Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Chaplain coaches to "Ace" the game of life

by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

7/2/2014 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- For three years he coached his alma mater's women's and men's volleyball teams, teaching players how to be resilient not only in the sport but also in life. Chaplain (Capt.) Lance Schrader had no idea that years later, he would be coaching more than just a game, he would become a chaplain coaching the men and women of the Air Force to find their spiritual strength.

"I had played volleyball, coached and worked for a women's professional league, which folded after 9-11," said Schrader a native of Lincoln, Nebraska. "The events of 9-11 were a defining moment for me, I thought about what I was going to do with my life, I prayed and was open for whatever was waiting for me."

While in high school, Schrader grew up playing sports and helping teach kids Bible stories. He led summer camps that incorporated sports with Bible and missionary stories. After high school he attended Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois where he played volleyball, majored in math, coached, and worked as an administrator for a women's professional volleyball league. Then in 2004 he attended seminary school where he learned about the possibility of becoming an Air National Guard chaplain.

"My wife's old boss was a wing chaplain, so he recommended that I look into it," added Schrader. "We were moving to Arizona so we called the chaplain there, he needed help and that is how I got started."

Schrader could not believe he would have the opportunity to serve his faith and country. He was in the 161st Air Refueling Wing in Phoenix, Arizona where he was a guardsman for four years before finally joining active duty in 2012.

"I fell in love with the opportunity and couldn't believe that this was my life," said Schrader.

Once arriving to his first active duty station in Mountain Home, Idaho, he became the maintenance group chaplain, then a few years later he deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan to once again become a Chaplain for MXG.

With a new calling and atmosphere than that of the volleyball court, Schrader still uses his coaching skills to help Airmen strengthen their spiritual resiliency.

"My philosophy of ministry is that I think of myself as a coach," said Schrader. "I want to be a spiritual coach, I don't want to be the guy standing around telling people how they are supposed to live and be, I want to be the guy in it with them."

According to Schrader, a good coach is emotionally invested in the team and players. He wants to be able to lead Airmen, like his players, to a positive place.

"I want to be there motivating them, coaching and strengthening them," Schrader said. "I don't want to create spiritual resiliency, I want to know what grounds them and gives them that strength to make it even stronger."

Whether at their home base or at Bagram, Schrader and his assistant, Staff Sgt. Wyleeshia Meekins, believe that the mission is the same; to take care of Airmen.

"I am here to talk to Airmen and help the chaplain," said Meekins deployed from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi and a native of Newport News, Virginia. "We are about people; building those relationships is key because it makes us more available to them when they need someone to talk to."

Schrader and Meekins make up one of the five Air Force Religious Support Teams here at Bagram, their job is to ensure Airmen are spiritually fit to fight. Deployed chaplain team's priorities are to enhance Airmen's readiness by preparing them with spiritual resiliency, engaging them through ministry of presence and spiritual care and ensuring worship and religious education opportunities are available to all.

"An important thing to remember is that we are here to listen and engage our Airmen," said Schrader. "We do this by building relationships."

Having a good relationship between the chaplain and assistant is just as important as the relationship with the Airmen.

"I love being a chaplain assistant and learning from others, it allows me to be a people person," said Meekins. "Having a professional relationship with Chaplain Schrader is very important as well, it helps our team be successful and help Airmen," mentioned Meekins.

Visiting Airmen during shift changes or meetings allows Schrader and Meekins an opportunity to ensure Airmen know a support team is available to them.

Schrader believes his mission is to be here and care for all Airmen, to him being a chaplain is an easy job compared to being a maintainer or Security Forces.

"If I can put a smile on their face and let them know I am glad to be here it might make them a little more positive... happiness is contagious," added Schrader.

If you asked Schrader 15 years ago if he knew he would transition from coaching players on the court to coaching spiritual strength to Airmen in Afghanistan, he would have said it wasn't in his plans. After following his set path, Schrader believes that life and his experiences have set him to where he is now.

"I think my coaching and teaching prepared me for chaplaincy, you have to have the theology background but teaching and coaching gave me the skillset to be the type of chaplain I want to be," said Schrader.

While "coaching" Airmen to strengthen their resiliency, Schrader also finds the time to build relationships through sports. Like his coaching philosophy of being "in it" with them, he makes time to play pick-up games and help create important bonds between his support team and the Airmen.

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