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Chaplain answers the call to protect

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

“I want people to know every relationship might have its difficulties, but this way of interacting with your partner is not normal and it’s not okay,” said Capt. Hans Decker, 501st Combat Support Wing chaplain, working at RAF Croughton, England.

In Nov. 2019, Decker, an Air Force Reservist and theology doctorate student at Oxford University, was riding his bicycle to class when he stumbled upon an altercation between a couple in the street.

“I didn’t really understand what I was seeing,” said Decker. “I rode past it about 50 yards, when I saw a woman on her cell phone talking to the police. I immediately turned my bike around and intervened in the situation.”

A young woman was avoiding eye contact and begging an older man to leave her alone. Despite her pleas, he continued to harass her and shoved her to the pavement. The woman held her injuries as the verbal harassment and physical abuse continued.

“At that point I intervened and told him to back off,” said Decker. “He started yelling and screaming at me, pushing me around. I was trying my best to deescalate the situation. Less than five minutes later somebody else came, then somebody else. It was interesting to see the ripple effect. By my doing something, somebody else felt empowered to step in as well. Eventually the police came and were able to force them apart.”

Decker is a new Green Dot instructor, having finished his training in August 2019, where he learned the skills to assist in violence prevention. Green Dot is an interactive Air Force training program, started in 2016, designed to help Airmen, including military and civilians, intervene in and prevent violence.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa advanced its implementation of the Green Dot program with Operation GRIT. This new development takes Green Dot’s bystander training approach and makes it a monthly workplace discussion about subjects such as core values, Airmen development and commitment to culture.

“As I teach Green Dot, one of the things we talk about a lot is finding where you’re comfortable intervening,” said Decker. “We don’t all have to get in the potential abuser’s face and intervene directly, but everybody needs to do something.”

The efforts of the first bystander, who did not feel confident intervening directly, but did call the police, alerted Decker to the situation and inspired him to step in and de-escalate the altercation.

“To me this really drove home one of the key messages that we try to push in Green Dot Training, whatever you can do is something that ends up changing the culture of the moment,” said Decker. “Changing those dynamics and doing something interrupts that cycle and allows things to proceed down a different path. Everybody can do something, but that doing something ends up changing things for everybody else.”

Decker later discovered the man and woman were a couple.

“Inter-partner violence comes from somebody who the victim may care about,” said Decker. “Some of the victims who I’ve seen, have a profound sense of hope, but one that’s often very misplaced, things are just now about to get better. The reality is these things are not okay. The way to get better is to get help and get away from the person who treats you this way and refocus that hope on a new way forward.”

Decker has some suggestions for people who may face a similar situation:

  1. Consider what you are comfortable doing in a given situation. Different scenarios call for different kinds of responses. If you’re worried about a troubled friend, talking to them may be all that’s necessary.
  2. Have a plan. Think ahead of time what you’re going to do, especially in a fluid situation where things are unfolding in front of you. This is the same reason why the military trains people for combat by simulating situations. Teaching your mind to respond in a certain way under pressure, so that when you are in a dynamic situation, you’re able to respond appropriately.

“There are lots and lots of resources both in the military and in the civilian world where people can get you the help that you need,” said Decker. “The chapel is one stop among many on base. I would encourage people to come in and speak to a chaplain. With our confidentiality what comes into our office stays there, but we can at least advise you and point you in the direction of other resources if that’s where you need to go, but don’t tolerate it, and don’t let yourself believe this is somehow normal or you need to put up with that kind of behavior and treatment.”

For more information about the chapel, call the numbers below:

RAF Alconbury – DSN 268-3343 or Commercial 01480-84-3343

RAF Molesworth – DSN 268-1533 or Commercial 01480-84-1533

RAF Croughton – DSN 236-8287 or Commercial 01280-70-8287