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380AEW Article

Agents of Hope: ADAB’s Chapel Team

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mya M. Crosby
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

It can be hard when you’re geographically separated from your home family, or even your pet. Service members often turn to fitness, further their education, discover a new hobby, or expand their spirituality whenever downrange.

Comprised of six Airmen from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing religious support team and two Soldiers from the 1-43 Air Defense Artillery Battalion unit ministry, together these troops make up the U.S. Armed Forces Chapel Team at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

The team is in charge of consulting with leadership on religious, spiritual, ethical, moral, and morale issues; boosting quality of life at ADAB by hosting and conducting regional trips and organizing events; providing resources for and conduct for worship services; and personally guiding any individual that knocks on their door.

A common misunderstanding in the U.S. Armed Forces is that Chapel Teams are strictly religious or include religion into every aspect of their services, but the U.S. Armed Forces Chapel Team here reassures that the standard is strictly set by the service member seeking assistance.

“As a religious affairs specialist, we’re not entitled to be religious,” said Private First Class Donnie Brown, 1-43 Air Defense Artillery Battalion religious affairs specialist.

“We can be as religious as you want us to be, it’s up to you. If you want to talk about religion, we can. If not, we don’t even have to mention anything about religion whatsoever. That’s not what we’re all about.”

With support, religious or not, the team is dedicated to providing service and respect for all members, including the fallen.

Master Sgt. Erik Herrera, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing religious affairs superintendent, was previously a chaplain assistant when deployed to Baghdad, Iraq. The Chapel Team was part of the details that took fallen service members to their final resting place. In that process, the chapel teams ensured that the individual’s religious and spiritual needs were being respected while comforting those involved, to include the deceased members’ family, friends and unit. This humane pride has carried on with him through his Air Force career with the Chapel.

“In 2009, I was doing ramp ceremonies and sending fallen members back home,” Herrera said. “It’s sad to see our folks dying. Just being on the aircraft with the caskets, and the Chaplain and the comrades of those that had fallen that had to say goodbye to those that they worked side-by-side with every single day -- for me it was all about ensuring that the people were well taken care of, and being there to comfort those individuals. That’s what makes me proud about what I do with this job.”

Another hidden gem inside of the Chapel Team is that they’re 100 percent confidential, meaning that anything said to them within these counseling meetings are not recorded or used against members in any way. The team is adamant on bringing relief and comfort to anyone needing someone to listen.

“I heard in a recent TDY that we are ‘Agents of Hope,’ said Staff Sgt. Andrew Winter, 380th AEW Chapel NCO in charge of plans and programs. “We bring relief to people when maybe nothing else can help them. Now a lot of time that takes place in the form of faith or religion, but the time I see light in people’s eyes the most are when I can do emergent counseling for them.”

Chaplains are usually viewed as the only individuals that can provide counseling, but religious affairs personnel, previously known as Chaplain Assistants, are able to provide the service as well.

ADAB’s Chapel Team tries their hardest to communicate with the installation that they’re more about spirituality and what it means to everyone, than religion itself.

“I think a lot of times, people don’t understand what the chapel means and what spirituality means,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Peter Landers. “I think that when they think of spirituality, they think ‘Oh, that’s church.’ But the chapel is a lot more than just church.

“And they don’t have to come to the chapel and talk about church things,” said Landers. “They can come to the chapel and talk about real-world needs, such as their work relations, how to cope in crisis, and they can talk about problems they’re having at home with their kids or relationship issues.

“The Chaplain can help members develop goals and focus on the future to help develop reasons that guide a person on why they get up in the morning and why life makes sense,” said Landers. “We’re here to help, guide and support."