JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (June 3, 2013) -- Brooke Army Medical Center Warrior Transition Battalion chaplain has established a new outreach program in unit ministry to better connect with staff, wounded warriors and their families.

The program is intended to enhance communication between the chaplain and the WTB community in a fun, relaxed environment. This helps build relationship, resilience, and spiritual fitness in a setting that is outside of the traditional norm.

Army Chaplain (Capt.) Bryant Casteel, who started the program, said that reaching out in a place where they feel more relaxed and comfortable gives him, the warriors and their families a better opportunity to build fellowship and reconnect.

The events include bowling, karaoke, Bible study, popcorn day, and off-site barbeques. Through these events, Casteel weekly reaches more than 200 people, which includes staff, wounded warriors and families.

"I started this program a year and half ago and saw how receptive our warriors and families are at these gatherings," Casteel said. "I'm not usually in my uniform at these events, so the environment is very informal-- providing a fun, relaxed atmosphere for us to get to know each other, building positive fellowship and encouragement."

Army Col. Brian Almquist, WTB commander, views the new program as "a new way of outreach -- a new way of unit ministry." The program is different from the traditional method of ministry in that the chaplain reaches out into the community and takes a proactive approach in going to locations where the warriors and their families are comfortable and familiar to conduct Unit Ministry Team (UMT) events. The connection builds trust and relationships, that in-turn help recognize the high risk concerns before it escalates to the next level.

"We had at least half-dozen cases where the chaplain connection has proven to intervene in someone with suicidal thoughts or helping marriages that were going downhill -- because of the established relationship with the chaplain -- he (Casteel) gets involved and get those people into counseling," Almquist said.

The established relationship with the chaplain also helps the families of the wounded warriors. The new roles of being a primary caretaker for an injured spouse can be an overwhelming experience for many spouses or family members.

Michelle Melancon, a wounded warrior spouse, believed she had everything under control and did not feel as though she needed to talk to someone about her concerns -- until she met Chaplain Casteel in a barbeque almost a year ago.

"I have never been a military spouse that was really involved in FRG (Family Readiness Group), or interested in getting involved with any groups -- I had a negative attitude about it … but really it's because I had not met the chaplain yet," said Melancon.

"After meeting and sitting down with him -- I've realized I needed to talk to someone a long time before that -- I've let it go too long. ...he truly cares and for the very first time, I felt I can trust him and told him what was going on … three minutes led to three hours," said Melancon, who is now actively involved with the program and prepare baked goods weekly for different events.

"Getting involved really helped me get through my tough times. I'm a lot happier now."
The program is a huge success to the WTB ministry and other unit commands on Fort Sam Houston are taking notice of the new change.

"The success of our UMT programs is getting a lot of recognition, the ARNORTH chaplain came down to see how we are reaching all these Soldiers and Families," Almquist said. "The program has grown because of Chaplain Casteel's involvement at these events. He truly cares about people and they are taking notice of that care.

"Chaplain Casteel is very humble of his accomplishments; however, because of his dedication and his willingness to go the extra mile for the people he reaches everyday -- he truly is an amazing individual. He has made and continues to make a difference for the Soldiers and Families in the WTB and the community."

For more information about the program, please call BAMC WTB chaplains office at 210-916-7473.