Religious Affairs Airmen - Backbone Of The Chapel
by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Thomas Johns
July 28, 2020
Chaplains are often the face of religious affairs, but they cannot serve the spiritual needs of Airmen and their families alone. The role of enlisted Airmen who support the Chaplains is pivotal to the spiritual resiliency of Team Whiteman.
Religious Affairs Airmen serve in a variety of roles that support their assigned Chaplains, the base chapel, and base populous. The little known career field does everything from maintaining the chapel facilities, managing the financial books, running chapel events, and providing for religious practices during services.
“In a sense, I’m civil engineering, contracting, and communications,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Terrence Williams, 509th Bomb Wing Religious Affairs Airman. “We wear a lot of hats, we’re trained to be a jack-of-all-trades, we have to juggle many different things, but it’s rewarding.”
July 7, 2020 - U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Terrence Williams, a 509th Bomb Wing religious affairs Airman, poses in the Spirit Chapel sanctuary at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Religious Affairs Airmen work with Chaplains to provide confidential counseling and support for religious needs and services. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Thomas Johns)
Their training includes education about a variety of large religious groups and their beliefs, as well as instruction on how to provide for their individual services and needs. Although Religious Affairs Airmen don’t need to be religious, they are expected to respect all religions. During their training, Religious Affairs Airmen also learn how to provide confidential counseling, suicide prevention, and other emergency skills during field training exercises with their Chaplain counter-parts.
“In our training, we learn about confidentiality and how to be good intervention counselors,” Williams said. “We are trained how to mitigate extreme crisis scenarios through ‘true life’ settings. It’s all about learning to diffuse those types of issues in an office setting, because anything could happen.”
While Religious Affairs Airmen aid the Chaplain Corps by counseling Airmen and their families, their role as an enlisted member also provides a unique perspective and understanding that strengthens the Chaplain team.
“Chaplains rely on Religious Affairs Airmen for their personal experiences, their skills and their enlisted experience,” said U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) William Petree, 509th Medical Group Chaplain. “Sometimes enlisted people going through hard things find it hard to trust officers or someone of a higher rank, and our Religious Affairs Airmen act as that bridge. They are the subject matter experts for our enlisted.”
Religious Affairs Airmen use their specialized training to work with Chaplains in Religious Support Teams to provide spiritual and mental support for Airmen and their families. The religious Support Teams interact with Airmen in their work places to build relationships within units and act as a bridge between Airmen and their leadership.
“We go out with a Chaplain in an RST to conduct unit engagements to talk with Airmen, learn about their jobs, how they’re feeling, and build relationships,” Williams said. “If we detect some trends in morale, we talk with the unit leadership and try to come up with some ideas and ways to improve morale and become a more cohesive unit”.
Building relationships is crucial for anyone wanting to be a Religious Affairs Airman, and the career field can be extremely personal where interpersonal skills are infinitely important.
“In order to succeed in this career field, you need to be true to who you are, but have the ability to give love to anyone who comes through the door,” Williams said. “You need the ability to care for your fellow wingmen. Not just those to your left and right, but anyone who comes to you.”
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