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Chaplain's assistants support Air Force's backbone

Staff Sgt. Javon Merritte (second from right), chaplain’s assistant with the 436th Airlift Wing, builds rapport with Airmen on the flightline at Dover Air Force Base, Del., July 20, 2012. Chaplain’s assistants form religious support teams with chaplains to get face time with troops, sometimes utilizing the “Holy Roller”, a supply vehicle, to distribute food and drinks to those who work outside in the elements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn Stilwell)

Staff Sgt. Javon Merritte (second from right), chaplain assistant with the 436th Airlift Wing, builds rapport with Airmen on the flightline July 20, 2012, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Chaplain assistants form religious support teams with chaplains to get face-time with service members, sometimes utilizing the “Holy Roller”, a supply vehicle, to distribute food and drinks to those who work outside in the elements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn Stilwell)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Behind every base chaplain is a chaplain assistant who handles not only a great deal of the administrative work, but also a variety of other tasks from breaking down barriers between officers and enlisted, to restocking supplies.

Although not assigned to one specific chaplain, they work beside them to complete the mission. Together, they boost the morale of units, build camaraderie, tend to the spiritual pillar of wellness, and provide military members with someone to talk to.

All chaplain assistants must retrain from another career field. The technical school is eight weeks long, and is based out of Fort Jackson, S.C. Staff Sgt. Javon Merritte, chaplain assistant with the 436th Airlift Wing, retrained from security forces to use his personable people-skills to their full potential.

"I wanted to be able to help people in a positive way," said Merritte. "This is a job where I could use my personality to help someone."

A large portion of a chaplain assistant's duties is using people-skills to break down the barriers between officers and enlisted members. Sometimes people may feel more comfortable speaking with an enlisted chaplain's assistant rather than an officer. The assistants break the ice, and help find those who may need help, but are unwilling to seek it for themselves.

"I enjoy this job because the chaplain's assistant and chaplain form a team to break all barriers between officers and enlisted," said Merritte. "We all have to work together to complete the mission."

The chaplains and chaplain assistants form religious support teams that travel the base in order to get face-time with service members. To do this, they sometimes utilize the "Holy Roller:" a support vehicle laden with everything from candy to ice-cold lemonade provided to those who have to work amongst the elements, such as maintainers on the flightline and security forces.

"My job is to say, man, [the chaplain's] cool. You can talk to him, he won't tell your business," said Merritte.

However, being part of a religious support team is only one aspect in the duties of a chaplain's assistant. They are also tasked with scheduling appointments, weddings, funerals and memorials. They wear many different hats, such as facility manager and resource manager. They also perform pre-deployment and post-deployment briefings, and provide privileged communication to anyone in need.

One of their most important duties is preparing the chapel for weekend services. It includes cleaning, restocking supplies, and making sure everything is functional for each respective service.

The chaplain assistants play a vital role in Team Dover's overall mission by tending to the spiritual wellness of its members. They boost morale and support the troops through methods such as the "Holy Roller" and privileged communication.

"At the end of the day you're getting to help people in a positive way," said Merritte.