Chaplain Corps: A place to run for help

  • Published
  • By Staff. Sgt. Stacy Fowler
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
An emergency storm shelter and a place of safety you can run to. A first sergeant's 911. An ear to listen to issues, with a 100-percent confidentiality guarantee. Sometimes the only thing standing between someone and their final decision.

These are just some samples of what chaplains and chaplain assistants offer Air Commandos here.

It doesn't matter what faith a person follows, or how they live their lives; the chaplain corps is available to them, 24/7.

"We are here for everyone," said Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Hunsinger, 1st Special Operations Wing. "We accommodate all religious and non-religious beliefs. You don't have to have a spiritual or religious issue to come to us, or believe as I do to get my help and counseling. I will always do my best to help someone find their own bedrock of belief to stand on in times of trouble."

The chapel staff sees every memorial service on base, from those who fell in battle, died in an accident or took their own lives. They are the ones who give comfort to those left behind... even when they are wrestling with their own struggles.

"We can't help but ask ourselves, 'What if that person had come through our doors, would this have happened?'" said Master Sgt. Steven Reed, 1st SOW chapel NCO in charge and lead chaplain assistant. "What if one of their friends, coworkers or family needs the same help -- would they come to us before it's too late?"

Chapel staff members are always available as a good safety valve for anyone to talk to about any issue, big or small, legal or not. But, the majority of their work revolves around people who have reached rock bottom and need help finding their way up.

"We talk to a lot of different people; sometimes it's about things that are illegal, dangerous or at a crisis point," said Reed. "Every member of a chapel office is trained in crisis counseling and suicide intervention. If a chaplain isn't immediately available, you can talk to a chaplain's assistant for the same level of care. Give me the opportunity to help you if you're not comfortable going to mental health or your leadership."

Sometimes a person doesn't know the "whys" of their feelings or actions, they just know they need to do something, said Chaplain (Capt.) David McGuire, 1st SOW. Hopefully, that something isn't a permanent something.

"I believe in life after death, but I also believe in 'life before death' -- you have to live your life," McGuire said. "Sometimes we get so tightly focused on the bad that people don't know what to do next. I try to help you pull back so you can find your balance and see if there is an underlying cause. I'm like a camera operator: people tend to zoom into an issue or crisis. We help you 'pan out' and figure out a way to work through it."

So, you can come in for 'A,' said McGuire, but chaplains help you find out it is actually 'E' and help you figure out a way to fix it.

For those who are faith-centered, the chapel and its staff can be an extension of "home and family," said McGuire. For those who aren't driven by faith, the chapel can be an emergency shelter and an escape from the chaos outside.

While some people might be hesitant to go to a spiritual leader for help, chaplains and chaplain assistants are the only people with 100 percent confidentiality in the military. This means they are able to lead someone through a problem without fear of legal or administrative repercussions.

"Sometimes people do things that are illegal or unethical, and they will come to us for help," Reed said. "As soon as they step into the building, or into a chaplain's office at a unit, they are protected by absolute, 100 percent confidentiality.

"If an Airman is spilling his guts to me about something illegal, and there is a first sergeant down the hall who hears it, that Airman cannot be charged with anything due to the expectation of confidentiality," he continued. "In addition, if that first sergeant later asks about that Airman or that conversation, we won't say anything."

That means if someone has an issue that is less-than-legal, causing a major crisis or both, the chaplains and their staff are the people to go to.

"Life happens; people do things they later regret, but don't want to say anything," Hunsinger said. "They are afraid it will end their military careers, destroy their clearances or ruin their lives. These men and women feel trapped by what they have done, and what they think the consequences will be if they speak about it to a military doctor or leader.

"We will help you guide you to where you need to go, be it substance abuse counseling, hospitalization or other avenues, but we will never force you there," he continued. "Our first and last priority is you, plain and simple."