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Religious Support Reimagined—ANG Chaplain Corps Hosts First Symposium In More Than A Decade

  • Published
  • By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sarah M. McClanahan,
  • Air National Guard

Air National Guard chaplains and religious affairs Airmen from around the nation converged in the national capital region for the ANG Chaplain Corps Senior Religious Support Team Symposium here, May 16-18.

Held for the first time in more than a decade, this annual event brought together religious leaders and support personnel from each of the 90 wings located among the United States’ 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia to collaborate on all matters pertaining to religious freedom, accommodation, morale and readiness of chaplains and RAAs across the force.

“The theme of our symposium is ‘Air National Guard Chaplain Corps: Reimagined” because the chaplain corps that they used to know 10 years ago, or even five years ago, is no longer there,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Leah Botona Boling, director, ANG Chaplain Corps.

Changes brought on by the Air Force Generation model, the 2022 National Defense Strategy, and the evolution of guidances impacting matters such as religious accommodation and the chaplain reporting procedures make it essential to reimagine what readiness looks like for religious support Airmen and their role in the future fight, explained Boling.

“The fight that we are looking at dealing with over the next two to five years, if it so happens, it's going to require you to be on the field, probably more than you ever realized,” said Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony L. Whitehead, SEA to the chief, National Guard Bureau. “That may not be the physical battlefield. But, it may be in deployed locations where Airmen have never found themselves before.”

The USAF’s Comprehensive Airman Fitness concept is a holistic approach to developing Airmen's over-arching fitness and resilience, which collectively refers to military, civilian, and family members. CAF includes fitness “pillars”in mental, physical, social, and spiritual domains.

As spiritual caretakers for Airmen and their families, chaplains and RAAs play a pivotal role in sustaining a fit, resilient, and ready force, said Boling.

“We may not be pilots, [but] our prayer and presence should be part of that fight,” said Boling. “To let our members know that we are here and when the going gets tough for you or, God forbid, something happens to you, we will be here to help you and your families deal with that.”

From offering a simple prayer before they deploy to helping navigate the “intangible” aspects of their personal lives, chaplains and RAAs are integral in ensuring Airmen are both resilient and ready at home and abroad, explained Boling.

“Whatever the military is doing, whatever the nation is doing requires people,” said Lt. Col. Michael Doan, Air National Guard assistant to the Air Combat Command Chaplain. “Anytime there are people, there's care to be given, there’s spiritual care to be given. Taking care of people is how we support the National Defense Strategy.”

The conference allowed senior religious leaders to evaluate readiness through the lens of the NDS and how to better provide spiritual and religious care to the 108,000 Airmen who execute the mission at home and abroad.

“Every one of our Airmen out there is struggling with something and the best thing we can do is take care of them,” said Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, director, ANG. “Because if we retain them and we retain their families, we build a much stronger National Guard and that National Guard will take care of our national defense and security.”