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Religious Affairs receives ACC Outstanding Medium Chapel Team Award

The 325th Fighter Wing religious affairs team poses for a photo at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, March 4, 2020. The team recently received the Air Combat Command Terence P. Finnegan Outstanding Medium Chapel Team Award. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Magen M. Reeves)

The 325th Fighter Wing religious affairs team poses for a photo at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, March 4, 2020. The team recently received the Air Combat Command Terence P. Finnegan Outstanding Medium Chapel Team Award. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Magen M. Reeves)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 325th Fighter Wing religious affairs team recently received the Air Combat Command Terence P. Finnegan Outstanding Medium Chapel Team Award.

Units eligible for the award had to be a wing or installation level chaplain corps team comprised of five to nine service members and government service civilian employees. The Tyndall Air Force Base religious affairs team has seven.

“The biggest differentiating factor for the team was our environment in 2019,” said Chaplain Maj. Mark Juchter, 325th FW wing chaplain.

On Oct. 10, 2018, a Category 5 hurricane devastated Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City, and Mexico Beach. Hurricane Michael was the worst storm to have made landfall in recent recorded history. Hundreds of Airmen were affected, thousands of off-base civilians, and millions of dollars of infrastructure and equipment were damaged both on and off base.

“At the start of the year, we had no fixed facilities and a staff at 50 percent or lower,” said Juchter. “The staff that did stay after Hurricane Michael volunteered to do so, showing dedication to the mission, service before self, and a passion for beginning the rebuilding process.”

“They started with almost nothing and got back to a fully manned staff and managed to plan for the future,” he continued. “They managed to get services restarted in a temporary location, begin the planning process for a facility, and secure a long-term replacement for services.”

The award also called for a representation of Headquarters Air Force, chief of chaplains lines of effort including recommit to warfighter readiness, re-blue business practices, and restore chaplain corps readiness.

“I was the sole religious affairs Airman for 10 months,” said Tech. Sgt. Kristine Whiteis, 325th FW religious affairs member, and acting noncommissioned officer in charge during the 10 month period after Hurricane Michael.

According to Whiteis, some of the biggest challenges she had to overcome included constant relocation of the work center and worship service locations.  A lack of consistency and reliability can greatly impact a service member’s religious or spiritual needs, especially when trying to cope with such a tragedy.

“The team worked hand in hand with all of the base helping agencies and unit commanders to restore Tyndall,” said Whiteis. “We (also cared for) the spiritual pillar for all of Tyndall’s personnel after a devastating hurricane.”

The spiritual pillar is a component of the Comprehensive Airman Fitness model, conceptualizing the importance of service members and their families to find balance. The pillars of the model include spiritual, social, mental and physical.

The spiritual model encompasses a wide-range of concepts that do not limit its usefulness to those who claim a religion. Any Airman, regardless of their spiritual beliefs, can use the CAF model.

“Like all Department of Defense religious affairs, the Tyndall team serves all Airmen and dependents regardless of faith group, including those who would say that they have none,” said Juchter. 

Fifteen months later, the Tyndall religious affairs team maintains a healthy manning percentage to successfully accomplish the standards set for them. Warfighter readiness and restoring chaplain corps readiness have helped the base reform and rebuild for a better today than yesterday and for a promising tomorrow. 

“I am really impressed with the staying power of the team, especially those that hung in there and took things from the post-storm disaster to where we are today,” said Juchter. “The work they did in 2019 that continues into 2020 is helping to redefine the future of the United States Air Force Chaplain Corps."