February Chaplain's Reflections
By Capt. Benjamin McEntire, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published January 29, 2016
SOUTWEST ASIA -- Hello from an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia! As I write this, I am preparing for what will be my twelfth Sunday leading services for the base. For me, that will be all four Protestant services, which includes the first Protestant service of the day, held on the flight line, and three in our main chapel, the last of which is the last service of the day. When I arrived, I was used to preaching once every several months. Here, I have to make sure I prepare not only the sermon but handouts and slides every week. It may sound odd to hear me say it, but meeting the challenge of being ready for every Sunday service has been a wonderful experience!
The ministry work I have done here thus far has been some of the most rewarding experiences I've had in the military. While it's had plenty of challenges, I have been able to see firsthand the benefits of my job. I've provided more counseling in the first two months that I have been here than I have done in all the rest of my time in service combined. I have deeply valued the trust the Airmen and Soldiers have given me by coming to me for help, and it's been moving to see the gratitude people feel for having a safe place to turn for guidance. It's worth noting that not all of them are a part of my faith, but as a chaplain that's perfectly okay--I still take joy in helping them.
I've also been able to make a difference in a unit that was struggling with crippling morale issues. After I listened to Airmen talk about a serious problem in their unit, my Chaplain Assistant and I, in a way that didn't violate privileged communication, brought the problems to the attention of the leadership. The leadership was aware there was an issue, but didn't know some of the things we learned. After the leadership made changes based on the fresh perspective my Chaplain Assistant and I provided, it was thrilling to see the change in morale in that unit!
Back at home I work primarily with folks from the Mission Support Group, but here I've worked with those in the Maintenance and Operations Groups. I have been able to spend hours talking with people on the flight line and learn about the highs and lows of their jobs, and have seen how each job fits into the mission. It's wonderful to hear the pride in people's voices when the planes come back from a successful mission. It makes me appreciate the caliber of people we have in our Air Force, and I do my job knowing that those I serve are invested in seeing the mission complete. Being here is not without its hardships, however.
One of the most profound and challenging experiences I've had here has been to lead a memorial service for a Guard unit. Right now we have Guardsmen from over 30 different states and territories, and more than once there was a unit that lost a member back at home. When that happens, unless they are a dependent of the individual who died, the members aren't able to go home to pay their respects. This hits home especially hard for one unit, because they lost a much-loved senior leader who had been a mentor and personal friend to many of the people here for well over a decade. In order to help honor him in a way they felt was needed for them to move forward, the unit asked me to put together a memorial service for him. In less than 24 hours we had organized the service. One of the key pieces was having a flag flown over the Wing Headquarters in honor of their fallen friend so it could be folded at the service and presented to his family. Seeing the gravity with which these men honored their fallen friend as they took a picture for the Airman's family, a picture of those who served with him holding the folded flag while they as a unit stood by an enlarged picture him, is a memory that still brings tears to my eyes. It is an honor to serve people who take honoring their friends so seriously, but for those who care about others helping such people through hard times is never easy.
To summarize my time here, I have tried to focus on serving my God by taking care of the people here. I've come to genuinely care deeply for them. I value every moment I spend visiting units, talking with other Airmen, helping someone through counseling, and leading worship services. I don't always know what kind of a difference my work here makes to those I try to help, but I do get to see it often enough that I appreciate being here. I appreciate all your prayers and support, and look forward to serving you once again when I get back home. Semper Primus!
"In place of our regular monthly Chaplain's Reflections article, we asked our deployed Religious Support Team to share some of their reflections from their deployed location. Please join me in praying for Chaplain McEntire and Staff Sgt. Fleenor. We are very proud of the work they are doing. Semper Primus," Chaplain, Lt. Col. Brian Bohlman.