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Alabama Air National Guard Chaplain Corps in USAFRICOM Provide Spiritual Support to Deployed U.S. Military

  • Published
  • By Ken Johnson
  • 117th Air Refueling Wing, Public Affairs

Chaplain (Maj.) John D. Russell and Chaplain Assistant Tech. Sgt. Amy M. Reach of 117th Air Refueling Wing, deployed to USAFRICOM and was the only Protestant Religious Support Team in Air Forces Africa’s Area of Responsibility. Together they supported 15 faith-based groups spanning five countries.

“My team consisted of myself and Religious Affairs Airman Reach, said Russell, “It was very beneficial to have her with me. She has a lot of military experience and truly cares for our Airmen.” Reach helped to organize and prepare for ministering to airmen in various circumstances. She was instrumental at going out, getting to know, and spending time with individuals. This involves outreach,” said Russell, “making sure fellow airmen know what religious and counseling services are available to them and then helping them. A lot of people just need someone to listen and care for them.”

  As the team traveled to various locations they were met by local leadership and immediately went to work to provide religious care to those who requested it. “There is such a great need and even a void our Airmen have in there being only one Air Force Protestant Chaplain Religious Support Team on duty in all of Africa,” said Russell, “Many of our Airmen also hunger to serve God through their duty and really thrived as I helped to encourage them to seek ways to serve God and others.”

Arriving at another destination they met with members of the Army Civil Affairs where they sat down with other Airmen from one of the bases to discuss the culture of the young people there. They also went to a local Security Forces graduation, in which the 117 ARW Security Forces Squadron had trained them. They stood in formation as each one was honored.  Afterwards they greeted each of the graduates and thanked and blessed them.

Chaplain Russell and his team also participated in the Warrior Care Program, 24 hour operation that provided care for defenders attending guard mounts. The focus of the program was to let warriors know that regardless of the time, the Chaplain Corps is there to support and care for them.  They soon realized that they did have support. “This helped them to trust me when they needed to talk to someone about issues going on in their lives,” said Russell, “I noticed that I became a source of strength and encouragement for the forces serving our nation. Going out and spending time at the guard mounts helped our warriors be more alert and less stressed.  It helped them to know that they were not alone.  I believe that in some small way it helped to save lives and reinforce a strong defense.” 

In total the RST traveled roughly 20,000 miles to help fortify the comprehensive fitness of approximately 1,600 Airmen. “I understood and accepted the fact that we would have to travel a lot since there are only two Air Force Chaplain Teams, one Catholic and one Protestant.” said Russell, “There is such a spiritual need with our warriors at so many diverse locations and people in those countries with a very real and determined threat. I believe there is wisdom in spending a little more time at each location than just passing through.”

Deploying half way around the world and traveling to so many different areas can be stressful but  Reach had the support of her chaplain,” I was blessed to have a chaplain with me who would stop what we were doing and pray with me or pray about the situation we were about to go into together. I am thankful for Chaplain Russell.” she said

Chaplain Russell and his team experienced a great deal of success during they’re deployment including several warriors responding to faith in Jesus Christ and getting baptized. They came to realize that there are a lot of good people in our military who are very dedicated to defending our country and are making a difference around the world.