ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
A sign of strength is asking for help. When it comes to taking care of people and saving lives, it’s understood this mission is a top priority across the Air Force.
Comprehensive Airman Fitness focuses on targeted programs and activities that build and sustain a thriving and resilient Air Force, which includes the four pillars of mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness – all essential to the resiliency of airmen.
For military members stationed at Robins and across the Air Force, programs in all four pillars are offered to help airmen remain resilient as they accomplish their mission.
However, for the thousands of Title 5 civilian airmen accomplishing the mission at Robins, one pillar - the spiritual fitness pillar - was devoid of resources until now. As of Monday, administrative leave is now authorized for all civilian employees here for time off to seek spiritual care during a time of personal crisis.
When a civilian airman experiences a crisis, and would like to seek a spiritual care provider of his/her choice, a period of 1.5 hours has been allowed as authorized health and wellness leave to participate in spiritual care and/or counseling, whether it is faith-based crisis counseling, crisis pastoral care with a member of the clergy or participation in a crisis intervention program - such as a new program offered by American Federation of Government Employees Local 987. The excused time includes travel time to and from the provider.
Authorized leave is available to all federal employees - bargaining and non-bargaining unit civilian employees - who would like to specifically visit with a pastor or other member of a faith-based group specifically in a time of crisis, defined as an acute, distressing issue that is interfering with the individual’s personal safety, ability to perform their job, or more importantly, is leading to self-destructive behavior.
Absences for health and wellness activities such as this are considered a benefit and therefore authorized, in accordance with Air Force Instruction 36-815 Absence and Leave. This leave period will be deducted from any available physical fitness leave.
On-Call Clergy Crisis Team
Following a 2015 Clergy Day Summit - a pilot program at Robins to further strengthen relationships between the base and local clergy and community faith-based organizations - the Robins Ministerial Alliance was formed in a grassroots effort of local civilian clergy desiring to offer Robins employees a network of spiritual opportunities in support of the spiritual fitness pillar of CAF.
Because the Air Force Chaplain Corps is only able to provide spiritual counseling for military members and their authorized dependents, it was seen as equally important to also identify and find ways to offer spiritual care opportunities for civilian members at Robins.
The resulting gap in resources for care between military and civilian airmen became the primary working issue for the RMA. Discussion led to action and what resulted was a partnership between the RMA and AFGE Local 987.
In a voluntary program offered in partnership between AFGE Local 987 and the RMA, the union is now offering a program for crisis spiritual care counseling through the availability of an On-Call Clergy Crisis Team.
The program is just one more referral resource available to civilian airmen who in a crisis, wish to seek spiritual care and counsel, further broadening existing CAF pillars for mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness.
“It is spiritual fitness for those who do not want to go to mental health care, and prefer to speak with a clergy person or spiritual adviser of their choice, and find a spiritual resolution to their crisis,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jonathan Wade, installation chaplain.
For supervisors who may be aware of employees who are in acute, intense, distress with thoughts of suicide or other self-destructive behaviors, or perhaps an inability to perform work where safety becomes an issue, this is an additional voluntary resource made available to those looking for spiritual assistance in a safe, neutral environment.
“If someone chooses a certain religious background, we have a vetted number of people we can choose from that will suit their needs,” said Bryant Aaron, AFGE Local 987 union trustee.
“It’s about the wingman concept and has to be addressed in a serious manner. We want to put traction to the program to make sure we have everything civilian airmen need in a time of trouble,” added Bryant, who is also a pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Byron, Georgia.
This week’s on-call clergy crisis program began with about a dozen clergy who have been fully vetted and trained, and will be available for counseling from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Once a call is made to the union’s on-call clergy team for assistance, response time is 30 minutes. Private rooms for civilian airmen and on-call team members to talk are available at the base chapel or other locations as needed.
Rev. David Brighton, on-call clergy team lead and pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Warner Robins, recalled last year’s clergy summit that drew dozens of local clergy members. He was excited to see visible signs of outreach to the base from the community.
“There’s an interest in taking care of our people,” said Brighton, the program’s first clergy to be on call this week. “As pastors we are in the business of providing spiritual care, of connecting people to a power bigger than themselves so that they have help in those intense crisis times. That is my desire to provide that help – we don’t want anybody to harm themselves or others.”
With the overarching goal of preventing suicides in the work force, one message resonated, that if one life is saved, then it is worth it.
“The bottom line is we are going to do our best to save lives. If you are thinking of hurting yourself, ask for help now, and help will be provided,” Wade said. “It’s a sign of strength.”
What to know
* Civilian employees are approved for a brief absence from normal work duties, without loss of pay or charge to leave, to participate in spiritual care activities that respond to a personal crisis. An on-call clergy team is now available to provide crisis spiritual care for civilian federal employees Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
* A total of 1.5 hours is authorized for these counseling sessions, which includes travel to and from location (this can be coded as LN, sub code PF, in leave system). Absences for health and wellness activities such as this are considered a benefit, in accordance with AFI 36-815 Absence and Leave.
* Requests by supervisors can be made by calling AFGE Local 987 at 478-733-8740. If busy or no answer, call the base chapel at 478-926-2821.
* Counseling will take place privately at the base chapel or other areas as needed.
* Any bargaining unit and non-bargaining unit federal civilian employee at Robins has the option to participate.
*Supervisors may request from individuals proof of appointment upon return.