Pacific Air Forces Chaplain Corps hosts religious workshop, bolsters strategic vision

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Wilson
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

The Pacific Air Forces Chaplains directorate recently hosted a Senior Religious Support Team (RST) Readiness Workshop on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 5 - 7.

The workshop was designed to empower RSTs across the command to align their mission, vision and values to the PACAF Strategy 2030, to champion top-level priorities in the National Defense Strategy and Air Force Future Operating Concept. Another key component of the workshop was to ensure long-range planning is linked to the Joint Warfighting Concept.

“We’ve focused a lot on advancing theater posture and what that means for the Chaplain Corps as we think about a scheme of maneuver to make sure we can care for our Airmen and their families,” explained Lt. Col. Jason Barker, PACAF deputy command chaplain.

“We’ve also talked a lot about religious leader engagement throughout U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and we’re now looking at how we can partner with PACAF/A5I International Affairs alongside the Airman to Airman Talks and country plans for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” continued Barker.

Barker elaborated on how chaplains and RSTs across PACAF assess community relations initiatives, such as expert exchanges, to enhance and support religious freedom and diversity within the region. For example, during large-scale PACAF events such as PACS-23, which saw the participation of 22 nations, the Chaplain Corps was accessible to offer guidance and support to leaders in managing challenges and expectations that may arise from different religious beliefs.

“When we think about religious diversity, and how it impacts relationships, we’re making sure that we hear each other's narratives,” Barker enlightened. “So, when you think about some of the challenges, from a narrative perspective, between the U.S. and other countries, there's some tough history to get over and say, ‘how can we build trust based on our history?’”

Barker used Japan and Germany as key examples, as the U.S. fought against them during World War II, but now both countries are key Allies. Both of them also attended PACS-23.

“We’ve been able to build reconciliation and shape a new narrative with both countries,” asserted Barker. “I think, religious freedom, the encouragement of religious expression, and creating new shared narratives is connected to an idea of international [compromise] that we can help celebrate, encourage and support.”

The workshop also gave insight and counsel to wing and Numbered Air Force RSTs for establishing rapport and connections with interagency subject matter experts throughout the planning process for high-level multilateral events.

“The hard part for our job is trying to build relationships with the right shops or directorates and explain the value added and the need of the chaplain corps to be included in the strategic planning process,” described Master Sgt. Jarrad Liulamaga, PACAF Chaplain Corps manager of personnel readiness. “What we bring to the table is just as important as what everybody else has to bring.”

This is also the first in-person iteration of the workshop in the last decade, and its event planners aim to make this an annual PACAF workshop.

“There’s a tremendous power in face-to-face communication,” said Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Barkus, PACAF HC manager of international engagements. “While you can build a relationship over the phone and email coordination, in-person communication is a more impactful way to build critical relationships, especially alongside the leadership teams within our wings.”

Additionally, the workshop enabled chaplain professionals to discuss various types of religious support that RSTs have provided during emergency events and how they can continue to support Airmen, families and communities amid tragedies.

“How we care for people in the midst of tragedy is vitally important,” Barker expressed.

“We’re looking at our assets, our community and our religious affairs teams flowing in from Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Combat Command, and Air Force Reserve Command to care for family members who have lost loved ones and to care for the community at large,” continued Barker.

Similar to public affairs, religious teams across PACAF play a vital role in shaping public perception, especially during incidents like an aircraft mishap, ensuring competitors in the region do not exploit the situation to sway the host nation's allegiance in their direction.

“We are aligned with the Department of State and the U.S. Embassies in various countries and we play a crucial role in those country plans,” clarified Barker. “We're not just going in and doing things on our own, but we're very much aligned in that in that whole process.”

While engaging host nation countries, the areas the RSTs focus on are community relations activities.

“It's not about a specific religious agenda,” emphasized Barker. “It's about this shared idea of the importance of caring for others.”

As a major command, PACAF is not only responsible for organizing training and equipping Airmen, but also for deploying and sustaining forces. As challenges arise with Airmen, chaplains are available to answer.

“The Chaplain Corps often respond to some of the most difficult situations Airmen and guardians face, such as suicide, death, and mental health challenges,” outlined Barker. “So having hard conversations and having pre-established relationships makes that response all the better.”

Overall, events such as religious workshops enable PACAF staff members to care for the caregivers and encourage them to be resilient so they can continue to support warfighters.

“Our chaplains and religious affairs, Airmen, are behind the scenes every day [supporting] the sons and daughters of our nation,” Barker explained. “Walking through the most difficult things in people’s lives is what Chaplain Corps members often do – engaging in that type of suffering and pain. Our religious affairs Airmen don’t go on unaffected by that. This kind of opportunity to provide care for the caregiver is important so that they come back to their missions refreshed and encouraged.”