JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The Sixteenth Air Force has become the first Number Air Force to have a True North Religious Support Team. The True North RST consists of a staff chaplain, Capt. Greg Redden, and a Religious Affairs noncommissioned officer in charge, Tech. Sgt. Raef Gamble.
“Task Force True North is an initiative where units can better benefit from having an embedded Religious Support Team,” Redden said. “We can engage early, recognize issues early and have a plan specifically for the Sixteenth Air Force.”
This Air Force initiative started to improve resilience and the well-being of Airmen and their families. Since its creation only a couple of years ago, the True North program has expanded to more bases to change the culture in seeking help.
“We walk around with the same patch on, we belong to Sixteenth Air Force,” Redden said. “We want to get to where when someone sees us, they know we are your chaplain and RA team with that constant, present support.”
Only mid to senior-level chaplains and RAs can become a True North RST since it is a one-deep assignment focused on delivering preventive and educational programs to the NAF with minimal administrative duties.
“We don’t have additional duties in this role, so we can devote all our time to our Airmen,” Gamble said.
Gamble has been an RA for seven years and came from Thule Air Base in Greenland, where he managed religious programs for more than 144 active duty military and 400 contractors. In total, Gamble has more than 12 years in the Air Force with his first five years being with intel.
“I was a 1-N-O,” Gamble said. “I understand what the intel Airmen go through here with long hours in a SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility) feeling cut off from the rest of the world. Once we get the building (2088) a little more presentable, our goal is to have a room for Airmen to come and get out of the SCIF.”
Redden is a seasoned chaplain coming from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, with over six years in the Air Force Chaplain Corps, but a total of 18 years in the military. He enlisted into the Army as an Air and Missile Defense crewmember with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. His mission was, “protecting the force and selected geopolitical assets from aerial attack, missile attack and surveillance.”
“I used to launch Stinger missiles off my shoulder,” Redden said.
He later cross-trained as a respiratory therapist and was stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“It was while I was at Walter Reed when it was actually still in D.C., that I knew I wanted to be a chaplain,” Redden added.
A calling for him to protect the force again, this time providing the skills necessary to remain spiritually fit.
The True North RST is already becoming familiar faces after making initial visits at all the staff directorates, and two other units they support, the 616th Air Communications Squadron and 616th Operations Center.
“This is a very preparatory and reactive type mission,” Gamble said. “The preparatory is where we walk around, and when we walk into your room there is no expectations, we just want to get to know who you are.”
In addition, the True North RST has been providing 100% confidential counseling for any Department of Defense ID cardholder and their dependents. No other agency can provide this 100% confidentiality, which includes the chaplain and RA, who are not allowed to share any part of a private conversation held during counseling sessions.
“We are building some kind of trust,” said Gamble. “We want their reaction to a crisis to feel comfortable enough to come, have a conversation with us; whether it is big or small, we want to be there for them.”
Redden and Gamble are holding these counseling sessions in building 2088, an original building on Security Hill. The building was never a chapel, yet the RST has a vision of how to improve the building and make it a place for Airmen to come eat lunch or just unwind.
“We have plans for burger burns out back,” Redden said. “Also, a classroom where we will tailor resiliency courses for whatever the units need.”
Redden is certified in Preventative Relationships Enhancement Programs that are being planned for future events like a quarterly off-base couples retreat and day workshops for single Airmen. Another future event would be Life-Over-Lunch with the RST supplying a free lunch and open to all ranks to discuss different life issues.
“We talk about topics that are everyone’s concerns, it could be about relationships for single or married,” Redden said. “We do life together and give a sense of connectedness.”
Within the 616th OC, is another True North RST office location called, “The Escape.” The Escape is a room with a massage chair, lounge couch and the opportunity to receive counseling.
“It is a safe place inside the SCIF to get away and come talk to us,” Redden said.
If you need their services, you can reach the Sixteenth Air Force True North RST at 210-395-0051 for building one and 210-977-5077 for building 2088.
“Come see us,” Gamble said. “It doesn’t have to be anything serious, if you just need to get out of the office and talk, we are here for you.”
“We are your Staff Chaplain and Religious Affairs NCOIC,” Redden added. “We are ready to care for our Airmen, Guardians and families more than anyone thinks possible.”