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Chaplains are here for Airmen

Senior Airman Chris Fitzsimmons, 115th Fighter Wing Chaplain Assistant, lays out communion prior to the 115th FW chapel service, May 2, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Ashley Bell)

Senior Airman Chris Fitzsimmons, 115th Fighter Wing Chaplain Assistant, lays out communion prior to the 115th FW chapel service, May 2, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Ashley Bell)

Madison, Wis. -- A chaplain rose from his seat and solemnly approached the black platform. As he climbed the steps to the podium, hundreds of Airmen and families sat in silence, most in disbelief and in pain, but all in fond memory of the life of an Air Force Airman. The chaplain opened his notes and began speaking comfort to those present at the funeral.

"Anyone who has the capacity to love has the capacity to grieve and hurt," said Captain John O'Brien, a staff chaplain at the 115th Fighter Wing.

Whether they are serving at a funeral, counseling Airmen, or conducting a church service, chaplains work closely with Air Force personnel by providing moral, ethical and spiritual support to servicemembers at home and abroad.

"No matter what faith an Airman has, chaplains are a point of contact for them to get in touch with their spiritual life," said O'Brien. "We minister to all faiths by providing spiritual resources to people wherever they are."

Traditional chaplains in the Air National Guard work more than one weekend a month, two weeks a year.

"The job is 24/7, 365 days a year, with duty responsibilities, including being on-call via email and telephone calls," said O'Brien.

To successfully complete the demands of this job, many chaplains lean on the help of their spouse.

Without the support of a chaplain's wife, juggling four kids and an on-call schedule would make it near impossible for a chaplain to complete his mission, noted O'Brien. His vocation deals with crisis, emergency and suicide prevention.

"It is difficult to deal with all aspects of the job, like death notification, but we are equipped by faith to deal with physical and emotional issues."

In addition to hosting Protestant and Catholic services on base, the chaplain office has free information on an assortment of topics available upon request.

"The Chaplaincy provides counseling to those desiring it," said Senior Airman Chris Fitzsimmons, a chaplain assistant at the 115th FW. "We provide free literature on hundreds of different topics including alcohol abuse, depression and marriage counseling. We also have Bibles and devotionals available."

Their job is much more than just having church and giving out information; it is dealing on a personal level with Airmen.

It is the satisfaction received in their work that keeps chaplains motivated in their job.
"The most rewarding aspect of my vocation is when I feel that God has used me to speak to someone or when I have made a positive difference in someone's life," said O'Brien.

When members of the 115th FW deploy, the chaplains rarely go with them, observed  O'Brien. Unlike the Army, where chaplains are part of unit-ministry teams that deploy as one unit, the ANG does not slot a spot for this, he added.

Military branches of service are training and working together more and more and the chaplain service is no different. Starting this year, the Navy, Air Force and Army chaplains will begin joint training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

The Air Force chaplain corps provides spiritual care and the opportunity for Air Force members and their families to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of religion.
"I am here for anyone of any faith," offered O'Brien.

As life becomes cluttered with the busyness of day to day events, Chaplain O'Brien had the following words to help Airmen keep focused on the important things: "I never met a guy on his deathbed who said he wished he had spent more time at work away from his family."

Remember the important things in life, O'Brien added, and know that God is real and God cares.
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