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Air National Guard Chaplains Convene for Annual Symposium

  • Published
  • By Air Force Master Sgt. Brandy Fowler,
  • National Guard Bureau

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. - Air National Guard chaplains and religious affairs Airmen from around the country convened at Joint Base Andrews April 30 to May 2 for the 2024 Air National Guard Chaplain Corps Religious Support Team Symposium.

The annual gathering enabled religious leaders and support personnel to collaborate on religious freedom and accommodations, morale and welfare, and the readiness of chaplains and religious affairs Airmen throughout the force.

“The theme of this symposium is ‘Focus on Purpose,’” said U.S. Air Force Col. Leah Boling, director, ANG Chaplain Corps. “Our purpose is to provide care to our Airmen and their families.”

The three-day event allowed religious practitioners to hear from top leaders of the ANG Chaplain Corps, ANG Readiness Center, and included a visit from Gen. David W. Allvin, chief of staff of the Air Force.

One key takeaway Boling wanted the symposium attendees to have was “the knowledge they acquire from hearing directly from senior leaders … to share what they’ve learned with their colleagues and their wing leadership team.”

Chief Master Sgt. Andre Williamson, ANG Chaplain Corps senior enlisted leader, emphasized the importance of socializing and networking to build skills and nurture relationships.

“Sharing best practices and encouraging each other is the best way for them to develop because they’re people helping people,” said Williamson.

Boling agreed, saying that the network they build and the friendships they form at the symposium are important for mission success.

“You know, meet new friends, learn new things. We’re a big family! They can get phone numbers and emails and say, ‘if I have questions, I can reach out.’”

The symposium fell on two particularly fitting national observances: Mental Health Awareness Month, which began May 1, and the National Day of Prayer, May 2.

Chaplains regularly work with their wings’ directors of psychological health to guide Airmen through spiritual and mental fitness, two of the four pillars of the Air Force’s Comprehensive Airman Fitness Program.

As spiritual leaders, chaplains are relied upon for faith and personal guidance. They provide pastoral care ministry and counseling to support the spiritual fitness of Airmen at home stations or in deployed locations.

Similarly, the DPH’s mission is to support the psychological fitness of Guard Airmen within the state. Their counseling focuses on personal, emotional, and behavioral obstacles that Airmen or their family members may experience.

“A similarity in what we provide is that we care for each service member by using the power of listening as our primary tool,” said Jamie Rogers, the director of psychological health for the ANG Readiness Center. I am not a subject matter expert on spirituality, while [chaplains] are not subject matter experts on mental health symptoms, but we know when to refer or provide a warm handoff to the other.”

Rogers is attuned to the similarities in these mental health options and how each section has specific roles across the spectrum of Airman fitness. She is confident practitioners refer Airmen appropriately.

The phrase “caring for the caretaker” was frequently mentioned during the symposium. Chaplains and religious affairs Airmen are responsible for maintaining their own mental and spiritual fitness to ensure they remain mission-ready. To achieve this, they rely on each other and mental health fitness team members to hold them accountable.

“I ask you not only to look at the readiness and resiliency of Airmen, but you must be ready and resilient yourself,” said Maj. Gen. Keith MacDonald, commander, ANG Readiness Center. “You need to take a hard look. Are you ready? And are you resilient?”

With a renewed focus on purpose and a commitment to providing care to Airmen and their families, the symposium reminded attendees of the essential role chaplains and religious affairs Airmen play in maintaining the readiness and resiliency of the Air National Guard.

“My hope and my prayer and my challenge to the chaplain corps for the Air National Guard is that they believe in what they do and do it well,” concluded Boling.