JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-Lackland --
It is a fact that Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas is the Gateway to the Air Force for enlisted Airmen beginning their military careers. Just like basic trainees, 19 Reserve Citizen Airmen chaplain candidates in the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program got a chance to visit the 433rd Airlift Wing, July 14 during their summer tour of five active-duty bases.
The Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program allows seminary and other professional religious school students to evaluate their compatibility and potential for commissioning as an Air Force Chaplain.
"The good thing with this program is that they can see the Air Force, learn the Air Force, and learn about the chaplain corps," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ted Nicholson, 433rd Airlift Wing officer in charge of the group. “They are all Category J Reservists and they are currently in seminary doing their training,” Nicholson said.
The focus is on experiencing ministry in the Air Force during a summer tour of active duty bases. Upon entering the program, individuals are commissioned as a chaplain candidate, in the grade of second lieutenant. After graduation and obtaining an ecclesiastical endorsement, candidates are then eligible for reappointment as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
“These chaplain candidates are learning their suitability and their calls to be a chaplain,” Nicholson said. “We as a cadre are assessing their ability to do that by giving the candidates different scenarios and training at five different bases across the U.S. to see what they do,” he said.
During their stop, the candidates visited during the wing’s Unit Training Assembly to see the control tower, flight line and the largest plane in the Air Force, the C-5M Super Galaxy at the Alamo Wing. The group also practiced a memorial service before a dignified transfer of remains.
“The tour of the tower was interesting. I had never experienced anything like that. It made me aware of the unique environment the Airmen work in and the specialized training they get to accomplish the mission,” 2nd Lt. Jonathan Moore, a chaplain candidate said.
“I thought it was interesting to speak to Airmen in the tower and ask about who they are and what kind of stressors they go through. That was a good experience,” he said.
The candidates then travelled to a static C-5M. When they arrived, they had a tour of the aircraft from the chaplain cadre and prepared for a mock dignified transfer of remains.
The dignified transfer is a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team of military personnel from the fallen member's respective service according to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations web site.
“The dignified transfer is part of the chaplain responsibilities. It is also the chaplain’s privilege that we do when one of our military members has died that we are able to provide a dignified transfer to their families,” the chaplain said. “It’s a job that we have because we (chaplains) are called to provide spiritual care for Airmen whether in life or death,” Nicholson said.
“This (transfer) is a somber reminder that we are in danger’s business and that we serve other people,” he said. “This is a hard life lesson to know up front that this is what we do, and as they (the candidates) are assessing their suitability to be a chaplain and see if they can do this,” Nicholson said.
Training for a dignified transfer of remains is uncommon for Reserve Citizen Airmen chaplains.
“I have never done a memorial service or put one together, it was a new experience for me and I really think it was important because a lot of time we don’t ever see it,” Howard said, referring to typical drill weekend.
“The chaplain (Nicholson) asked if we could have a memorial service for a fallen Airman from a deployed scenario,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Jesse Howard, 433rd Airlift Wing. “In chaplain school this is not something we do, in seminary we do more of the counseling classes, more of the job centered work,” he said.
The service made an impression on one of the chaplain candidates.
“Seeing that first hand even though it was a training environment was enlightening to me,” Moore said. “I felt empathy towards the families that have lost someone,” he said.
“I have seen videos and photos, but to actually see it first hand, it wasn’t’ something I expected,” the native of Cincinnati, Ohio said. “The gravity of it, once you see with your eyes, it really affects your heart. It was a time to reflect and appreciate and to consider what that memorial service means,” Moore said.
For Howard, it was good training.
“When you get deployed and you are having to do this, it becomes vital that you have at least seen it or practiced it so you can have an idea of how it goes,” he said.
“It was an eye opener for me, it was a learning experience. Whether I ever do a (practice) dignified transfer again or not, it was great experience to figure out what I need,” Howard said.