Chaplain assistants play crucial role in mission accomplishment

Staff Sgt. Travis Barrino tests out sound equipment June 8 at the Bolling Air Force Base main chapel as he would during a religious service. Chaplain assistants provide support for ministry by acting as carpenters, electricians, cooks, accountants and protocol experts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Susan Moreno)

Staff Sgt. Travis Barrino tests out sound equipment June 8 at the Bolling Air Force Base main chapel as he would during a religious service. Chaplain assistants provide support for ministry by acting as carpenters, electricians, cooks, accountants and protocol experts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Susan Moreno)

BOLLING AFB, D.C. -- The phone rang in Staff Sgt. Travis Barrino's office at the Bolling Air Force Base main chapel. As he picked up his headset to answer, some subtleties easily overlooked before then became more apparent, such as the laser-etched cross sitting at the far left corner of his desk bearing the inscription beside it, "John 3:16", and the faintly perfumed scent of a church.

He rendered the typical greeting to the voice on the other end and when asked how he was, he smiled and said, "I'm blessed."

Chaplain assistants provide support for ministry, not necessarily by preaching from the pulpit, but by wearing many hats; they are electricians, carpenters, cooks, accountants and protocol experts.

At Arlington National Cemetery, a special duty assignment for chaplain assistants, responsibilities range from administrative duties to escorting chaplains or the Arlington Ladies to and from a gravesite, said Senior Airman Megan Stuelke, a chaplain assistant at Arlington.

"We also help support the ministry by not only setting up services and altars for worship, but by just being a listening ear," said Sergeant Barrino. "Some people find it easier to talk to us than an officer because we're enlisted, so we become the eyes and ears of the chaplains."

In addition to the other many roles chaplain assistants must fill, they are also force protection for chaplains; They must be qualified to carry and use firearms.

"I've always felt that being an armed combatant for chaplains is just another part of my job," said Airman Stuelke. "I have always enjoyed my chaplains and have definitely voiced to them that I would take a bullet for many of them."

Currently, the only way to become a chaplain's assistant is by laterally cross-training. Those wishing to cross-train into the U.S. Air Force Chaplain Corps must be active duty, Air National Guard or Reserves, get a recommendation from their wing chaplain and the chapel NCO in charge and a copy of their last five enlisted performance reports.

Completion of courses in composition, accounting, computer operations and world religions is preferred.

"I was in the second-to-last class to go through chaplain assistant school straight out of basic," said Airman Stuelke.

Sergeant Barrino described his assignment as a chaplain assistant, "appointed and anointed."

Airman Stuelke agreed.

"I went to basic military training with an open general job category," Airman Stuelke said. "I had looked at being a chaplain assistant with my recruiter, but wasn't really sure about it. When I went to pick a job in basic, it was on the list. I have always said that God blessed me with this job, and has continued to bless me every step of the way."