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ACC hosts chaplain leadership symposium

Chaplain (Col.) Timothy Butler, Air Combat Command Chaplain, speaks to chaplains from across the command at an ACC Chaplain Corps Leadership Development Symposium Dec. 8, 2016. The idea for the symposium formed when the command chaplains and their assistants from each of three MAJCOMs involved – USAFE, AETC and ACC – discovered they were all contemplating the same idea: how to improve leadership within the chaplain corps. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson)

Chaplain (Col.) Timothy Butler, the Air Combat Command command chaplain, speaks to chaplains from across the command at the ACC Chaplain Corps Leadership Development Symposium Dec. 8, 2016. The idea for the symposium formed when the command chaplains and their assistants from three different major commands discovered they were all contemplating the same idea: how to improve leadership within the chaplain corps. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. (AFNS) -- Senior religious support teams from around the world met at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in early December for the Air Combat Command Chaplain Corps Leadership Development Symposium.

This symposium, the second of three planned events, was intended to bring senior chapel leadership together in a forum to discuss leadership strategies, share best practices and better leverage chapel resources.

“The main purpose of the conference is to address what we believe to be a leadership development void we have in the chaplain corps,” said Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Steven Schaik, the Air Force deputy chief of chaplains.

Command chaplains and their chief chaplains’ aids from three major commands – U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Air Education and Training Command and Air Combat Command – collaborated to create the leadership development program, which Schaik hopes will allow chaplains to better serve the Air Force.

“I believe leaders will be fine-tuned, and Airmen and their families will be better served,” he said.

Attendees were mostly senior members of what the chaplain corps calls religious support teams, with each ACC wing represented as well as team members from the U.S. Army, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Reserve Command and the Air National Guard. Chaplains from Turkey and various organizations outside the Air Force also attended.

The idea for the symposium formed when the command chaplains and their assistants from three different MAJCOMs discovered they were all contemplating the same idea: how to improve leadership within the chaplain corps.

“Most seminaries – the vast majority of seminaries across the country – do not have any courses at all on leadership or management,” said Chaplain (Col.) Tim Butler, the ACC command chaplain and one of the original designers of the symposium. “Everyone assumes that when a chaplain is brought onto active duty they have an entire set of leadership and management skills, ready to engage, and it’s just not true.”

The Air Force has professional military education courses for both officers and enlisted, which chaplains and their assistants attend respectively, and each of those courses teach leadership and management to a degree, Butler acknowledged. Chaplain and chaplain assistant training also teaches limited leadership skills.

“The problem with those, from my perspective, is you go through them, someone hands you a certificate, salutes you on stage or you salute them, and they say ‘Good luck!” the chaplain said. “But there’s absolutely no follow-up, so how do we know that they were actually able to take those skills and apply them?”

Butler said designers of the symposium considered – perhaps for the first time – the role that MAJCOM-level positions might be able to play in training and ongoing coaching and mentoring the chaplain corps.


The first symposium was held at Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, in August 2016, where all seven members of the team – the command chaplains and their assistants, along with Dr. Sharon Latour, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and pastor who specializes in leadership and resource management – assessed the impact of the symposium. A third symposium is planned for USAFE in January 2017.

Butler said there were a number of takeaways from the event.

“The first goal we had was to get to know them, give them a chance to get to know us, so the result would be trust,” the chaplain explained.

Each of the three command chaplains heading up the symposium are relatively new in their positions, with the longest holding his post for only eight months. Butler said he understands the relationship between command and the individual wings, and the “absolute foundational elements” of the symposium were to build relationships and trust.

“Secondarily, we wanted to introduce (the senior religious support teams) to a concept that has been around in the business world for a number of years, but is only now beginning to take hold in the Department of Defense,” Butler said. “It’s known as the ‘learning organization.’”

Butler explained the basic premise of the learning organization is that, “We are all lifelong learners, and that means to be a good leader, the fundamental quality of the leader must be humility.”

He said that it’s important for individuals to understand that leadership is a skill that can be taught, but to learn it requires humility on the part of the leader. It takes an attitude of “Together, we – not me – can better accomplish the mission.”

The third desired result of the symposium was a practical application of the skills taught during the event.

“How do they lead their teams in the process of developing a ministry plan?” Butler proposed. “How are they going to utilize the resources that they have – manpower and money – to support their commander? For us, that means supporting the Airmen and their families, who accomplish the mission every day, so that they are spiritually well and resilient, within our lane.”

Butler said most leaders in the chaplain corps don’t have a business background, however most of the individuals of the seven-member planning team do.

The ACC command chaplain said when the idea of the symposium was presented to senior leadership, the team encountered enthusiastic support. Butler thanked Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the Air Combat Command commander, as well as the other members of the team and all who were invested in the plan for their unwavering support. He also said the other MAJCOMs in attendance were thoroughly impressed with what they experienced, and voiced their intentions of hosting symposiums for their respective commands.

“I witnessed a real transformation in the senior religious support teams,” Butler said of the outcome of the three-day event, explaining that attendees were quiet and reserved in the very beginning. “By the end of the third day, especially when it was over, people hung around for more than an hour, talking and sharing ideas.

“And it wasn’t just between the MAJCOM and the wings,” Butler continued. “The other thing we really wanted to happen was (communication) from wing to wing. So we had them in small working groups, so they’d get to know each other. So, if they heard something another wing was doing that was really creative, maybe they’d collaborate that way as well.”

The response from those in attendance was very positive, with attendees like Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael Rash, the 20th Fighter Wing chaplain, Shaw AFB, North Carolina, stating the symposium will help build consistency within the chaplain corps, as well as offer realistic expectations for what the wing chapels are planning in terms of their annual ministry plan.

“This is an effort to sharpen some of the tools in our tool box, to make sure we’re committed to lifelong learning, and to ensure we enlist everyone on our staff’s effort to engage in the annual ministry plan,” Rash said.

The chaplain offered praise for the symposium, acknowledging that although religion is at the heart of the symposium, the actual intent of the event was to develop leadership, and that intent was met.

“It’s a great leadership laboratory and it helps us see, as senior (religious support teams), that we are also called to be Airmen who lead with creativity, with innovation and also with the resources provided in order to meet the wing commander’s intent,” Rash said.

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