MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The Air Force chief of chaplains recently announced the chaplain corps’ 2019 annual awards, and the Misawa Chapel team won the prestigious Terence P. Finnegan Award for their dedication to Team Misawa.
Named after Maj. Gen. Terence P. Finnegan, who was present for the attack on Pearl Harbor and eventually went on to serve as the Air Force chief of chaplains from 1958 to 1962, the award recognizes the Air Force Outstanding Medium Chapel Team of the Year.
“A medium team is one that consists of six to nine members,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Suh, 35th Fighter Wing chaplain. “Most chapels consist of medium teams, so this is probably the most competitive tier. I’m really humbled to be a part of a team who accomplished this.”
Suh attributes the team’s success this year to having the right people come in at the right moment with the right skill set and, most importantly, the right attitude.
“I believe my first team has molded me into a more proficient Airman and a better person,” said Airman 1st Class Charvionn Walker, 35th FW religious affairs Airman. “Despite the many highs and lows here in Misawa, the chapel team always pushed me to do better, and they never gave up on me. I couldn’t ask for a better team.”
This drive to push each other to be better Airmen and people could be seen throughout the year as the team won the 35th FW 2nd Quarter Team, Wing Staff Agency Team of the Year, and nine individual wing staff agency awards – the equivalent of group awards.
“This group of chaplains, religious affairs Airmen, Japanese nationals and civilian staff are some of the best that I have ever seen,” said Suh. “They continually go above and beyond the call of duty to serve the Misawa community. It is truly a privilege to work alongside them.”
That same energy is what also drove them to constantly get out in the community to engage Airmen where they worked and lived and can be seen in some of their significant accomplishments which led to them winning the Finnegan award.
They went on four multi-lateral exercises throughout the Pacific Air Forces area of operations, where they directed the spiritual fitness for 3,900 international personnel, enabling interoperability between six nations. They managed $542,000 toward warrior care by overseeing eight faith groups, providing food, transportation, accommodations, and opportunities for entertainment and engagement outside of work centers to Airmen while meeting 422 religious accommodation requirements and increasing attendance by 192 percent from the previous year. They also counseled 1,100 personnel, aiding in 306 Airmen returning to duty.
“It has been amazing to see our team grow over my past three years here breaking barriers with the purpose of inspiring readiness,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Jeffers, 35th FW religious affairs Airman.
Though the chapel team recognizes that their accomplishments are impressive, the accomplishment they are most grateful to have achieved is what they see as the foundation of their success: the relationships they have built with the units they serve.
While members of the chaplain team are assigned to support various units, as opposed to being assigned as members of those units, they can often be seen as resources to utilize during or after a moment of crisis instead of teammates who are there to make sure members are taken care of even when things are going well. For the Misawa Chapel Team, making that transition to being seen as teammates is their greatest accomplishment.
According to Chaplain (Capt.) Joshua Hammans, 35th FW chaplain, once they were seen as teammates, unit leadership and members started including them in their readiness talks. The chapel team became an integral part of maintaining, restoring, and strengthening the resilience of Misawa’s service members and families, but it was that willingness of the units to see the chapel team as teammates that helped the chapel team do their work.
Some of that help can be seen through the chapel team’s collaborative work with leaders from different organizations around Misawa. Working with 210 key spouses, the chapel team secured additional funding for the Hearts on the Flight Line program, a squadron-focused initiative that allowed them to care for 1,400 maintenance group Airmen. Additionally, they instituted a Wing Financial Peace University course, through which they logged 185 hours teaching financial stewardship to 111 military members and dependents, reducing a total of $238,000 debt. Furthermore, they instituted four safeTALK courses to 46 commanders, first sergeants and seven helping agencies, leading the 35th FW to winning the recognition of having the Department of Defense’s best suicide prevention program for calendar year 2019.
“We, at the chapel, also know that we could not have accomplished our duties without the sacrificial volunteer efforts and dedicated support of our amazing chapel community,” Suh said. “We share this tremendous honor with them as well as our superb 35th Fighter Wing leadership, who has supported and empowered us with encouragement, resources and mentorship throughout the year!”
It is because of this support that the Misawa Chapel team counts this as a win not only for themselves but for all of Team Misawa.