Chaplain assitants: Working behind the scenes

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Chaplains assigned to the 39th Air Base Wing work countless hours day-in and day-out to ensure all members of Team Incirlik have access to resources to strengthen their spiritual fitness, regardless of religious affiliation. Working behind the scenes are a group of dedicated Airmen whose efforts enable chaplains to carry out their critical mission -- chaplain assistants. 

From setting up for religious services and scheduling chapel activities to managing supplies and money and maintaining computer equipment, chaplain assistants have their hands in every aspect of the chapel's activities. 

"We're the nuts and bolts," said Staff Sgt. Tianna Milagro, 39th ABW chaplain assistant 
and NCO in charge of resource management. "Our main job is program support ... doing all the little things that make the chapel work." 

"Chaplain assistants are vital to the continuation of the mission of the chapel," said Chaplain (Capt.) Crystal Jones, 39th ABW Protestant chaplain. "They allow us the freedom to perform our ministry." 

In addition to doing "all the little things," chaplain assistants also get involved in one of the chapel's key functions -- helping people. Often, when someone is seeking counsel with a chaplain, a chaplain assistant is the first person they will come in contact with. 

"We are the eyes and ears," said Senior Airman Jacqulyn Sanford, 39th ABW chaplain assistant. "We are the ones who answer the phone or greet people at the door."
Chaplain assistants are trained to recognize those who might be in need of a chaplain's guidance. 

"We're trained in areas such as suicide prevention ... we know what signs to look for," said Sergeant Milagro. "It's like emotional triage." 

"A lot of times you can tell when somebody is in need before they even speak. You can tell by their expressions, their demeanor," said Airman Sanford. 

According to Sergeant Milagro and Airman Sanford, it's this aspect of the job they enjoy the most. 

"It's amazing to talk to people and see the expression on their face when they know somebody cares," said Sergeant Milagro. "We don't care what religion they are, we just care because they are people. I like to see smiles on their faces." 

"Just like with the Americans who left Lebanon -- we were there to talk to them," said Airman Sanford. "Even if they didn't want to talk right away, they knew we were there and that we cared." 

Whether it's heading the chapel's administrative functions or stepping in as an emotional first responder, chaplains couldn't tend to the spiritual needs of Airmen without their assistants. 

"They provide the operational and tactical support," said Chaplain (Maj.) Kenneth Reyes, 39th ABW chaplain, "while we provide full-spectrum ministry opportunities for the wing."