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Tyndall Airman awarded ACC Outstanding Company Grade Chaplain Award

Chaplain Capt. Robert Tilley, 325th Fighter Wing chaplain, poses for a photo at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, March 3, 2020. Tilley was recently awarded the Air Combat Command Outstanding Company Grade Chaplain Award. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Magen M. Reeves)

Chaplain Capt. Robert Tilley, 325th Fighter Wing chaplain, poses for a photo at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, March 3, 2020. Tilley was recently awarded the Air Combat Command Outstanding Company Grade Chaplain Award. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Magen M. Reeves)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Chaplain Capt. Robert Tilley, 325th Fighter Wing chaplain, was recently awarded the Air Combat Command Outstanding Company Grade Chaplain Award.

The minimum qualifications to be considered for the award were that the member had to be assigned to the major command for part of calendar year 2019 and had to be a company grade officer for the majority of that year.

For Tilley, however, it was his dedication to the mission and to the people at Tyndall who had to endure and recover from one of the worst Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in recorded history.

“I had the privilege of serving at the chapel in an unexpected leadership role in a very unique time,” said Tilley. “I got the chance to sit in a position that is reserved for folks with a higher pay-grade and more experience than me.”

Hurricane Michael devastated Northwest Florida on Oct. 10, 2018, and Tilley was one of the many brave Airmen who chose to stay behind and help recover the base.

“What impressed me was the fact that Chaplain Tilley volunteered to remain after Hurricane Michael,” said Chaplain Maj. Mark Juchter, 325th FW wing chaplain. “Not that I think less of those who departed, just even more of those who chose to stay. That put him in a position to operate as the acting wing chaplain, not only a different role, but to work as a field grade officer while still wearing captain.”

Company grade officers and field grade officers are separated by rank and pay grade tiers. Second lieutenants, first lieutenants and captains are in the CGO tier while majors, Lieutenant colonels and colonels are in the FGO tier.

“Our chief of chaplains at Headquarters Air Force level set the vision of the chaplain corps as ‘to care for Airmen more than anyone thinks possible,’ and Tilley met that vision at Tyndall in 2019,” said Juchter.

Tilley may have out-performed what was expected of him even from himself, but the experience did not come without challenges.

“(We had to figure out) how do we get chapel operations up and running again after Hurricane Michael’s devastation,” Tilley said. “How do we do so with limited resources and with limited manning? How do we help an entire base that was reeling, continuing to experience on-going hardships associated with the hurricane, to help heal and recover?”

Tilley succeeded the standard by dedication and hard work despite the circumstances. He says, however, that he didn’t accomplish the mission alone.

“By hard work, team work, and hope we were fortunate enough to have a team, volunteers, and a community that came together with a desire to help,” said Tilley. “Other chapels pitched in finances to help, our chapel communities and base organizations united and volunteered numerous hours, and the local community outside of the base were driven to find ways to assist. As far as the team is concerned, I would’ve drowned under the weight of responsibility had each individual member not joined in and pulled far more than their weight.”  

“There is simply no way that I could have done any of this alone,” he continued. “My wife was beyond supportive, has been working hard volunteering her own time within the chapel’s operations, and has been working diligently in her own efforts to help the local population.”

Tilley has been serving the United States Air Force as a military chaplain for 10 years. Although he’s been many places and seen many more faces, the task of putting Tyndall Air Force Base back together again after such a devastating tragedy could simply not have been replicated anywhere else.

“Simply put, I serve as a chaplain because I love serving God and I love serving people,” said Tilley. “I am fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to do both. I believe that the chaplaincy is the perfect opportunity where I get to blend my faith into my desire to help individuals through whatever challenges they are going through, regardless of whether they share my faith perspective or not.”  

It’s because of Airmen like Tilley and his family, like many other Airmen and their families, that Tyndall now stands as it is today. Dedication, determination, heartache and sacrifice have paved the way for a new generation of service.

“Please know, and I can’t stress this enough, that this wasn’t a solo effort,” said Tilley. “I couldn’t have had more support from the local military and surrounding community. I just happened to be fortunate enough to be in the position where I received a lot of credit for an entire team’s effort.”