WARNER ROBINS -- In the past couple of years Robins Air Force Base leaders have sought more ways to partner with the community to provide services for military members. Now that is being extended to spiritual matters.
At the Museum of Aviation, the base held its first spiritual summit Thursday with about 65 pastors and other local church leaders to discuss how they might better serve both military members and civilians who work at the base.
Speakers at the event included Col. Jimmy Browning, the command chaplain of the Air Force Materiel Command.
“Being physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually strong is an important element of who we are as a profession of arms,” he said. “When you understand that, you understand what this profession is, and you understand that there are stresses and strains.”
Browning called the Robins summit a pilot initiative that he hopes to spread to communities throughout the Air Force Materiel Command. He said he suggested having the summit after hearing about the close relationship between the base and community.
About 73 percent of active-duty military members describe themselves as Christian, he said, while most of the rest cite varying other faiths, with 2 percent atheist and 1 percent agnostic.
“We do a pretty good job of taking care of that diversity of faith,” he said. “We are chaplains to all.”
He noted that for legal reasons, chaplains are limited in what they can do for civilian employees, particularly when it comes to taking the initiative to reach out to them.
Since 2009, he said, the Air Force Materiel Command has lost 87 civilians and 17 military members to suicide. During that time, for those working under the command, Robins lost 17 civilians to suicide and no active duty military personnel. In the past fiscal year, which ended Oct. 1, Robins had five civilians commit suicide, when including all commands, with no military suicides.
In a panel discussion, the base’s military and civilian leaders told some stories with good and bad outcomes. A military member told of two airmen who had personal setbacks and slipped into alcoholism, but they were turned around by help from chaplains and are now doing well.
Ed Montano, quality program director and air logistics chief in the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, told a story that didn’t end well. A few years ago a civilian maintainer was having personal struggles and committed suicide on base. Only later was it learned from family members that the employee had been making suicide threats.
The Rev. Scott Petersen of All Saints Episcopal Church in Warner Robins not only attended the summit but helped organize it. As a direct result of communicating with other churches about the summit, he said, an effort has been launched for churches to explore how they might work together better to provide help to those in need.
Petersen said six active military members and another dozen or more civilians attend his church.
“We are certainly affected by what happens on base, so this is fantastic,” he said of the summit.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.