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Future chaplains get pararescue fit to fight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Natasha Dowridge
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
Being an Airmen in a combat-search-and-rescue wing, there's a high demand for physical, mental, moral and spiritual readiness at a moment's notice.

The job demands persistent visits to the gym, while the mental, moral and spiritual aspect may be harder to come by. To meet this need, Air Force Reserve Command spiritual leaders, known as chaplains, enter a rigorous journey to adequately minister to Reserve Airmen.

The path behind the cross worn by chaplains led them to a weeklong visit here to learn about the 45th Space Wing and 920th Rescue Wing, Aug 8-12. The last stop on their 33-day sojourn, which proved to be the most enlightening as a cold wave of tragedy reigned over the hottest days of summer.

Guardian Angel Airmen from the 920th RQW preparing for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan found themselves attending a memorial service for fellow pararescuemen from another unit who were among the 30 Americans killed in action August 6, including 22 Navy SEALs. Future chaplains demonstrated their support by offering a spiritual hand upon their return.

To return the favor, the world's most skilled rescue specialists shared their life-saving skills with the chaplain candidates allowing each to reciprocate what the other had to offer.

Among their many stops in and around Patrick AFB and nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the 32 chaplain candidates observed a live pararescue training event over the Banana River showcasing the strength and prowess it takes to save lives in combat. As the only Reserve CSAR unit in the nation, seeing the unique aspects of the 920th RQW was an impactful finale for their summer study.

The Air Force Chaplain Candidate Intensive Internship Program consists of 100 days of active duty service over two summers. Candidates use this time off from seminary school to travel from Air Force Base to base soaking up mission knowledge and learning how each mission affects its Airmen.

"The whole program is designed to help them (chaplain candidates) see if this is a ministry they feel called to do," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Steven J. Nicolai, AFRC Headquarters chaplain candidate program manager. "It is meant to be a quick courtship between the candidates and the military to see if they like the military opportunities."

This first year is a used to paint a mission- specific view of the Air Force while next year will be more on-the- job training for the future chaplains. Since the program's establishment four years ago, Patrick AFB has been an important stop.

"The candidates are very young and excitable," said Nicolai.

Col. Christopher Hannon, commander of the 920th Operations Group, shared stories of the how daily training by 920th men and women are put to the test when they are deployed.

"I really believe the chaplain candidates were able to connect to the reality of what this wing does because we have people here who have been through it and share their stories," said Chaplain (Maj.) Chaplain Matthew C. Simpson, 920th RQW chaplain.

By coming to the rescue wing they receive hands-on experience and that's what the candidates love to see, said Nicolai. They get a sense of the special settings that they may be called to minister.

"It's my hope with these chaplain candidates who experienced our unique mission in combat search and rescue, they will see the value of being a chaplain not just in this context but to wherever they may be called," said Simpson.

The unit's peacetime mission is to provide search-and-rescue support for civilians at sea who are lost or in distress, and providing humanitarian and disaster-relief operations.

For more information about the 920th RQW, log on to the wing's Web site: or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.