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Chaplain addresses Reserve deployers in swan song

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Matt Proietti
  • Air Force Reserve Command

In what was likely his last public address as an active-duty Airman, the Air Force deputy chief of chaplains was part minister/part standup comedian Saturday for an audience of pre- and post-deployment reservists and their loved ones.

“Some of you are adjusting to life after deployment, some of you are getting ready to deploy,” said Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Bobby V. Page during a talk to about 400 participants in an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event here. “(My wife) Ruth and I have been there. We experienced the emotional changes that you go through preparing for a deployment. We’ve also been in that group adjusting to life together after a deployment more than once.”

Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of reservists and those closest to them by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. It began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles.

Page assists Maj. Gen. Howard D. Stendahl, the Air Force’s top chaplain, in establishing guidance on matters pertaining to the religious and moral welfare of Air Force personnel and their family members. The men have worked together at the Pentagon since summer 2012 and will soon retire just weeks apart as each turns 64, the mandatory retirement for generals. They lead more than 2,200 chaplains and their assistants, as well as serve on the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, which advises Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on religious, ethical and quality-of-life concerns.

Page has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. He was the wing chaplain at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, in 2000 and led the largest chapel team in the Central Command area of responsibility during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In June 2003, he established the first Air Force chaplain ministry at Baghdad International Airport.

His Yellow Ribbon address contained a liberal amount of humor, much of directed at himself. He recounted how a band leader at a Texas restaurant mistook the gray-haired officer for a veteran -- not a still-serving GI -- when the musician asked members of the military to stand for recognition during a break in between songs.

“I’ve been cultivating the look of a veteran for years, and soon I’m going to be one,” said Page, who was commissioned as an officer in 1973. “God has been telling me to retire for some time, but I wasn’t listening.”

He initially served as an aircraft navigator, but separated from the Air Force in 1980 to attend seminary. After graduation, he served pastorates in Arkansas and North Carolina from 1983 to 1989. During that time he also was a chaplain for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. He returned to active duty in 1989 and has served at wings, major commands and Air Force headquarters.

“It has been my great privilege to support people preparing for deployment. That has been a great joy in my life,” he said. “Some of the best times of support were (those) that were not written on my calendar. I call that ‘Ministry Along the Way.’’’

Page told a story about meeting an Airman as each headed to Southwest Asia deployments. He gave the young man a commemorative coin and learned that he was on his first deployment and was concerned about leaving his young wife, pregnant with their first child, alone in Okinawa. The chaplain told the Airman that he hoped the coin would serve as a reminder to him that a senior Air Force officer and chaplain would be praying for him, his wife and their child. He then opened his Bible and asked the young man to read a psalm with him.

The general told the audience members how he met Ruth, his future wife, in 1971 when he was doing Air Force ROTC training at Loring Air Force Base, Maine. They laughed as he recalled thinking he and the young woman had a lot in common because tigers were the mascots of their respective schools: Clemson University for her and Louisiana State University for him. They married 18 months later but couldn’t afford a honeymoon, though Ruth had dreamed of visiting Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains to stay “in a room with a heart-shaped tub,” he said. The audience erupted.

“Don’t laugh,” he said. “It was a big deal in the ‘70s.”

The Pages finally visited the area years later after the chaplain returned from a deployment.

“I don’t know what your story is, how you came together,” he told the audience members, “but I hope you have the opportunity to renew that and just recommit yourselves to each other because we’re in this for the long haul.”

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David M. Dersch Jr., who works on the Yellow Ribbon team that plans 16 training weekends around the nation each year for 7,000 reservists and their loved ones, found Page’s talk encouraging.

“He challenged people to recognize that they have resources besides themselves,” he said.