MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
Editor's Note: For the March Chaplain's Reflections, 169th FW Chaplain Assistant Tech. Sgt. Shannon Vincent was asked by 169th FW Chaplain (Maj.) Christina Pittman to share her thoughts on the role of chaplain assistants.
“So, you’re like an altar boy or something?” It was perhaps the most creative guess I’ve heard when I shared my Air Force job title. This guy I met at a barbeque is now my boyfriend, despite his comparison of me to a young catholic boy in robes. More often, I get a simple, “What the heck is a chaplain assistant?” It is true that we do assist the chaplains. But dealing with weighty issues such as where you’ll spend eternity is really only a very small part of a chaplain assistant’s day-to-day responsibilities. Instead, I like to think of our job as being a life coach. Or at least a life assistant coach.
While we are officially known as a Religious Affairs Airman, chaplain assistants are enlisted Airmen tasked and trained just as any other enlisted personnel in a specific military-focused mission. It just so happens that that mission for us is to provide for the mental, familial, spiritual, and religious health of Air Force members.
Historically a key part of our role is to assist the chaplains creating space for any Air Force personnel to exercise their religious freedoms. While the role of a Religious Affairs Airman has broadened, we still provide resources to Airmen of all religious backgrounds. Depending on the need of our Airmen we can provide multiple resources to accommodate most religious beliefs. At McEntire we regularly provide protestant and catholic services during drill weekends. If an Airman requests a certain religious leader, we provide that service and bring in those specific clergy, including imams, rabbis, priests, pastors, you name it! For those seeking out spiritual guidance, we can provide or find religious information of any kind for our SCANG members.
But hey, not everything is so formal—we like to camp too! Over the decades, the Air Force has recognized that the performance and ability of Airmen to serve depends on far more than just your training. Caring for your religious needs is always helpful, but leadership saw an opportunity for the chaplain’s corps to provide even more for service members during off-duty times. As the enlisted personnel within the corps, chaplain assistants are the perfect, first point of contact for anyone in the service looking for additional support. Each Religious Affairs Airman is trained in mental health, suicide prevention, intervention counseling, marriage care, and Strong Bonds - more on this below.
When I first joined the Air Force fresh out of college, I carried around a ton of student loan debt. A chaplain assistant got me set up with a low-interest repayment program that I had never known was offered to military members. In my job now, I get to return the favor, regularly connecting enlisted and officers with programs for advancement, marriage resources, home refinancing, and transition assistance. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them. We know everyone. I even have a standing meeting with the guys from the weapons group. And our doors are open. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to higher rank or someone in your shop, we are here for you.
A huge part of our work at McEntire within the chaplain corps is our Strong Bonds retreat program. The idea of the program, open to everyone, is that we sometimes need a break from stressors in life or a time to really dig into our personal lives. Some of our past outings and events have taken place at Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Hilton Head, Great Wolf Lodge in North Carolina, and just recently, camping in the upstate area. Each retreat is targeted for couples, families, or individuals and we take care of everything—including meals and accommodations. We even provide childcare. And it's not all Kumbaya. We have leaders come in but we also hike to waterfalls and eat steaks around a campfire. Everyone has a good time. I make sure of that because I personally love putting together the events. I even recently finished my studies in Parks and Recreation where, yes, family camping was a required course. In other words, putting on a fun weekend is in my DNA.
At the end of the day, only you know what you need to be successful in life and service. But your chaplain assistants will be there to give you the resources to find answers for your life’s specific questions whether they’re spiritual, economic, social or otherwise.