USAG HUMPHREYS, South Korea – During this time of uncertainty with COVID-19 in communities around the globe, the Unit Ministry Teams (UMT) in the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade are doing their part to bring a light in the darkness.
“Religious support in this time matters, it’s a source of hope, it’s a source of normality,” said Maj. Karlyn Maschhoff, brigade chaplain for 501st Military Intelligence Brigade.
UMTs, commonly composed of military chaplains and enlisted religious affairs specialists, are tasked with maintaining the spiritual portion of a Soldier’s resiliency and caring for Soldiers, civilians, contractors and families that are within their communities. The UMTs have taken that call and doing what they can to make a difference, especially amongst their isolated and quarantined populations.
Maschhoff explained that when a person is able to continue to connect with the things that give them faith, it provides purpose and allows them to keep going and work through the difficulties.
“We want to enable people to continue to practice their faith, we just have to be creative with how we are going to do it, so that we are protecting the force,” said Maschhoff.
Staff. Sgt. Kendra Brandon, the brigade’s religious affairs specialist, said the teams realized that the families in quarantine also needed support and they have been coordinating commissary trips for families unable to leave their quarters. She also emphasized to the UMTs to engage in self-care and take care of themselves so they will be able to support others.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Capt. Michael Anderson, 3rd MI Battalion chaplain, hosted Motor Pool Monday resiliency training with his Soldiers at the motor pool. He continued the program during the outbreak at the motor pool, increasing the frequency now to two a week, but instead of in-person, he makes aspirational and motivational videos for his Soldiers to watch over the internet to continue to speak to his community. He also conducts virtual bible studies to take the place of in-person meetings.
Unfortunately, during this time, some of the brigade’ Soldiers, KATUSA (Korean Augmentation To the United States Army) Soldiers and contractors, were put into quarantine or isolation pending COVID-19 testing results following possible exposure to infected personnel. The 3rd MI Battalion was hit the hardest in the brigade.
When Anderson’s daughter, Elizabeth, heard about it she said, “Daddy, you should put gift bags at their doors with a note that says, ‘Have Hope!’”
So, that's what he and his religious affairs specialist did; they put gift bags outside the isolated and quarantined Soldiers doors with a business card with Anderson's contact information so personnel who received a bag could call him if they felt inclined to talk.
Capt. Oleksandr Ishchuk, 524th MI Battalion chaplain, said he with the assistance of his religious affairs specialist, Pfc. Summer Williams, try to make sure they speak with every member of the battalion on a weekly basis to check on them. Those that are emergency essential they see while at work, but the rest he and Williams call personally.
Ishchuk also said he makes an extra effort to stay connected with the Soldiers and families that are stationed in Daegu, Waegwan, and Busan, away from the headquarters at Camp Humphreys. He has reached out to the Family Readiness Group leader for Bravo Company, in Daegu to better keep a pulse on how things are going there and to see who might need some extra attention.
During a typical week, Ishchuk conducts his bible study, "A Slice with Christ," where participants eat pizza together and study the Bible. However, now in the time of social distancing, he continues to conduct his Bible studies online and is able to deliver 10 pizzas that were donated by the Agape Humphreys Protestant Service to quarantined Soldiers.
Capt. Justin Wax, chaplain for 532nd MI Battalion, said he has also transitioned to digital gatherings to minister to his community. In addition to providing digital religious and motivational outlets, he commented that he is working with his chain of command to coordinate to meet the physical needs of the Soldiers that are in quarantine. This includes supplying them with things they may have forgotten to pick up like laundry detergent and other nice to have items like snacks to make those individuals’ lives a little easier.
Pfc. Christan Bailey, one of the religious support specialists assisting Wax, said, “We are trying our best to make sure Soldiers have what they need and helping them to feel at ease.”
Wax also said he has done some Facetime counseling with Soldiers in quarantine, as well as limited face to face counseling while maintaining social distancing.
“It’s shifted to using digital means, but at the same time, we’re adapting and overcoming to do what we normally do,” said Wax. “We want the Soldiers to know that the digital doors are always open.”
Wax also mentioned that both the Camp Humphreys community and his local community back in the states have been very supportive to the needs of the quarantined Soldiers. His home church and various other churches, as well as the Daughters of the American Revolution chapter from his hometown, have provided multiple shipments of Girl Scout cookies and other care packages to brighten the mood for these Soldiers.
Maj. Daniel Korie, 719th MI Battalion's chaplain, said he reaches out to his Soldiers in quarantine, adopting what he called tele-chaplaincy, as well as providing virtual religious support to his congregation that celebrates its services on Saturdays. During this time, he said, you may not be able to pray with your Soldiers, but you can pray for them. He said the chaplains will provide whatever help they can and ask Soldiers to continue to flatten the curve by adhering to the brigade directives for isolation and keeping social distance.
Maschhoff ended with a positive message, saying that after the COVID-19 threat is over, “we have a reunion ahead,” and asked everyone to remember to keep people struggling with the virus, both back in the United States and around the world, in their prayers.
The 501st Military Intelligence Brigade provides indications and early warning of actions by opposing forces that could threaten the tense but stable peace in the Republic of Korea. In the event of hostilities, the brigade’s mission shifts to providing combined, multi-discipline intelligence and force protection support to the United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command, the CFC Ground Component Command and their subordinate units.