. 

Chaplains have a noncombatant status, so it may appear ironic that they were being put through combat situations.

But, it was imperative these young officers participated in the school's inaugural training event which provides a level of realism they could experience, should they ever find themselves in a combat situation.

Instructors embedded the chaplain candidates with a 5th CCG class already in place to allow them to experience what it would be like to have an improvised explosive device deployed nearby, hear a mortar attack, take part in convoy operations or be shot at by an enemy.

"What we're trying to do is inoculate them so they either know how to react or are familiar with that sensation of adrenaline and stress," said Tech Sgt. Till Schanz, 5th CCG Combat Readiness School NCOIC.  

Temperatures reached 99 degrees on the day of training. By the time it ended, the candidates had spent nearly 36 hours at Gator Air Base at the southeastern corner of base. That included sleeping two nights on cots in tents. 

Taking a break from training, and the heat, two candidates were escorted by a third airman with a rifle. 

"This training was good to make sure you're not a liability in the field," said 2nd Lt. Navhira Mascorro, originally from Bakersfield, Calif. "You're there to perform a task. While we were simulating helping an injured civilian, it was good to learn we weren't a security threat."

Second Lt. Steven Henderson, from Los Angeles, agreed.

"We're there to help airmen - not get in their way," he said. "We try to learn to be good listeners and not impose religion, but to hear their needs and try to meet them." 

Among the scenarios, several candidates were part of a mission with special operators, caught in a simulated village setting. And, they were part of a church group supporting African nationals with food, water, medical and spiritual aid.

Another included rescuing a female in duress who was hit by an IED, with candidates comforting family members, and other scenarios challenging candidates to see if they would pick up a weapon and engage in combatant activities, which is forbidden under the Geneva Conventions.

A suicide bomber was shot during one scenario, further challenging candidates to provide spiritual and moral support to the shooter who took him down. That played out as if it were real to them. 

Two chaplain assistants took part in the training, and are the combatant arm of the chaplain corps. They're able to bear arms and provide security for chaplains.

"They were shot at quite a bit. They were tempted to grab a weapon, especially when stuck in a building, and the only chance they have is to surrender," said Schanz of the chaplain candidates. 

On the overall training, he added, "It's gone very well, a flawless integration." 

Editor's note: On July 29, 1775, the Continental Congress established chaplains as an integral part of the Continental Army. In 1947, the National Security Act established the Air Force as a separate branch of the military. The Air Force Chaplain Corps was transitioned from the Army Air Corps in 1949.