NEWS | Sept. 1, 2021

National Guard religious affairs teams hone combat skills

By Tech. Sgt. Shane Phipps, 158th Fighter Wing

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – National Guard chaplains participated in the second annual Deployed Security Operations Chaplains Course at the Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho Aug. 24-26.

The three-day 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.

The 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 and security forces teams 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 and 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 course was provided to religious support teams from Guard units in New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York and an active-duty team from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

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

“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.”

The experience was valuable for those who provide 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.”