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104th FW chaplain bolsters resiliency during Korea deployment

104th Fighter Wing

Maj. Ken DeVoie (pictured center right), a chaplain with the 104th Fighter Wing, meets with chaplain counterparts to include the command chaplain, Buddha master (pictured center left) outside a Buddhist temple chapel near Seoul, Republic of Korea. Chaplain DeVoie deployed for a year-long tour to Special Operations Command Korea in Seoul. (Courtesy Photo)

BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- A U.S. Navy SEAL team member with 15 years of experience is referred to a chaplain while deployed in South Korea as a way to help deal with his severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The SEAL had done multiple tours to Afghanistan and became emotionally shut down after losing some friends on those deployments. His experiences were taking a toll on his family, and the man was starting to consider harming himself. 

The Chaplain was able to work with the SEAL and his family to help get the man back to the United States and into an assistance program. Last, the chaplain heard, the man was all right and on the road to recovery.

Maj. Kenneth M. DeVoie, the new wing chaplain at the 104th Fighter Wing, told the story of this real-world experience from his recently completed year-long deployment as the command chaplain to Special Operations Command Korea (SOCKOR) headquartered in Seoul, Republic of Korea. He returned to the 104th FW more capable and equipped to help support the mission at home.

“It was humbling to play a part in and realize I may have just helped save someone’s life,” said DeVoie. “If I hadn’t been there as his chaplain, what would the status of this guy be? Especially for someone who gave so much to his country.”

DeVoie was deployed as a one-man team for 327 days to SOCKOR and stood up the first command chaplain’s office from scratch while providing spiritual and moral support for 120 command staff personnel in garrison. He was also responsible for the spiritual care of additional U.S. Special Operations Forces across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

“Being there was kind of a schizophrenic reality,” said DeVoie, referring to the wide variety of ministry work. “Part of that came from being the command staff chaplain to the commanding general but also mobilizing to work in a deployed austere environment. I had to do regular staff things but also down-range deployment-type work. Setting up altars in tents, out in the field with the SOF operators and things like that.”

Despite taking on numerous roles, DeVoie said he excelled in his work and had an impact that carried well outside of South Korea. A number of the things he developed for SOCKOR became the template and standard for use by other special operations commands globally.

“Some of the operating instructions I developed, ministry plans and things like that were distributed,” said DeVoie. “It all went out as a template. My impact was not just in Korea, and that’s very humbling.”

DeVoie said his work as a chaplain helped to reduce some of the stress service members faced and allow them to focus on their mission.

“The job of a chaplain isn’t just religious counsel,” said DeVoie. “We deal with moral and ethical decision-making issues, personnel morale, advising command staff, and really just being the presence of being a friend. Basically being a place for them to dump their baggage so they can keep their head in the game.”

This spiritual guide credits some of his ability to succeed in that environment back to his experience working with the F-15 Eagle fighter jet pilots here at the 104th Fighter Wing.

“I think being here at Barnes was great preparation for working with special operators,” said DeVoie. “The F-15 fighter pilot community is composed of ‘tip-of-the-spear’ guys, and it takes time to get into their inner circle.”

The chaplain said he came back to the 104th with a deeper understanding of the camaraderie the pilots and Airmen here share because of the mission they do and believes his recent experiences make him even more capable of supporting the mission now.

“When you’re in an environment like that you learn how to cut out the little drama and things,” said DeVoie. “It was a life-changing experience, truly.”