Chaplains alter methods to remain connected

A U.S. Air Force Airman assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing carries boxed lunches back to his work area during a 1st Fighter Friday lunch at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, April 22, 2020. The JBLE chaplains have adapted their support programs to help combat the spread of COVID-19 by turning to telephone counseling and video chats. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Monica Roybal)

The 1st Fighter Wing Chaplain Office provided lunch for 1FW members at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, April 22, 2020.

The 1st Fighter Friday lunches are typically held monthly to give chaplains and 1FW Airmen an opportunity to take a break and enjoy a meal with one another. However, this month’s lunch was conducted a little differently due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.

Instead of gathering for a casual lunch outside of a hangar and spending time catching up with friends, Airmen wearing face masks picked up boxed lunches through a Chaplain Office window, exchanged pleasantries with chaplain members from a safe distance and went back to work.

“It’s important for chaplains to reach out to Airmen, especially right now, because we are messengers of hope,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Ryan Ayers, 633rd Air Base Wing chaplain. “Practicing social distancing is such a unique challenge we’re facing. I think it took some time for people to wrap their heads around what’s going on, but as we’re becoming more comfortable with this new normal, it’s easier for us to be able to look toward coping with what we’re dealing with now.”

Ayers, the 1FW embedded chaplain, explained how face-to-face interactions are vital when it comes to building trust and reliability between chaplains and service members. He and other chaplain members have adapted their support programs to telephone counseling and video chats to remain connected with JBLE Airmen while also adhering to restrictions implemented to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“I think a lot of people are worried right now,” Ayers said. “People may have more stressors because their normal coping skills may have been taken away due to social distancing. So we’re focused on helping people find ways to modify their coping mechanisms in healthy ways for them to be able to deal with anxiety and stress.”

According to Ayers, the chaplain’s office is working to ensure that Airmen know that although in-person interactions are restricted for now, support is available and the team will continue to alter programs for Airmen.

“I think it’s great that the chaplain’s office is still doing stuff like this for us because it helps keep morale up and makes us feel not so separated, even when we are, during this questionable time,” said Senior Airman David Norgaard, 1st Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals technician. “It feels like they actually care whether it’s the monthly lunches or when we see them making an effort to check in with everyone.”

To contact a chaplain, call the Langley Command Post at (757) 764-5411. Calls are confidential.