Chaplain assistants: Here for all Airmen, all faiths

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Tech. Sgt. Lukas Bartels started off his Air Force career as a command post controller. After six years, he was ready for a change. He had encountered chaplain assistants before, and he knew the job involved caring for people and helping them through tough times in their lives.

Inspired by senior enlisted leaders talking about the importance of helping out people, Bartels decided on this new path for his life.

"I became a chaplain assistant for one thing -- the people," Bartels said. "Everything we do is for the people, ensuring they receive every bit of assistance we can give them. I truly enjoy my job and seeing people get what they need to carry on with their lives."

Chaplain assistants support chaplains in all aspects of religion, including facilitating religious services and helping chaplains prepare for those services.

"We set up for services by preparing for communion, filling altar candles and cleaning the chapel to make it presentable," Bartels said.

Bartels added one of their goals is to maintain a neutral setting within the chapel as much as they can throughout the week. The chapel is home to all denominations and must uphold this standard to ensure worshippers are comfortable there.

"One of the cool parts of our career is that we are open to all religions, which allows us to observe how the services operate," Bartels said. "Chaplains are endorsed by specific denominations, which mean they abide by specific faith guidelines."

People don't always know the difference between a chaplain and a chaplain assistant; they just want someone to listen to their situation. In these cases, chaplain assistants serve as a kind of bridge between chaplains and enlisted members.

A big part of a chaplain assistant's job is pastoral care. This involves religious support teams which normally comprised of one chaplain to one chaplain assistant.  They do unit engagements which entails the chaplain and chaplain assistant going to different squadrons to follow up with Airmen who requested their assistance.

Chaplain assistants also serve as a "bridge" between chaplains and enlisted members.

"A lot of times, enlisted members will see what's on the collar and will hesitate to tell chaplains what's going on," Bartels said. "Because we are also enlisted, members often feel comfortable talking to us about their situations. Although, we have complete confidentiality, we still refer members to the chaplain."

Although chaplain assistants will listen to situations and circumstances, they are trained to intervene and encourage people to see a chaplain in the time of need.

Chaplain assistants are also trained in crisis intervention, which entails dealing with thoughts on suicide, domestic violence and sexual assault.  Situations requiring immediate attention can be dealt with by either the chaplain or assistant. If either of them concludes the situation needs more attention, they can refer the situation to mental health, security forces or an agency with expertise regarding the matter.

"Chaplain assistants have been an incredible resource and support to chaplains professionally and as comrades in faith," said Chaplain (Capt.) Kenneth Johnson, 509th Bomb Wing chaplain.  "Our chaplain assistants are competent, reliable and knowledgeable on a wide range of topics."

At the end of the day, chaplain assistants are here to ensure that Airmen of all faiths are spiritually ready to accomplish the mission.