LINCOLN, Neb. – For Chaplain (Capt.) Michael Zimmer, traditional religious services are out the window for Nebraska National Guard Soldiers and Airmen spread throughout the state to support COVID-19 response efforts.
In April, Zimmer was activated as the chaplain for the Joint Task Force for Nebraska National Guard COVID-19 mission.
“A lot of my job is the ministry of presence,” Zimmer said. “Being around the Airmen and Soldiers, so they know me and feel comfortable to be around a chaplain.”
“Too often, there is a stigma that something must be wrong if you are talking to a chaplain,” Zimmer added. “The most rewarding times are when individuals are going through a struggle or crisis and being able to walk through the experience with them.”
Zimmer has been able to improvise when it comes to performing religious offerings by being supportive, offering encouragement and spiritual guidance to the Soldiers and Airmen while they perform their duties across Nebraska.
“I’m glad to be able to serve in this capacity, serving Nebraskans in need,” Zimmer said. “I’m constantly edified by our servicemen and women. So many speak how they are glad to be able to serve in Nebraska.”
From team to team and location to location, Zimmer has traveled to the different sites where the Nebraska National Guard members are conducting COVID-19 testing and distributing food and personal protective equipment.
“My time spent with them enables a relationship to be there for those difficult times,” he said.
When Zimmer isn’t talking to the troops, he’s updating the commander on how morale is at each location along with any other information the teams want him to push up the chain of command.
“I have the best job in the military,” Zimmer said. “I get to speak to and support our members. Sometimes it is difficult as they can be very busy with the mission, but I truly love what I do.”
Staff Sgt. Dustin Stroh, safety noncommissioned officer for the Joint Task Force, traveled with Zimmer and also spoke with Soldiers and Airmen to ensure safety matters for all the teams and site locations.
“Working with the chaplain has been a great experience,” Stroh said. “We have had lots of time to talk during our trips to different sites around Nebraska. During these discussions, I have noticed, above all, the chaplain’s love for humanity. He often has a well thought out perspective to bring to a conversation, typically with sources he can quote.”
Both Zimmer and Stroh have observed the morale of the Soldiers and Airmen on duty.
“Overall, the morale has been high,” Zimmer said. “As I said, the opportunity to serve their neighbors has been a driving factor for our Airmen and Soldiers.”
Stroh couldn’t agree more.
“The thing I have noticed most during site visits is our troops are professionals,” Stroh said. “They keep high morale in adverse and ever-changing conditions. I have watched young Soldiers remain polite and patient with elderly clients that need to complete registration prior to testing. It makes me proud to be part of the organization and operation I am a part of.”
Zimmer said he has learned a lot from the troops and the COVID-19 mission.
“This mission has reinforced to me the importance of relationships,” Zimmer said. “The presence of a chaplain on a regular basis builds relationships that makes people more comfortable with reaching out to them in their time of need. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work and serve with amazing people.”