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SOUTHWEST ASIA – Maj. Gen. Charles Baldwin briefs Airmen of the 387th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron during guard mount at an air base in the Middle East Nov. 6. During his briefing, Chap. Baldwin told Airmen their religious freedom is his priority. Chaplain Baldwin is the Air Force’s chief of chaplains. (Air Force photo\ Staff Sgt. Phillip Butterfield)
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Air Force chief chaplain: Airmen religious freedom never in doubt

Posted 12/13/2007   Updated 12/13/2007 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Phillip Butterfield
386th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs

12/13/2007 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Freedom of religion is an American right and doesn't go away when someone joins the military, said the Air Force chief of chaplains recently during a tour of bases here. 

Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Charles Baldwin started his Middle East tour Nov. 7. The chaplain came to thank Airmen for their service and to make sure the current mission isn't disrupting Airmen's right to religious freedom. 

"In today's military, we don't check your dog tags to see what religion you are," Chaplain Baldwin said. "When you get off the plane a chaplain will be there to hold your hand, wipe your brow and tell you not to be afraid. We don't care what your faith is or even if you don't have a faith. We're here for every person." 

The chaplain also wanted to tell the Airmen that they are foremost in the minds of senior Air Force commanders. 

"I'm touring the area of responsibility on a pastoral visit," said Chaplain Baldwin. "Plus, the chief of staff likes it when I come out and help pass his message of how much he loves the Airmen and that they are the number one priority of senior leadership." 

During his visit, he also wanted to ensure the right number of chaplains and chaplain's assistants are in the AOR. 

It's important to ensure that there's equal coverage, because spiritual care of Airmen is so important, he said. 

"We need to make sure people can practice their faith," said Chaplain Baldwin. "When the chaplain shows up even at the most horrific scene it calms the fears." 

The words chaplains use with fearful Airmen are calming, but the words Airmen use with chaplains are privileged. 

"Another major contribution we make is confidentially," he said. "It's important that Airmen know they can come and tell a chaplain anything and not get into trouble." 

Being apart from loved ones during the holidays is a time of stress for all deployed Airmen. 

During the holiday season back at home, Airmen go to religious services and secular parties. Chaplains need to remind Airmen to celebrate here, Chaplain Baldwin said. 

"It's important for the chaplains to have Christmas and holiday services," he said. "It helps bring some normalcy to the AOR." 

To manage with the needs of Airmen, the Air Force has approximately 60 chaplains and 40 chaplain's assistants in the AOR, but the number fluctuates with each rotation. The Air Force provides resources for every Airman, regardless of their belief. 

Moreover, traveling from base to base for some chaplains means helping the other services, which takes them outside the wire to forward operating bases. 

"Chaplains will need to step into more and more of these types of missions as the Army draws down its forces in the theater," he said.

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