News>Command recognizes 446th Airlift Wing's chapel program as best in 2012
Chaplain (Maj.) Pierre Allegre, 446th Airlift Wing chaplain, conducts a worship service in Southwest Asia in 2010. Allegre and the entire 446th Airlift Wing Chapel staff earned the Air Force Reserve Command Outstanding Chaplain Corps Program Award for 2012. (Courtesy photo)
by Sandra Pishner
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
5/17/2013 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- It's a challenge trying to keep a team focused and effective while serving under three different leaders with three different leadership styles in one year. The 446th Airlift Wing's Chapel staff, however, was focused and effective enough to earn the 2012 Air Force Reserve Outstanding Chaplain Corps Program Award.
According to Col. William Willis, Sr., AFRC Command Chaplain, the 446th AW Chapel staff demonstrated a broad breadth of readiness training, as well as a depth of joint ministry.
"We're one of the pioneers in joint basing in the Air Force Reserve," said Chaplain (Maj.) Pierre Allegre, 446th AW wing chaplain. "In all practicality, there's more ambiguity as to responsibility and authorities; a lot more organizational challenges. But, there's also more opportunity to provide ministry, outside our service."
Both Allegre, and Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Luan Tran provide ministry to not only the Airmen of the 446th AW, but to the active-duty Air Force here and the Soldiers of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
For the Airmen of the 446th AW, the chaplains spend a lot of time in the units visiting with Airmen. In 2012, the two chaplains spent more than 400 hours on visitations alone, providing ministry to more than 2,000 Airmen.
"We're focusing on commander's calls and other unit or wing formations to speak to Airmen so they know who we are and that we care about them" Allegre said
In addition to visitations, the chapel staff created and initiated a 90 day follow-up process to interview returning 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Airmen exposed to battle trauma. They also supported two Yellow Ribbon events, boosting combat resilience for 700 returning and deploying Airmen and their families.
Father Tran stepped up to support an unstaffed first Friday of the month Catholic service at the JBLM, and both chaplains regularly make themselves available to the Citizen Airmen of the 446th AW, both on and off duty.
"Currently our greatest service we provide is confidential counseling," said Allegre. "The reason why we focus on visitations so much is we're trying to develop repo ire with Airmen. The more comfortable they feel around us, the more they see us and recognize us, then when crisis hits they are more apt to come to us."
The chaplains provided care and counseling to 235 Airmen in 2012, including nine expressing thoughts of suicide.
"Airmen should know they can talk to the chaplain and it won't be reported. We have 100 percent privileged communication," Allegre said.
Both chaplains offer support to Airmen in the wing all month, not just on Reserve weekends
"Because I'm a pastor on the outside, there's really no difference in what I do; my calling is the same. So if you have a crisis next week and I'm not on orders, you call me and I'll be a pastor to you. You don't have to go to my church; I will counsel you at no charge," said Allegre. "Father Tran pastors in Portland (St. Birgitta Parish). He's willing to come up if there's a Roman Catholic crisis. We're very committed to doing our calling beyond UTA."
Chaplains observe morale and quality of life in a unit. They try to get a pulse for how people are doing so they may advise commanders. With only two chaplains, that responsibility for observing is a bit more difficult.
"We've been through three leadership changes in the past year. A current challenge is our chaplain shortage," said Allegre. "Right now it's just Chaplain Tran and I. Father Tran is an excellent priest and we both work very hard, but we really need to recruit two additional chaplains in order to do ministry at a sustainable pace."
On the bright side, the wing chapel staff includes four religious support team members, otherwise known as chaplain assistants.
"Our enlisted personnel deserve a medal just for putting up with all the changes in the past year," said Allegre, who is the Pastor for Sojourn Community Church in Lacey.
Chaplain assistants support the chaplains' work. They are the enlisted eyes and ears and are looking from an enlisted point of view of what's going on. They do spiritual triage, according to Allegre.
Chaplain assistants don't require faith in God; the position doesn't require any religion. Many who end up in that career field do love the Lord, and want to serve him, according to the wing senior chaplain, but it's not a requirement of the job.
"You got to remember, we're not a Christian organization. One of the challenges we face is trying to address things from a spiritual point of view without coming across as overly preachy," Allegre explains. "I'm trying to address things from a spiritual point of view without selling out my faith, yet without violating your freedom of religion. That's a really fine line.
"I also don't want to come across like I'm peddling some diluted government religion," he said. "I want to provide meaningful ministry. And yet, I believe in the first amendment right that Congress shall make no law regarding the free exercise of religion or the prohibition there of. I believe in that. I shouldn't be in uniform, at a mandatory formation and telling people that they all need Jesus. I believe that, but that's not the place for that."
Ministering to the Airmen of the 446th AW includes Tran and Allegre working hard at delivering as many short "Chaplain Thoughts" as they can during each UTA to inspire the troops and to get them to think about their spiritual fitness.
Working more strategically is the key to the chapel staff's success. And they're not resting on their laurels. The chapel staff is developing a new program to present on UTA weekends, details of which will be revealed once the program is approved.
"We know we've been providing excellent ministry; it's just good to have command recognize it," said Allegre.