Chaplains Support Sandy Relief Operations
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 9, 2012 National Guard chaplains are providing support as part of Hurricane Sandy relief and recovery operations.
"The chaplains are providing religious services and prayer for recovery teams," said Air Force Chaplain Brig. Gen. Alphonse Stephenson, director of the National Guard joint chaplaincy at the National Guard Bureau and Air National Guard assistant to the Air Force chief of chaplains. "They're providing on-the-spot counseling and encouragement to not only military personnel but to everyone who is affected."
Many of the chaplains who have responded are from the New Jersey and New York areas, which provides for a greater connection to the communities affected by the storm, Stephenson said.
"They're from the community and they put on the uniform and report to where they are supposed to be and then they go right back out into the community again," he said.
And while chaplains in the affected areas are primarily there to support military members, they have ministered to non-military members as well, Stephenson said. One way they have done this is by engaging with members of the local clergy.
When it comes to providing support, "a chaplain just doesn't say no," Stephenson said. "There is no such thing."
For Stephenson, a New Jersey native, the storm affected him personally and he found himself providing support to his 89-year-old father in the days after the storm.
"He lives on the Jersey Shore and his lights were out," Stephenson said. "Thank God his house was standing and everything else was fine, but his power went out."
After eight days without power, Stephenson said his father was beginning to feel frustrated and somewhat overwhelmed.
"I said to him, 'You were in World War II in seven invasions and right now you're sitting in Brick Township, N.J., with a house where the power is out. How tough is that?’" Stephenson said. "And he said, 'Ya know, you're right.'”
“And I think that's what the chaplain has to do -- put it in perspective," Stephenson added.
Putting things in perspective is one way that chaplains work to provide hope and encouragement for those they support, Stephenson said.
"The presence of the chaplain is to bring hope," he said. "That's our best product, our most important product. I think the cross or tablets or whatever religious insignia is on the uniform of the chaplain, it's a symbol of a trusted agent."
And from the chaplain’s perspective, Stephenson said, that mission of providing hope is the same whether it's responding to a Hurricane Sandy-type event or as part of the overseas or warfighting mission.
"It's approached with the same vigor," he said.
And in a disaster situation such as Sandy, chaplains provide an essential element, Stephenson said.
"I think the chaplain's presence is absolutely necessary in these situations," he said.
And being there, he added, is part of the chaplain's mission.
"We are spiritual strength, wherever needed, whenever required," Stephenson said.