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Inside the 908th: Religious Affairs Airmen - Defenders of the Faith

  • Published
  • By Maj. John T. Stamm
  • 908th Airlift Wing

If you enjoy servant leadership and caring for others, then you might enjoy serving a vital role in the spiritual care of Airmen and the Air Force mission.

Previously known as Chaplain Assistants, Religious Affairs Airmen, Air Force specialty code 5R0X1, are experts in the principles of religious accommodation, religious diversity, major faith group requirements, privileged communication and religious program management. They build a culture of spiritual care, inspire readiness and facilitate the free exercise of religious and spiritual fitness and leadership advisement.

“The best part, for me, is getting out and talking to the Airmen,” said Master Sgt. Doris Henry, 908th Airlift Wing Headquarters Chaplain superintendent of Religious Affairs.  “As one of the four pillars of resilience [mental, physical, social and spiritual], our job is to facilitate unit interaction and take care of an Airman’s spiritual development, so they are fit to accomplish their mission.”

As the enlisted component of religious support teams, RAAs are uniquely trained in intervention techniques, counseling, crisis response and suicide prevention.  Skilled in religious support to hospitals and mortuaries, they meet the diverse needs of military communities by managing religious programs through administrative, financial, and facility support. They are actively engaged and intentionally integrated into unit engagement plans, including unit meetings, commander calls, training and other unit activities. This includes facilitating and managing financial peace training, unit resiliency talks and care retreats.

RAAs are assigned to a specific chaplain, and where the chaplain goes, they follow.  That includes deployments, where they take on another vital mission: protecting the chaplain from harm. 

Chaplains are classified as non-combatants and therefore are forbidden to carry or brandish a weapon, which means they may find themselves disadvantaged if they are forced to defend themselves or others.  This is where the RAA steps in.

“We coordinate security for them,” Henry said, “but we also carry an M-9 pistol and an M-4 carbine. Our job then is to protect the chaplain even if it means putting ourselves between them and the threat.”

As the faces and voices of enlisted Airmen, RAAs integrate into units and appropriately advise leadership at all levels on religious accommodation, ethical, moral and morale issues and challenges Airmen face.

Although they serve in a faith-based career field, RAAs aren’t required to have any religious affiliation. 

“It doesn’t matter because (RAAs) don’t do religious counseling,” said Henry. “We do crisis counseling and relationship counseling and help others get through tough times, but we don’t conduct actual spiritual counseling. The chaplains do that.”

The requirements for entry into the 5R0X1 are a little more stringent than most other career fields in the AF Reserve.  Applicants must already hold an AFSC at the 5-level or higher, be able to speak distinctly and must not have a history of emotional instability, personality disorder, or other unresolved mental health problems.

They must also possess high standards of military conduct. This means the applicant must not have convictions by courts-martial or civilian court for any type of drug abuse or drug-related offense or engaging in an unprofessional or inappropriate relationship. Prospective Airmen may not have a record of financial irresponsibility, domestic violence or child abuse and must not have a Letter of Reprimand or Article 15 for failure to exercise sound leadership with respect to morale or welfare of subordinates.

Additionally, applicants must be recommended by the wing chaplain, and approved by the major command Chaplain Assistant Functional Manager, that the individual is acceptable for entry into the career field.

Despite the obstacles, Henry says in the end it’s worth the effort.

“I spent six years as a crew chief and 10 in the Equal Opportunity office,” she said.  “I didn’t think I’d ever get selected, but I finally did and now I have the best job in the Air Force.”

If you are interested in a part-time career with full-time benefits as a Reserve Citizen Airman with the 908th Airlift Wing, please contact our Recruiting staff at 334-953-6737.