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Religious support teams step outside the sanctuary, provide support

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Tech. Sgt. Raymond Chan, 439th Airlift Wing religious affairs Airman and Capt. Matthew Thompson, 439th Airlift Wing chaplain, prepare to visit Westover Airmen during a Unit Training Assembly July 24, 2020, at Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts. Thompson and Chan form a religious support team, also known as an RST, tasked with providing mental, emotional and spiritual support to Westover Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shane M. Phipps)

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. --

Say the words ‘Chaplain Corps’ and many will think of a pastor standing in a sanctuary giving a sermon, but a big portion of their job happens outside the chapel walls.   

Religious Support Teams, comprised of one chaplain and one religious affairs airman, offer mental, emotional and spiritual support to all Westover Airmen - no matter their belief system.

“I think most people think our job is all about services,” said Capt. Matthew Thompson, 439th Airlift Wing Chaplain. “But really, our job is to constantly be proactive and checking up on all Airmen, whether religious or not.”

RSTs focus on unit engagement, where they visit different units.

“Each RST is assigned to a group,” said Tech. Sgt. Raymond Chan, 439th Airlift Wing religious affairs airman. “For example, Chaplain Thompson and I are assigned to the Mission Support Group. We set times to go into the individual squadrons. We also like to get involved in their exercises. That allows us to really see what their jobs entail, which helps us meet their emotional and mental needs.”

Thompson said working with an enlisted member gives the team a broader reach.

“As chaplains, it’s extremely beneficial for us to be paired with enlisted religious affairs airmen,” said Thompson. “Particularly, when the religious affairs airman does not have a faith background. This allows us to reach an entire group of people who otherwise might be hesitant to talk to us.”

“We each have a set of skills that we bring to the table,” said Chan. “For example, chaplains can do pastoral care and the religious affairs airman cannot.”

Chan said the RST’s role is extremely important, especially in times of crisis.

“A lot of people don’t realize our Airmen are juggling the military aspect with an entire civilian life,” said Chan. “I know multiple Reserve Airmen who have lost their jobs because of COVID. We also have Reserve Airmen who work essential jobs battling the pandemic and are burdened with the added stress of potentially getting sick. This is all going on under the surface for a lot of our Airmen and if you can’t take care of your personal life, how can you be expected to take care of your military duties? We’re here for those Airmen. We’re here to listen. That’s our job, and if they want help, or are just willing to talk, we will guide them to the appropriate resources.”

Airmen wishing to speak to a RST or other member of the Chapel staff can reach them during duty hours at 413-557-3031 or their 24-hour hotline, 413-237-3145.