Chaplains implement EMBRACE concept

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Nothing is more important to our purpose of the chaplain service than to be cognizant that we are representatives of God and work to facilitate the free exercise of religion. This reason for our existence, along with our personal touch and availability to Airmen and their families is what sets us apart and is such a blessing to people.

At Whiteman the chapel staff seeks personal contact with every Airman. What we needed was an organized effort to ensure we are able to reach our community, so during the month of June we are launching a program that will span people's time at Whiteman.

The concept we created is called EMBRACE Whiteman. Simply put, EMBRACE is our organized effort to ensure a chaplain is involved in the life of every military member. From the very first month an Airmen arrives at Whiteman, until the time they depart, they can be sure a chaplain is a part of their life. The following program description describes our efforts to work smarter and improve our processing of reaching out beyond the chapel walls.

E-mail welcome letters - we obtain the name, rank and unit of assignment for all incoming personnel. The information is then sent to our chaplains, who e-mail those who are in their units a personal welcome letter. Each chaplain crafts his own letter so it contains the elements they personally would like to convey to their troops. All of this by way of introduction before inbound personnel even meet their chaplain.

Meet the chaplain - each first term Airmen center course comes to the Spirit Cafe for chapel orientation, lunch and free time. Our chapel staff attends and mingles with the Airmen. During the orientation briefing the staff is introduced and identifies who is assigned to their units. Our priest is responsible for all Catholics and the remaining chaplains pair up with Airmen in their units. During lunch, chaplains talk to each of their Airmen and invite them to be treated to a meal downtown with that chaplain. The program has been very successful to date with more than 75 percent of the Airmen actually showing up for the meal. Many of them are already involved in parish life and attending worship from this personal contact. I have never seen a program bring more young men and women into the chapel than this single gesture. Young adults today are looking for people willing to invest in their lives. Simply investing an hour or so can make a huge difference in their lives.

Baskets for newcomers - first impressions really do make a lasting impression. Reaching out from the chapel when an individual or family is in transition signals our desire to be a part of their lives. Beginning in June we will team chaplains with a volunteer from the chapel to go once a month and deliver welcome baskets for all new residents on base. We will instruct our teams to politely explain that their intention is not to be intrusive, but to briefly welcome them into our community. When possible, the unit chaplain will be assigned visits to homes of their Airmen. This ensures the family is introduced to the unit chaplain and vise versa.

Reintegration ministry - all military members returning from a remote assignment or deployment are required to stop by and speak to a chaplain. At some time during the 60-to-90 day point of their return the unit chaplain, during a normal unit visit, will very discreetly ask them how things are going at work and home. All of the research done on returning troops indicates that after the initial reunion and readjustment various problems begin to surface. The majority of reunion and reintegration contact takes place within the first few weeks of returning. It is important for us to at least make a personal contact a few months down range to offer a listening ear and encouragement.

Associates program - military personnel and their families have an instinctive desire, perpetuated by our military culture of belonging. While Air Force chapels do not actually receive people into membership like local churches, we can give people the opportunity to have a real sense of belonging in our worship communities. Anyone desiring to associate with a particular worship community indicates their wishes. The pastor then contacts the individual/family and they are introduced at the end of a worship service. A digital photo is taken and placed on our parish bulletin board. This program helps us identify families who desire to be a part of our base chapel and gives our pastors the opportunity to talk with each new family.

Café ministry - our Airman ministry center (Spirit Café), located in the community activities center, is the hub of our young adult ministry. We offer several activities from video games, plasma TV with surround sound, to latte/cappuccino. All activities are provided free-of-charge. In addition, the Café provides wireless Internet access and desktop computers connected to the Internet. The Spirit Café is open to anyone who wants to come, from enlisted to officer, married and single, regardless of religion. Airmen are also able to invite friends already out of high school. The Spirit Café is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Most nights a chaplain can be found hanging around.

E-mail birthday cards - every month our unit chaplains will send e-mail birthday cards to their unit members. Each chaplain has the option of sending an e-mail card or hand delivering actual birthday cards, purchased through their unit funds during unit visitation.

In summary, EMBRACE Whiteman ensures all assigned personnel have personal contact with a chaplain throughout their tour. Our goal is to minister to the people we are called to serve with a face-to-face personal touch type of ministry. Our desire is that every Airman leaving Whiteman will know a chaplain cares about them. I believe we are well on the way to seeing that become a reality.