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News | Sept. 1, 2021

158th religious affairs team hones combat skills

By Tech. Sgt. Shane Phipps 158th Fighter Wing

Airmen with the 158th Chaplain office participated in the second annual Deployed Security Operations Chaplains Course at the Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vermont, Aug. 24-26.

This three-day training course was developed by 158th religious affairs and security forces Airmen as a crash course in weapons handling and familiarization, general security procedures, convoy operations and improvised explosive device recognition. With chaplains being deemed noncombatants, warfare training like this is particularly essential for chaplain assistants.

“The Deployed Security Operations Chaplains Course is all about understanding how to move, survive and function as a religious support team on the battlefield,” said Capt. Wilson Treftz, 158th Fighter Wing chaplain.

Last year Treftz, a former enlisted security forces member, worked with his religious affairs team and security forces team to build a comprehensive training program that would prepare chaplains and their assistants for the rigors of battlefield operations.

“[Treftz] requested some assistance from us in creating a deployment-based training session for regional chaplain teams,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ethan Thibault, 158th Security Forces Squadron supervisor. “Last year we did a two-day course where we focused on the chaplain assistant role in regard to security. That course was a big success and we decided to continue, and expand it to a three-day course.”

This training has evolved to include Air Guard units from around New England as well as an active duty team.

“We took it upon ourselves here in Vermont to offer a pilot course last year,” said Treftz. “It ended up being personnel from Vermont and New Hampshire and it went really well. The skills learned were groundbreaking and we decided to offer it again this year and expand the program.”

This year, the Deployed Security Operations Chaplains Course was provided to religious support teams from guard units in New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and an active duty team from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.”

Personnel from the different units experienced a variety of scenarios to include direct combat, basic first aid and how to recognize and evade perilous situations in the first place.

“The course covers avoiding dangerous situations when possible, how to provide first aid and evacuate their chaplain from a hot situation,” said Thibault. “It exposes chaplains and assistants to training they don’t normally receive and just gives them better security awareness in any environment.”

For those involved, the experience has been valuable preparation for the harsh realities of providing religious services in austere combat zones.

“Religious affairs Airmen are expeditionary Airmen,” said Treftz. “That means our job is to be alongside Airmen wherever they may be. Whether they’re on a base or a battlefield, that’s where we need to go. Naturally that means we could be in a hostile environment and we need to know how to behave so we aren’t a liability, but more importantly, so we can be effective at caring for our people.”

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