MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. — They don’t work in hospitals, wear lab coats or fix broken bones but they can heal hidden wounds. Some people may refer to them as pastors, while others consider them counselors. But these spiritual doctors are known to the military as chaplains.
Chaplains work 24/7 to help members cope in life through counseling and carry the responsibility of their welfare, morale and spiritual fitness.
“We are truly committed to taking care of our people,” said U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kim Bowen, 23d Wing chaplain. “Sometimes the awareness that people have or don’t have [about counseling] makes all the difference in the world as to what we offer. We understand that not everybody’s religious. The Air Force understands that, but it also understands that we are all, at least in part, spiritual.”
Although church is their workplace, much of what chaplains do fall outside the realm of religion.
“We hope that people know we are a counseling resource here as well,” said Bowen. “Principally because of the privileged communication that we offer. No other agency has that level of confidentiality.”
Privileged communication, under Military Rules of Evidence 503, means that anything you speak to a chaplain or chaplain assistant about in a counseling setting is confidential.
“We can’t release that information to anyone without written permission from the member,” said Master Sgt. John Davis, 23d Wing chaplain assistant. “It’s a really good service we have, because there may be someone experiencing difficulties at home or in the workplace. A lot of times they just need to vent without fear of retribution or being judged. That privilege, being able to share that with us so we can help them through that difficult time, is a really good thing. It’s make them comfortable and more willing to share.”
Chaplains counsel during the day, but also work around the clock in order to help Airmen connect with their spirituality.
“We deal with all sorts of elements of life, from cradle-to-grave–literally,” said Bowen. “Whether someone’s celebrating something or someone has received some bad news, we are available all the time. Sometimes that comes in the middle of the night. We always have a chaplain on call. You can reach them by calling the command post. [They have] a list of our schedule.”
Chaplains rotate being on call on a weekly basis and during the day work side-by-side with their assistants.
“Chaplain assistants are a vital part of the Chaplain Corps,” said Bowen. “They manage the chapel when it comes to the administrative, logistical and financial side of how things are run.”
Chaplains and chaplain assistants work together as a unit, also known as a Religious Support Team to accommodate the needs of the base.
“We operate on the group-level in RSTs,” said Bowen. “What we do [on a daily basis] depends on the needs of each unit. For example, if a traumatic event happens[such as death] in a unit we work with the leadership to come up with a response plan, help advise the unit and participate in the memorial service.”
Each RST finds the time to visit their assigned group on base, such as the Medical Group, the Mission Support Group, the Maintenance Group and the Fighter and Rescue Group.
“Years ago, when I came in as young Airman Basic Bowen, if you wanted to find a chaplain you’d go to the chapel,” said Bowen. “Well [since then] we’ve realized we have to get outside the chapel and be with the people. We are a lot more mobile so we can build relationships with people. We are only as affective as those relationships of trust that we’ve built.”
A chaplain’s mobility goes beyond their home base and extends into all parts of the world, even deployed locations, in order to support Airmen everywhere.
“It’s an interesting thing what happens when people get away from the comforts of home,” said Bowen. “They start to really think about the purpose and the meaning of life. They start evaluating their lives and relationships back home and that can stir up some things. So there is an increase in [the need for] counseling that we do in overseas locations.”
Service members may seek out chaplains frequently in a deployed environment, but chaplains have been one of the military’s resources for over two centuries.