December is a month of religious celebrations – there’s Chanukah and Christmas. It’s also a time when many service members are stationed far away from family and friends. Which leads to the question: How does the secular military take care of the spiritual needs of the men and women in uniform?
“All chaplains can handle any circumstance,” said Air Force Capt. Amy Bartee, part of a chaplain team that ministers to some 3,000 airmen of MacDill’s 6th Air Mobility Wing and many of the smaller joint commands. “In the military, we’re supposed to respect everyone else’s belief structures and everybody might not have the same belief structure at you. But that’s okay. We’re taught to reach out and minister to people of all walks of life.”
Bartee is a United Methodist minister who grew up in Appalachia, in Castlewood, VA. Tampa is her first assignment.
‘We’re ministering to their religious, spiritual nature. In the Air Force all are called to the same mission and all wear the same uniform and so we’re all in that together.”
The MacDill chaplains have chapel duties and they’re also responsible for ministering to an assigned unit. Bartee’s ministry includes most of the maintenance group and part of the operations. That means you might find her checking in with a mechanic out at one of the hangars.
“We go out and we visit people in their workstations, where they’re at and check on them,” Bartee said. “We do counseling for the active duty members and any card-holding member that can come here. They can talk to us and they have 100 percent confidentiality to say whatever they need to say.”
For special religious services like Jewish Passover, MacDill invites local Rabbis to come on base. Weekly Muslim services are held on base. There are services for Protestants and Catholics.
“But say someone needed to go to a Buddhist service, and we don’t have Buddhist services on base, we would help them find that service,” Bartee said.
However, a majority of MacDill’s military personnel live off the base. So, many will celebrate their religious holidays at places of worship in Tampa Bay communities.