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Developing chaplain leaders gain inside knowledge at conference

By Sgt. 1st Class Jessica Barnett | 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment | September 22, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. - Chaplains are known for their care and understanding of the Guard members they are entrusted with, but who takes care of them?

The answers emerged at a recent conference held in Arlington.

Twenty Airmen and 20 Soldiers of the National Guard Chaplain Corps gathered for "Vision for the Chaplaincy of the Future" joint leadership development conference held at the Lt. Gen. Herbert R. Temple, Jr. Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Virginia, Sept. 13-14.

Throughout the two-day conference, chaplains and chaplain assistants heard inspirational speeches and anecdotes from multiple general officers across the Guard. They heard about where the Guard is going to be and how they can better take care of the service members and their families, as well as connect and network together.

"I asked the senior leaders to encourage them, challenge them to continue to be good chaplains and chaplain assistants; to do that good tactical ministry …. ," shared Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) J. Steven Chisolm, director, Office of the Joint Chaplain, National Guard Bureau. "Also challenge them to excel into becoming good officers and senior [noncommissioned officers]."

Then again, the leadership development started long before the conference.

Each attendee was asked to come up with a senior-level question to be asked during briefings. In turn, the attendees reached out to their state's senior leaders for mentorship in accomplishing the task.

Sequentially, attendees learned what an appropriate question is for senior level officers and were given the opportunity to hear back the poised and professional grace of each guest speakers.

Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, vice commander of the National Guard Bureau, gave a larger understanding of the National Guard and the bureau, explaining what roles it plays between states and other entities such as the Department of the Army or Air Force.

"I will take back with me the knowledge of what NGB does for our states; that they are a conduit of communication between the higher levels, between [Department of Defense] and [Secretary of Defense] and the lower level between the wings and brigades," shared Chaplain (Maj.) Susannah Tulloch, 166th Airlift Wing, Delaware Air National Guard. "… So, if we have something going on at the wing level, we can actually reach out to [NGB] and they can funnel up and funnel back down for resourcing, assistance and that sort of thing. I didn't realize that is what they were, a connector for us."

Maj. Gen. Timothy McKeithen, deputy director of the Army National Guard, explicitly pushed the importance of having diverse mentors.

"I have about ten mentors to this day," he emphasized. "Keep in mind, my ten mentors since I have been a lieutenant helped me weave through that minefield of how to be a good leader, a great leader, and sometimes how to be a bad leader. You can learn things from everyone; good, bad and indifferent. My challenge to the group here today - you must have at least ten mentors. One! Zero! They can be enlisted, officer, warrants, civilians, retired military, they can be colonels, they can be majors."

"They shouldn't all look like you," continued McKeithen. "If they are all like you then you're wrong. All my mentors don't look like me - handsome, right? Hooah! Your mentors should be a plethora of different diversity. If you don't have that, you're wrong. You need them now, not tomorrow."

McKeithen's message clearly registered with Tulloch.

"It's not only, 'I am reaching up, but I am reaching back,'" Tulloch said. "I love the idea that it's not only about taking but also giving. It put a challenge on me to reach back for younger Airmen to bring along. I also need to look for diversifications. I realized I just have one. I need to diversify that significantly, and one is not enough.

"Within the chaplain corps, our pastoral present of the holy has been strongly exercised but our line officer position has not and now they are asking us to mold both those lanes," continued Tulloch. So, having the diversification of my mentorship will help so that I can actually become a better officer and a better chaplain and improve both areas. That is something they have not foot stomped before. You are an officer - step into that authority and own it and move on with it."

Throughout the conference, attendees were given opportunities to work on a group exercise. Split into three teams, chaplain and chaplain assistants problem solved a question posed to each by a senior leader - Brig. Gen. Chisolm. At the end of the conference the group leaders along with their subject matter experts briefed their recommended courses of action to the general as the culminating event.

"If you don't have the tools or right format to present to senior leaders, you might have good ideas but can potentially not be well received or understood unless you can present and articulate your concerns correctly," pointed out Chaplain (Lt. Col.) M. David Reynolds, deputy director, Office of the Joint Chaplain, National Guard Bureau.

By the end of the two days, Chisolm anticipated the attendees to leave with renewed hope and focus. They will be competent, well-prepared individuals who as captains and staff sergeants will have had the chance to hear a three-star general say, 'This is what I need you to do.'

"My hope is that majority walk away having heard the one thing that inspired them to be better at who they are, what they are, and to have a vision of the future that will cause them to be better," concluded Chisolm.