Chaplains: serving base, deployed units, community

  • Published
  • By Jamie Haig
  • 1st SOW Public Affairs
Whether it's a retirement, a change of command or services on the weekend, the Hurlburt Field chaplains are always present and ready to help Airmen and their families at "Anytime, Anyplace."

The chapel has six chaplains and six chaplain assistants, but at any given time, four are deployed to wherever Air Force Special Operations Command personnel are located.

"This is what I like about being here - we go forward with our people," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael Tinnon, 1st Special Operations Wing chaplain. "Unlike the Air Expeditionary Force, we're placed with our deployed Airmen so the continuity and trust is already in place. We're either deployed or we're out on the flightline, we're rarely in the office. The chaplains find a need and try to meet it," he said. "We've got wonderful helping agencies at Hurlburt, and we work with these great folks to create and implement programs that will effectively take care of the Airmen."

Operation Homecoming is one of the programs the chaplains rolled out recently, where returning Airmen are greeted not only by their families but their commanders, peers and yes, their chaplains. Another program in development is post-deployment retreats that will include life skills and the chaplains helping Airmen reintegrate with their families after the stress and durations of deployments.

"There are so many issues we're finding out about and we want to implement programs that will help our Airmen," Chaplain Tinnon said. "It's so important that we take care of and love each other because if we don't - the rest just falls apart."

"AFSOC Airmen are a tight-knit group, they don't open up to just anyone," Chaplain (Capt.) Loren Raiford said. "It's a relief to them to see us arrive in deployed locations. They understand that your spiritual side is a part of your life like everything else."

The Hurlburt Field Chapel has participated in programs like the Salute to Families which kicked off in November with a family movie night at the base theater.

Faith in the Foxhole is a monthly luncheon lecture series during which past and present Air Commandos talk about their wartime experiences and how their faith got them through it. Munch & Mend is the chapel program that feeds the Airmen and fixes their uniforms.

Chaplain (Capt.) Christian Chae helps with those programs as well as counseling spouses that are new to the Air Force, using his own personal experiences to help them better understand the lifestyle in which they'll be living.

Chaplains work with Airmen downrange to help them better themselves while they're deployed. They help them find classes online, books or whatever else they might need to obtain this goal.

Chaplain Chae also works to help develop the individuals, because those individuals will then help others. He will meet with three to five folks over coffee in the deployed chapel and talk about issues and solutions. By developing their listening and decision making skills, he hopes they will go back to their units and become the "go-to" person for others.

Chaplains are also included in the operations briefings when deployed, so they know where to focus their help before, during and after an operation. They are there to officiate for memorial services as well as oversee the regular services for Airmen.

"One thing the chaplains offer Airmen is absolute confidentiality," Chaplain Chae said. "Sometimes Airmen may feel like a carbonated can all shook up from stress, ready to blow. They can come talk to us - we'll help them cope with the problems. They are not alone."

"Families are my big cup of tea," said Chaplain (Capt.) Anthony Pantlitz. "Divorces are high in a high tempo operation such as here. Being deployed can be hard. These Airmen can handle anything except seeing their marriages go sour."

Chaplain Pantlitz and his wife, Felicity, teach a marriage class at the base chapel every Sunday for one hour. The class is open to spouses of deployed members, engaged couples, and husbands and wives who are looking to improve their marriage.

Chaplain Pantlitz is also working on the next Salute to Families scheduled for February, in which deployed family members can enjoy dinner, entertainment, education and fun.

"When we deploy with our Airmen, we get a chance to build relationships," said Chaplain (1st Lt.) Christopher Watson. "The hardest part of getting to know a chaplain is walking into the chapel. When we're deployed, people feel it's easier to talk to us."

Chaplain Watson is one of the driving forces behind the new Airmen Center that's due to open soon.

"We wanted a place where Airmen could feel at home, build community, and be mentored in life" Chaplain Watson said. Chaplain Watson said.

The new Airmen Center, located in the former teen center, will have pool tables, foosball tables, a stage for bands, karaoke, a movie room and a computer room complete with 42" plasma screens, video games and WiFi. Velocity Subs will increase their hours and menu to allow the Airmen some place different to eat. Two soundproof music rooms will allow bands or individual musicians to practice or even record their own CD.

"It's a unique setup because it's not services and it's not the chapel," Chaplain Watson said. "It's a joint operation between the Commander, Mission Support Group, Chapel, the Airman's Voice and the Top 3 to provide a different environment for our Airmen to relax and have fun."

They will also beef up the singles' program to include more events for Airmen. Past events have included a water sports day, canoe trips, camping and monthly pizza-in-the-dorms gatherings.

"The center will make it easier to build relationships," Chaplain Watson said. "If you want Airmen to make great life choices, you have to first live it yourself. It is all about integrity and relationships."