Air Force religious team receives award
Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Timothy Warf, 480th ISRG chaplain, and Tech Sgt. Chemise Hall, 480th ISRG chaplain assistant, were recognized as the Air Combat Command Religious Support Team of the Year for 2016. The award put Warf and Hall in the running for Air Force Religious Support Team of the Year. They expect to know final results by summer.
Warf and Hall provide support through personal contact and programs to roughly 1,300 Airmen at Fort Gordon.
“ It’s putting them first, making sure they have the resources, making sure we’re there when they need us the most – in the midnight hours talking to them on the phone and helping them through crises situations,” Warf said. “It doesn’t say that on (the award nomination), but if you peel back the layers, it really boils down to us taking care of our Airmen.”
Different from Air Force installations, Fort Gordon, an Army installation, presents unique challenges to Airmen who live and work here. One of the biggest challenges is getting Airmen to remember – and in some cases learn – what it means to be Airmen.
“There’s a whole culture and a whole Airmen development that goes on that we get to do with Airmen who get to go to a normal Air Force installation,” Warf said. “They don’t really get that here, so it’s very easy for Airmen to feel like they’re not Airmen.”
With that comes a loss of connection and camaraderie essential to growth not only in Airmen, but in their family members.
“As an Airman, you go on an Air Force installation, and there’s an automatic sense of community because you’re all in the same service, you’re experiencing the same thing,” Warf said. “Here, our Airmen come with their families, and there’s not that same sense of integration.”
Upon arriving to Fort Gordon, Airmen go through First Term Airmen; a weeklong program that begins with indoctrination of how the installation operates and concludes with a scavenger hunt in downtown Augusta.
“Because they’re new to the area, we want them to get out and see what they have,” Hall said.
Airmen arriving from technical school who are assigned to work at the John Whitelaw Building must wait 90 days before they can begin. To fill the time gap, Airmen go through Gateway Academy. The program focuses on personal and professional development to help Airmen succeed. A follow-on to the program, Masters University, is being designed and will focus on continuing Airmen development throughout their time at Fort Gordon.
At the core of these programs is “Tools for Health and Resilience in a Virtual Environment,” or THRIVE. THRIVE was a collaborative effort between the RST, mental health and medical teams. The program began in June and is designed to help Airmen thrive in all aspects of life, Warf said.
Addressing another challenge Airmen face, Warf and Hall said Airmen assigned to Fort Gordon are prone to stressors that are similar to special operations Airmen. Many are “deployed in place,” working long hours in a battlespace where they have difficulty understanding their purpose.
“We’re here to discover what’s happening in their soul as they go out and do this difficult, quiet work,” Warf said. “Once we engage them, we listen and understand.”
Along with one-on-one interaction, the RST is constructing a spiritual readiness center inside Whitelaw where Airmen can break away from work for a brief respite. They also have a monthly mid-shift outreach at the complex where they bring enough food to feed the entire facility once a month. They use the time to remind Airmen the RST is there to support them and communicate other resources they have access to.
“We are a ‘one force’ kind of concept community, and whatever we resource from Fort Gordon to support our Airmen, we want our Airmen using it,” Warf said.
The team also hosts monthly resilience trips, family retreats, marriage workshops, and other ministries.
While it might seem like a heavy load for two people to carry, Warf and Hall wouldn’t have it any other way. The team is passionate about caring for Airmen.
“It gets me motivated in the morning, because I can go out and help Airmen discover their purpose,” Warf said.
For Hall, expressions of gratitude, positive feedback, inquiries about upcoming trips, and ideas Airmen share motivate to keep going even on the hardest days.
“I want them to know that they have Airmen here with experience who want them to experience the Air Force through us, through our programs, and through all the help that we have around us,” Hall said.
When it comes to receiving an award for the work they’ve done, Warf views it as affirmation they’re on the right track.
“For me, it validates the fact that we are successfully meeting our commander’s intent to take care of the spiritual aspects of our Airmen, and that’s being recognized at other levels,” Warf said. “It’s also opening up conversations of collaboration amongst Air Force chaplains to look at new ways of connecting with young Airmen.”