Analyst turned Chaplain committed to providing spiritual resiliency
By Lori A. Bultman, 25th Air Force
/ Published February 24, 2017
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) -- When the search for a new chaplain began at the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, who could have imagined an ISR analyst would be selected to fill those empty shoes?
Chaplain (Maj.) W. James ‘Jim’ Bridgham said he can see that his ISR career prepared him for this assignment.
“I understand the stress of shift work and the challenge of warfighting during the day and then going home to family,” he said.
“It can be difficult to compartmentalize that stress. It is not the same as downrange, where we have opportunities to process challenges after a shift with colleagues,” he said. “We try to live in our minds and compartmentalize our life. Work life stays at work and home life (stays) at home. That can be hard.”
Sometimes ISR Airmen deal with issues in their mind, Bridgham said. They might ask themselves, ‘Did I make the right decision?’
Bridgham finds that if he can connect with people on their level, then he can help them sort through their problems better, building better resiliency.
Resiliency is the ability to recover readily from stress, illness, depression, adversity or the like.
"I genuinely care for the people I interact with. What I do is who I am," Bridgham said. "I love hearing Airmen’s stories and helping them connect the pieces so they can see when they've had a rough patch, and that it’s just part of a great story they're writing.”
To help the ISR Airmen Bridgham now supports, he started implementing spiritual meditation and religious programs to help increase performance in every area of an Airman’s life.
“Every Tuesday, we have a brown bag lunch workshop where Airmen can learn specific tools benchmarked in industry,” Bridgham said. “They can start processing the challenges they are going through immediately.”
“I spend a lot of time talking to folks using the tactics and techniques of the top performers, to help them increase their performance in every part of their life,” he said.
Bridgham also believes connected people are more resilient than isolated people.
Airmen should strive to become a part of a community, Bridgham said. This can be the ISR community, a spiritual community or any other group of people who support each other.
Bridgham reminds Airmen that chaplains are available for anyone who needs to talk. He encourages Airmen to contact an Air Force chaplain in their time of need, but also to build resiliency for the future.
“From the start of my Air Force career, I felt called to be a chaplain,” Bridgham said. “That has always been my ultimate goal.”
Throughout college, Bridgham led Bible studies and worked at a church. He attended the University of Tampa on a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, and after graduation he was commissioned as an active-duty Air Force intelligence officer.
In 2006, after three years in ISR, Bridgham decided to attend seminary and became a chaplain candidate. Once he completed seminary, Bridgham led Airmen spiritually at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, while also continuing his ISR career at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Virginia.
“I was an NGA civilian and went on three deployments in my seven years with the agency,” Bridgham said. “Then, the Air Force called asking me to come to active duty as a chaplain. Orders were issued, and I was to report in two weeks to the 363rd ISR Wing.”
Bridgham said the position at the 363rd ISR Wing was the opportunity he had been waiting for; a chance to be a wingman full time.
“The wingman idea is central to Air Force culture,” Bridgham said. “Wingmen take care of wingmen, and spirituality can be a part of that. I think spirituality can bring value professionally and otherwise. It can make a difference.”