By Delanie Stafford, 55th Wing Public Affairs / Published October 10, 2015
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) -- As part of an initiative to provide more effective spiritual care to members of the base’s flying community, 55th Wing chaplains are now becoming aerial qualified to go where aircrews go.
"If we can get to where our people work, we can connect them with the support they need," said Chaplain (Maj.) Michael Farar.
By "where our people work," Farar is talking about flying alongside Offutt's aircrew members during operational missions.
"You can't reach resources from 30,000 feet," Farar said. "When we are on site, we can (provide services) faster, better and more accurately."
Farar said it’s difficult for his staff to reach members of Offutt's flying community, who typically work much longer days than those with traditional jobs. An average mission can start before the sun comes up and last well into the evening.
"It's often going to be toward 6 p.m. by the time they wrap things up," Farar said. "They're not going to go see the chaplain. And the more time that lapses between the perceived need for help and the availability of help, the less likely they will be able to seek out help."
Farar, who recently became aerial qualified, flew on his first mission Oct. 5 and said he has already seen the benefits.
"I struck up a relatively deep conversation with somebody," Farar said. "It would not have happened if I was not there on the spot. Because I was there in the moment, where he had time, we ended up having the conversation he wanted to have."
Chaplain (Col.) Bruce Glover, a 25th Air Force chaplain, was present for Farar's flight and commended Farar and 55th Wing leadership for supporting the initiative that provides squadron-focused warrior care.
"A chaplain being on flying orders and spending time with aircrew is precisely the kind of unit engagement that we as a chaplain corps need to be doing," Glover said. "To care for Airmen, we need to be in the air."
Farar's flight is believed to be the first operational flight ever for a 55th Wing chaplain, according to Offutt's Host Aviation Resource Management office. Functional managers at Air Combat Command also believe it’s a first for the command.
Farar said all five of Offutt's chaplains should be fully trained and qualified by the end of the year. He estimates that each chaplain will fly on at least six missions per year, totaling more than 30 missions between them.
Farar said being close to the flying community is important in building trust between chaplains and Airmen. It became even more evident to him during his deployment to the Middle East earlier this year, where he was able to fly with aircrews from the 55th Wing.
"Once we were there, around them, and I understood their world, and their language and what they were going through -- instantly, after that flight, I got an influx from that particular airframe," Farar said. "We engaged them with some teamwork things, some spiritual resiliency issues, suicide prevention... I had so many requests, I couldn't accommodate them all."
The initiative, started by the 55th Wing chaplain in April 2014, became a reality when Farar stepped onto an RC-135 Rivet Joint as Offutt's first aerial-qualified chaplain.
"The (38th Reconnaissance Squadron) is excited at the opportunity to fly with Chaplain Farar and the rest of Team Offutt's chaplains," said Lt. Col. Matthew Waszak, the squadron’s commander. "The face-to-face contact allows chaplains to roll up their sleeves aboard the jets with aircrew, and offers a mission view through the unique aspects of the aircrew lens."