JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
The chaplain corps has played an integral role in the Air Force mission since the service's inception, providing spiritual care to Airmen and their families, advising leadership and safeguarding the Constitution's protection of the free exercise of religion.
Chaplains continue to meet those objectives, but they're also sharpening their focus on warrior care, especially the welfare of young Airmen, who are facing the challenges of adult life for the first time while acclimating themselves to life in the military.
"Leaders want us focused on our young Airmen," Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Robert Wido, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph installation chaplain, said. "That's where the bulk of our counseling is."
Wido pointed to an Air Education and Training Command resilience seminar May 12-15, "Connecting with Millennials: Spiritual Care on Target," as an example of the Air Force's emphasis on meeting the needs of young Airmen, who are part of the generation known as the "millennials."
"This is part of what we do - endeavoring to get a handle on the young Airmen on base and how we can minister to them," he said.
JBSA-Randolph does not have a large population of young Airmen, but chaplains here are reaching out to them in a variety of ways, Wido said.
One sizable group of young Airmen is enrolled in the Basic Sensor Operator Course.
"One of the things we do is go to each class, provide lunch for them and talk to them about post-traumatic stress," he said.
Once these students become sensor operators, they will have to cope with operational stress as a result of remotely piloted aircraft missions, Wido said.
"We help them develop the resiliency to deal with that," he said.
Wido said JBSA-Randolph chaplains have already established an office at the BSOC facility and are planning to set up one for Airmen in the security forces career field, another target group.
Other outreach efforts include the monthly single Airman's dinner and periodic burger burns, which are important social events, he said.
The JBSA-Randolph Chaplain Corps also extends its reach to chaplains at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and JBSA-Lackland, providing support and sharing resources, Wido said. One example is Vacation Bible School.
"Each location hosts one week of Vacation Bible School, but we share materials and volunteers," he said. "That saves time and money."
In addition to Wido, who is a Christian and Missionary Alliance clergyman, the JBSA-Randolph chaplain corps includes Chaplain (Capt.) Mark McGregor, a Catholic priest; Chaplain (Capt.) Rich Boyd, a Presbyterian minister; and Chaplain (Capt.) Joe Watson, a Lutheran minister. The corps' chaplain assistants are Master Sgt. Matt Alanza, NCO in charge, and Staff Sgts. Chris McDonald and Jaci Rider. The team also includes part-time contractors who work with youth and are involved in administration and financial matters.
The chaplain assistants' role is to work alongside chaplains and support ministry to active-duty members in their units, families and civilian employees, Alanza said.
"From supporting worship services, religious programs, weddings, memorials and funerals to counseling and ensuring military honors for fallen warriors, we provide for people," he said.
Chaplain assistants also manage all chapel day-to-day operations, Alanza said, taking on a multitude of duties, such as managing equipment accounts, facilities, vehicles and programs; budget planning; writing contracts and scheduling invocation requests.
The JBSA-Randolph chaplain corps also serves some of the needs of community members who are not of the Christian faith, Wido said.
"We provide space for their needs, such as a room for Muslim members to pray, and we provide literature," he said. "Religious worship support would come through JBSA-Lackland, which has a multitude of religious services, including Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan and Buddhist. If we had a request for these groups, we would refer them to JBSA-Lackland."
JBSA-Randolph's spiritual life is augmented by an active community of lay people who serve as volunteers and belong to Catholic and Protestant men's, women's and youth groups.
Wido, who has been a chaplain for 24 years, said volunteers play an important role, attending to duties that chaplains were responsible for in the past.
That gives chaplains more time to focus on the unit mission and their traditional roles of confidential communication, advising leadership and safeguarding the free exercise of religion.
"It's a busy life, but it's hugely fulfilling," Wido said. "I love what I do."