FORT POLK, La. — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to require Soldiers and civilians to adjust their way of life and keep a “social distance” from friends and co-workers. In response, the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Chaplain Corps has attacked this indiscriminate foe with programs and activities that promise to ensure the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the entire installation Family.Chap. (Lt. Col.) Kenneth Godwin, installation chaplain, said it’s not just one chaplain who has taken the lead in ministering to the Soldiers, civilians and Family members on Fort Polk, but the entire staff, including chaplains, ministry teams and civilian chapel staff.“We’ve worked together and brainstormed ways we could support the Fort Polk Family,” Godwin said. “We’re using online avenues such as Facebook and Facetime. We’re live streaming services and sermons. We have an online Christian film festival where viewers can watch a film, then discuss it online.”Godwin said utilizing social media has resulted in him working outside of his comfort zone.“But I’m learning and becoming more comfortable with it,” he said. “All of our chaplains are working to provide support for our Soldiers and Families.Chap. (Capt.) Nikki Reeves, Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, said even though some of the hospital staff are teleworking, things are still “operating pretty much as normal,” for her.“All the wards are operational,” she said. “We are trying to minimize the number of patients who are passing through the hospital, to protect both patients and staff, but my duties haven’t shifted much.”Reeves said she conducts counseling “while maintaining social distancing” and has also incorporated activities such as a virtual escape room — a teamwork game.“Teammates can collaborate, shoot me the answers and I can give them more information,” she said.During the Easter Week religious holidays, Reeves said she provided one-on-one communion for team members.“I also passed on streaming opportunities for our Jewish staff members for Passover, and I gathered material for a Muslim Soldier to give him an idea what Ramadan is going to look like for him,” she said.Reeves said a big part of being a military chaplain is not just providing support for those who are the same faith as you, but also those who come from different faith backgrounds.“COVID-19 has affected what the services we provide look like,” she said. “We’re on the front line and our team is stressed not only about those services they provide, but also what it means for them, and do they and their family members have what they need to stay safe?”Reeves said she is also responsible for team members who are isolated or quarantined.“I stay in contact with them to see their needs are met,” she said.Reeves pointed to another area where chaplains are also concerned.“With behavioral health, there are people on post who are in abusive or domestic violence situations, so what does that look like for them now that they are basically being told to stay home with that abuser?” she said. “Right now we’re not getting a lot of information because people are staying pretty isolated, but we’re trying to get that information out to schools and CYS (Child and Youth Services) so that once the situation (COVID-19) loosens up, and those who were abused are reintegrated back into society, teachers and staff have that awareness, and check to see if kids or spouses have bruises that don’t seem normal and how are they behaving.”Another medical chaplain, Chap. (Capt.) Ronald Marshall, 32nd Hospital Center, said one of his duties is to ensure the free exercise of religion.“We’re about the ministry of presence, and we have to try and figure out how to provide that to everybody,” Marshall said. “We have Soldiers who are deployed and preparing for deployment, and it puts a strain on the command and command teams and Soldiers. We also have Soldiers in isolation and quarantine, so what I try to do is keep social interaction to the best of my ability.”Marshall said that includes such venues as Facebook, Facetime, virtual game nights and Operation Gratitude — a program that sends Soldiers care packages.“It’s figuring out what we can do in the midst of this,” he said. “And I’m still doing one-on-one counseling, either through social distancing or Facetime.”Marshall said the stay-at-home orders and social distancing has been especially difficult for Soldiers who are extroverts.“Those Soldiers who are extreme extroverts are now being isolated, and don’t have that social interaction or physical touch they need,” he said. “There has been an increase in depression and it’s our responsibility to get out there and help them and take care of their needs, both physically and spiritually. It’s been a learning process for chaplains to let Soldiers know we care about them and can provide for them without actually touching them.”While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an seeming expansion of chaplain duties, Marshall said they still keep up with their spiritual chores.“We’re still able to do Bible studies and services every Sunday even though we can’t meet in the chapel,” he said. “During the past week we’ve had questions that ranged from how an indivdual could take communion to holding an Easter Egg hunt. We had to think outside the box to come up with ways for them to have some type of social interaction without actually having a physical touch.“We have to be able to assist our Soldiers and provide for their needs to the best of our abilities.”Chap. (Capt.) Samuel Hawthorne, 519th Military Police Battalion, said being responsible for Soldiers who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic battle is challenging.