More than 200 chaplains and chaplain assistants gathered for the U.S. Air Force Chaplain Corps Summit in Alexandria, Virginia, April 12-14.
The summit marked the first time in four years that Chaplain Corps Airmen have gathered to exchange ideas, develop solutions and plan the future for the corps. Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Dondi Costin, the Air Force chief of chaplains, simply called it a family reunion.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III kicked off the event addressing the chaplains and sharing his gratitude for their service.
“What a responsibility you share, what a burden you carry, what joy, comfort and happiness you bring, what a gift you are,” Welsh said. “Thank you for choosing to serve. Thank you for caring for and leading our people, and thanks for inspiring me.”
The summit was the brainchild of Costin and Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Steven Schaick, the deputy chief of chaplains. They came up with the idea in one of their after-hours discussions on how to improve communications in the corps.
“We both almost said it to each other at the same time,” Schaick said.
Most attendees were curious to learn what was in store for the corps. Tech. Sgt. Nathanial Jones, who flew cross-country to attend, said he wanted to find out what the future held for the Chaplain Corps, as well as present Air Force policy.
“I’m trying to get more of a big picture of what big Air Force is doing and how it applies to the local level,” he said.
In addition to talks from Welsh, Costin and Schaik, Chief Master Sgt. Dale McGavran, the career field manager for the Chaplain Corps, spoke about the inspiration he took from history and from other chaplain assistants. He quoted Napoleon Bonaparte’s definition of a leader, “a dealer in hope,” and a chaplain assistant’s summation of her job: “We’re the ninjas of networking.”
Other Air Force leaders who addressed the summit for the next two days included Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein; Maj. Gen. Garrett Herancak, the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service; Chaplain (Col.) Gary R. Califf, the command chaplain for the Air Force Reserve Command; Chaplain (Col.) Bill Yates, the director of the Air National Guard Chaplain Corps; and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody, who told the crowd, “You go anywhere we send an Airman.”
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James addressed the audience on the last day of the summit, telling chaplains that in an Air Force always striving to improve, “you never hear about a fifth-generation chaplain. It’s good that some things stay the same.”
While the chaplains and chaplain assistants spent their mornings hearing from Air Force leaders, they spent their afternoons working in small groups, addressing current challenges and how to make the corps better.
Although previous summits were canceled due to sequestration, Costin knows the value of the event, noting that no one understands religious leaders in the Air Force as well as other religious leaders.
“We found that not getting together meant that we weren’t able to harness all the brainpower that we needed to,” Costin said. “What I’m hoping for here is the networking and relationship building that will have long term implications for the corps.”