Chaplains from nine different NATO countries met in Ramstein June 13 to 16 to discuss the best way to care for chaplains returning from the theater of operations.
The idea is called “Care for the Caregivers,” and it allows chaplains returning from a theater deployment to head out on retreat to decompress and recharge their spiritual resiliency.
“In deployed environments, chaplains and chaplains’ assistants get exposed to unique challenges brought on them from service members looking for guidance,” said Maj. Gen. (Ch.) Cecil Richardson, the Air Force’s chief of chaplains. “Over time, this weight continues to load on the shoulders of our chaplains.”
This meeting marked the 60th anniversary of the NATO Allied Air Force Chaplains Consultative Committee Conference. The committee is dedicated to sharing ideas, tools and varied approaches to keep their respective chaplain corps spiritually strong.
“It’s about learning best practices and being together with people who do similar tasks,” said Chaplain Ray Pentland, Royal Air Force venerable air vice-marshal.
Chaplain Pentland explained how their chaplains and chaplains’ assistants have a similar retreat that RAF chaplains attend to meet the same needs “Care for Caregivers” is meant to address.
“Our chaplains go on a peaceful and quiet retreat in the middle of England, but we use retired chaplains to take the chain of command out of the picture but still understand the language and the culture,” he said.
“It’s important to get together because we have so much in common, we are all doing the same things. And although we might have … a different approach to ministry, the bottom line is to remind people how very important it is to be spiritually fit,” Chaplain Richardson said.
Col. (Rabbi) Menachem Sebbag, AAFCCC president and Netherlands Armed Forces chief of Jewish chaplains, explained how inspirational the tour and conference has been.
“It is very inspirational to meet with the colleagues that are working the same problems that (the Netherlands Armed Forces) face,” Rabbi Menachem said. “The main thing is to be able to take it back, see what I can implement from what I’ve learned to help my people and to help the chaplains in (the Netherlands) Armed Forces.”
In addition to the conference, the chaplains took the opportunity to visit organizations around base. Club 7, a place for Airmen to congregate and interact in a relaxed atmosphere, was one of the first stop on their list.
“I was a two-striper the first time I even walked into a church. The ministry of the chaplain significantly impacted my life. I will never forget that,” Chaplain Richardson said. “I will never tire of being with my Airmen, praying for our Airmen and being a chaplain for our Airmen.”
The chaplains all agreed this conference was a great way for them to work together and share experiences.
The chaplains also made a stop at the Fisher House, Deployment Transition Center and the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility to round out the conference.