The first classes at the new Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center are not scheduled to begin until February, but an advance team has been working on establishing the center since August.
The team of five consists of Air Force, Army and Navy chaplains and chaplain assistants.
The team members act on behalf of their chaplain schools' commandants to facilitate the move of the Air Force Chaplain Service Institute, the Naval Chaplain School and the Navy's Religious Program Specialist School to Fort Jackson.
The team divides its time between tending to construction-related issues; planning training; and acting as a liaison for the AFCC with the installation and Base Realignment and Closure representatives, said Navy Chaplain (Cmdr.) J.P. Hedges.
The move to Fort Jackson is not without challenges, admitted Air Force Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Gary Ziccardi.
"Our hub has historically always been at Maxwell Air Force Base, (Ala.)," Ziccardi said. "Our Air University is there, our library is there. Being geographically separated from that is a challenge."
However, being close together allows chaplains from all services to prepare for future assignments.
"Our chaplains will deploy in an interservice environment, where they'll work with the Air Force, Navy, Army and the Marines," Army Chaplain (Maj.) Gary Payne said. "Just to have that preparation before they have to figure it out downrange, I think is a big help."
Despite a common misconception, the AFCC does not constitute a joint organization, Hedges emphasized. Each school will continue to provide service-specific training, but in a co-located environment.
Payne explained that being co-located provides opportunities for the chaplain schools to work together.
"Each (service) does things a little differently and they have their own culture, yet with the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center we are also going to have shared training," he said. "There are things that are common to our ministries, like counseling, suicide prevention and a lot of other subject areas that we can work on."
For now, the schools are planning to conduct 44 hours of shared training per training cycle.
"The Interservice Training Review Organization set how many hours we are going to have shared, but we're still exploring further opportunities to see if we can do more training together," Hedges said.
Ziccardi expressed his optimism that once the AFCC is operational, more opportunities for cooperation between the schools will arise.
"The commanding officer of the Naval Chaplain School and the commandants of the Army and Air Force chaplain schools are very positive and optimistic about the possibilities for the future for shared training opportunities," Ziccardi said. "Once we're on the same piece of real estate, the conversations will unfold and multiply."
For the Navy, an added benefit is that all members of the religious ministry team will train at the same location for the first time. Currently, religious program specialists -the equivalent to chaplain assistants - train at the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Miss.
"The big thing for the Navy is that the chaplains and the religious program specialists have never trained together before. That's going to happen now, so we're excited about that," Hedges said. "It's going to be a good thing -- coming together."