Inside the Gates: JBER chaplains offer faith to fighting forces
Among the men and women who defend our nation, the service provided by members of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Chaplain Corps is unique and critical.
"We are one link in multiple support agencies," said Air Force Master Sgt. Steve James. "That help take care of the soldiers and airmen and their families that live here."
Chaplains, chaplain's assistants and members of religious affairs are on base to help service members with any emotional issues they may have.
"We're here in the good times but I'd say more so in their bad times," James said. "Those trials and tribulations that our team members face often come at the most inconvenient times not only in their day, but also in their lives."
Those trials are among the core reasons for the Chaplain Corps on JBER, to help soldiers and airmen carry on after personal trauma.
"On the enlisted side, we are not as involved in the counseling," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Tysinger. "For example, for the Army chaplain assistants, we have the facility infrastructure support mission. We have unit ministry teams along with chaplain and chaplain assistants embedded in pairs in the units on the Fort Richardson side. While we can counsel one-on-one, as a soldier to a soldier, the religious affairs NCOs are not as involved as assistant chaplains would be."
The most complex weapon system the military has are the individuals who make up its fighting forces.
"You help keep them focused on their task and mission at hand," James said. "It's just in this field, you are somewhat removed from the sound of freedom as it roars over head a little bit."
The rewards are different and not as tangible as repairing an aircraft or launching it for a mission, however it is richly rewarding in helping people.
"I think one thing that makes the chaplain corps unique," Tysinger said. "For the Army and the Air Force, is the confidentiality piece. If a service member comes up to Sergeant James or myself or a chaplain and they say, hey, I've got this going on and I don't want anyone else knowing about it. That is something we can hold in confidence, even from a commander."
The term used in the field -- which relates to trauma, depression and questioning the existence of God and life itself -- is "moral injury."
"'Why did this happen to me?'" James said, quoting moral injury's underlying question. "Good things are suppose to happen to good people. That is a very tragic event regardless of your branch of service. That's why the Chaplain Corps is here, and tries to assist people along with PTSD, and these other things that comes to the forefront as our service members return from kinetic operations. We try to be a healthy outlet and help them reintegrate in a positive manner."
Other duties performed by the chaplain's assistants in the Air Force and the Army's Religious Affairs specialists include help with religious events and services, Bible study and chapel maintenance.
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