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AETC Chaplain conference explores how to connect with millennials

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) -- Chaplains and their assistants from across Air Education and Training Command gathered here for a conference about connecting with millennials May 12-15, here.

During the conference, subject matter experts in religious studies and communicating with young adults discussed with the group about building spiritual resiliency, best practices and lessons learned on how to communicate, and offer spiritual guidance to Airmen and their families.

"All of these attendees (chaplains and chaplain assistants) have daily opportunities to impact the lives of young adults, whether the young adults are in basic military training, technical skills training, or in flight training," said Chaplain (Col.) Bruce R. Glover, the AETC deputy command chaplain.

"Millennials, quite frankly, are our target population for ministry in the Air Force; yet, there is much we can learn and do to improve our ministries with young adults," he said.

Questions explored during conference ranged from, "Who are millennials?" to, "what does effective ministry with millennials look like?"

During the conference, millennials in the Air Force were identified as Airmen between the ages of 18-34, making it the largest demographic in the military.

AETC Chaplain Office officials said in order to effectively engage with the Air Force's largest demographic the Chaplain Corps has to allow open dialog about spiritual concerns, find new ways to create connections and stay connected with young Airmen, and have a stronger presence in the community.

"(Effective ministry with millennials) is creating a community where (young Airmen) can freely come and go from; so more flexibility, and creating a safe place (free of judging) where they can express their doubts and concerns," said Staff Sgt. Carlos Carlo, from the AETC Chaplain Office.

To an extent, some of those changes have already been implemented across AETC, said Chief Master Sgt. Keller Benningfield, from the AETC Chaplain Office. Successful Airmen Ministry Centers, places that offer Airmen spiritual guidance and community involvement, have been created at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; Luke AFB, Arizona; Altus AFB and Vance AFB, Oklahoma; and Keesler AFB, Mississippi.

The conference was a part of a much larger effort to connect with Airmen at the squadron level -- a movement that will significantly change the Chaplain Corps' status quo.

"What this equates to is getting out of the office and chapel, and engaging people where they are working and serving," Glover said. "It also means that the traditional ministries that have centered on the chapel community and facility are not the central focus of our attention."

Spiritual fitness, one of the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, is an important component in maintaining an Airman's resiliency, said Chaplain (Col.) Steven Schaick, the AETC command chaplain.

"The health of our force requires chaplains and chaplain assistants to be relevant to our 30 and under Airmen," he said. "We owe them our very best efforts."

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