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Always there: Chaplains provide source of comfort

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Piotr Gajda, 5th Bomb Wing Catholic chaplain, leads mass at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., April 14, 2014. Chaplains work hard to help people directly, but they also assist Airmen with their presence itself. They also believe the simple act of being hands-on and doing what they do can make them a source of comfort. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Malia Jenkins)

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Piotr Gajda, 5th Bomb Wing Catholic chaplain, leads mass at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., April 14, 2014. Chaplains work hard to help people directly, but they also assist Airmen with their presence itself. They also believe the simple act of being hands-on and doing what they do can make them a source of comfort. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Malia Jenkins)

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Minot Air Force Base isn't an easy assignment for everyone, but an option that's often overlooked during times of hardship is the Chaplain Corps.

Chaplains want people to know there's always someone they can turn to, said Maj. Mark Williams, deputy wing chaplain, 5th Bomb Wing. Regardless of faith, religion, belief or absence of belief, a chaplain is there for someone to lean on.

Capt. Anthony L. Wiggins, chaplain, 5th Bomb Wing, describes the Chaplain Corps as "a calming presence and a listening ear." A term used in the Chaplain Corps is ministry of presence; the opportunity to be out with Airmen in their work places to show that chaplains are available.

Although April is the Month of the Military Child, with special events throughout the month, the Chaplain Corps efforts are year-round, said Wiggins. They would like to increase awareness of their presence and availability.

"For us, it's not just this month, though we choose one month to focus on child abuse and neglect and awareness of alcohol abuse, this is something that we see regularly," said Williams. "It tears apart families, it shortens careers and there are so many negative consequences to some of this.

"If we can help people - kind of partner with them, talk to them about where they are, where they need to be, what's going on - we can help them to make good choices."

The chaplains are ready to assist anyone, regardless of religion or worldview, said Wiggins. Chaplains don't turn individuals away, and they work hard to make themselves available. They're a base agency like any other, which means people can make appointments to see them at any time, during the duty day or even after duty if necessary.

"With counseling we address life, career transitions, marital issues, relationships, grief, loss, financial issues - pretty much anything that deals with a person's personal, spiritual or family level," says Wiggins.

Chaplains don't fill an exclusively religious role - they're present to help with personal problems as well, and they're especially serious about respecting the privacy of those who talk to them.

"We are the only agency on base that has 100 percent absolute confidentiality protected under the Military Rule of Evidence 503," said Williams. "This keeps the communication purely between the chaplain and the person that came to speak with him or her.

"Whatever they say to us, it stays with us, it is protected communication."

With over 60 percent of the base on the Personal Reliability Program, that confidentiality can be critical, added Williams.

"Those who are on PRP don't always have the opportunity, or feel that they have the opportunity to go to different places and talk. Whether it could adversely affect their career or someone else's, it doesn't matter, it stays with us," said Williams.

Chaplains bring resources in addition to their presence in that concept by advising leadership at all levels.

"Every day we have an opportunity and are blessed to engage with Airmen and engage with family members," said Williams. "We realize that there are so many more, whether they are in the dorms or base housing, dependents, active duty members - whoever it may be that sometimes feel like they have no other place to go or they don't have anybody that they can talk to."

One way the base chaplains are increasing awareness is through a juice bar at the gym, open Tuesday through Thursday mornings, where they hand out free slushies' and coffee.

While the chaplains work hard to help people directly, they also help Minot Airmen with the Chaplain presence itself, said Wiggins. He further explained that the Chaplain Corps believes that the simple act of being on hand and doing what they do can make them a source of comfort. Even if an Airman never makes an appointment, it can do them good to know that they have the option to advice our counseling from a Chaplain.

"Even while we are not present, we are still with the people we counsel," said Wiggins. "The very values, the aspects, the things that we may have said or done will stick with them when we are not there.

"They always have the option to call or email us no matter what they may be going through."
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