By Phil Berube, Air University Public Affairs
/ Published April 30, 2020
Air Force Chaplain Corps College students enjoy an outdoor evening movie while physical distancing, April 25, 2020, during their two-week quarantine period before the start of their Basic Chaplain Course on May 4, 2020, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The four-week course was deemed mission essential by Air Education and Training Command because it’s an Air Force specialty code-granting course and had to continue despite the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy photo)
The Air Force Chaplain Corps College at Air University starts its Basic Chaplain Course May 4 with detailed plans in place to mitigate any possible spread of the coronavirus while providing for much-needed trained resiliency professionals for military communities across the service.
The Air Education and Training Command deemed technical, Air Force specialty code-granting courses as mission essential and have to continue despite the pandemic.
Chaplains are an integral part of a base’s command leadership team and helping agencies network, said the college commandant.
“The Chaplain Corps is needed now more than ever to build the resiliency—spiritual, mental and emotional—of our squadrons, our Airmen and their families as they work tirelessly to combat the impacts of COVID-19,” said Ch. (Col.) Michael Newton, commandant, Chaplain Corps College.
The four-week Basic Chaplain Course is the Air Force Chaplain Corps’ skills-set training for newly accessed chaplains. Chaplains are required to attend the course within 24 months of graduating from Officer Training School. Organizationally, the Chaplain Corps College falls under AU’s Ira C. Eaker Center for Leadership Development.
The course provides new chaplains the foundations they need to deliver spiritual care and advisement to leaders within an Air Force context. Subjects covered in the course fall within seven areas: leadership, staff development, advising leadership, resource management, readiness and chaplain skill-set training. The course also upgrades the chaplains’ Air Force specialty code from 52R1 to 52R3, making them worldwide qualified and able to deploy.
“Upon completion of the course, new chaplains will be able to quickly integrate with their chapel team’s effort to achieve the wing’s mission,” said Newton.
A big part of that mission, said one student, is taking care of Airmen, a mission in which he and his fellow chaplains are eager to engage.
“The pandemic has drastically multiplied the stressors Airmen face both at home and in the workplace,” said student Ch. (1st Lt.) Amadeus Gandy, Air Force reservist, 403rd Wing, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. “As the stress increases across the Air Force, it is vital that my fellow chaplains and I are fully trained and equipped to provide for religious support, spiritual care and counsel to support the ongoing mission and to strengthen the resiliency of the Air Force's greatest assets: Airmen.”
Before arriving at Maxwell two weeks before the class’s start date, the 21 students from active duty, Guard and Reserve units had to answer a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-based prescreening questionnaire that assessed their health and fitness before traveling for the course.
After arriving, the students drove directly to Maxwell’s 42nd Medical Group’s outside screening area, where they were re-screened using the same CDC-based questionnaire. If the student was asymptomatic, he or she was taken to a lodging facility and housed in a room on a dedicated floor for Basic Chaplain Course students only. No students exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 upon arrival.
After they completed the 14-day quarantine period, they were rescreened and relocated to a different lodging facility to begin the course. Students will maintain physical distancing while attending classes and will be wearing face masks.
“The students won’t be allowed off base during their time here, nor will they be allowed to have off-base visitors,” said Newton. “While in the course, they will be allowed access to base services and facilities, but must still maintain physical distancing and wear of the face mask in line with local policies if visiting these places.”
Newton added that the collaboration from the 42nd Air Base Wing’s Medical Group, Logistics Readiness Squadron and Force Support Squadron and AU and Eaker Center leadership in the virus mitigation pre-planning process for the days leading up to and including the course was seamless and impactful.
“The synergy and teamwork between everyone in support of the faculty and staff of the Air Force Chaplain Corps College has been world-class and vital to the execution of the mission-essential Basic Chaplain Course,” he said.