“During the midst of all of this, MPs and medical personnel are mission essential,” he said. “They are still operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s not a lot of telework activity.”Hawthorne said there is some anxiety over COVID-19 and an uncertain future.“There is also a restlessness; cabin fever, normal routines taken away,” he said. “The ministry command teams of my unit are doing a great job, not focusing on the obstacles, but what we can do with the situation we’re in.”That includes visiting MPs at the gate, praying over them at guard mount and letting them know his staff is there for them. He said the MPs are conducting virtual training to keep busy when they are off duty.“We have PT challenges every day, gym in the box and whatever we can do to keep them motivated,” he said.Chap. (Maj.) Michael Lindsay is the installation’s pastoral chaplain and Catholic pastor. He said Catholic services were streamed live during Holy Week, April 9-12.“It takes a little preparation,” he said. “We had some volunteers, but it was tough because we had to maintain social distancing and we’re used to getting together, meeting and having communion.”Lindsay said he keeps in contact with the Catholic community. He also keeps an eye on activities in his neighborhood.“I noticed in my neighborhood Soldiers doing PT or walking with their Families, and I thank God that at least here, we can get out and do stuff like that,” he said. “I think that helps to relieve a lot of stress. I see a lot of people trying to make the best of this now.”Lindsay said his greatest challenge is not being able to see the community — look them in the eye and visit with them — every Sunday.“We’re used to having a little social time together after services, and that’s when you find out what’s going on, who is sick, who has lost Family members, it’s a chance for people to talk and check up on one another, and we don’t have that now,” he said.Marshall said an interesting note is that he’s heard there are more people watching the service’s live stream than actually attend services.“But we’re working on ways to stay connected, and figure out how we will get back together once things open up,” he said. “For now, we just try to stay connected as much as possible. I’ve learned more about Facebook and Facetime the last two weeks than I ever thought possible.”Marshall said it seems to him that more people are turning to their faith during the COVID-19 pandemic, praying together and meeting online.“We even have a stations of the cross on the walking path around the golf course,” he said. “I’m hearing people are looking at religious resources available online. I don’t know whether it’s because of the time of year or because people are searching, but there seems to be a lot of focus on religious activities.”Chap. (Capt.) Travis Dalsis, 46th Engineer Battalion, has garnered support for his daily virtual “PT with the Chaplain,” Monday through Friday.“I am offering a Facebook live high intensity interval training workout on the Gospel Page from 6:45-7:30 for Soldiers and Families,” he said. “Several Soldiers have shared that they work out with their spouses at home.”Other activities Dalsis leads include:• Virtual Chaplain Training: A platform that includes powerpoints, interactive chat features and video conferencing to train Soldiers on topics such as goal setting, memorial ceremonies and ACE — Ask, Care and Escort — a suicide prevention program.• Site visits: Provide chaplain support to quarantined Soldiers living in the barracks with food delivery, toilet paper and pizza. Additionally, UMTs conduct site visits to CQ desks, the ammunition holding area, and the Mission Training Center and BJACH where mission essential personnel are working.• The UMT conducted a virtual vow renewal for Mike Buterbaugh and his wife, Kelly, on their 25th anniversary.• Virtual Church livestream on the Fort Polk Gospel Page with Gospel Service Chaplains, Dalsis, Chap. (Capt.) John Marr, Reeves and Chap. (Capt.) Jonathan Dukes. Chaplains worked as a team conducting open prayer, Scripture reading, sermon preaching, virtual communion and closing blessing.Chap. (Maj.) John ‘Fent’ Smith, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division brigade chaplain, said his UMTs are using virtual hobby groups to maintain and build Soldier relationships.“One such hobby group is Soldiers training for the Army 10 Miler,” he said. “Despite running separately, four Soldiers are utilizing social media to share eating habits, training routines and maps with route, distance and time displayed.”Another hobby group is a gaming group, Smith said.“Each weekend a different video game is played,” he said. “The capacity is there for up to 150 persons to play at the same time. If you are not a gamer but still are interested in engaging the social group, a viewing option is available.”During a recent week, Smith said 3rd BCT UMTs engaged Soldiers and Family members through 354 personal phone calls, 39 hours visiting Soldiers in the dining facility line, 28 barracks wellness checks, and 14 chaplain videos posted to unit Facebook pages.“We initiated a combined chaplain and psychologist virtual family coaching program,” he said. “Couples and parenting coaching efforts will take place on Facebook. The resiliency team will provide tools and recommendations that strengthen family bonds during increased time together. Soldiers can visit: www.facebook.com/10thMTNPatriots/videos/244328420089027/ for more information.”“As you can see, Fort Polk’s chaplains have been busy, providing support where needed for the Soldiers, civilians and Families on Fort Polk,” Godwin said. “We will continue to look for ways to minister to the Fort Polk Family as we work together during this most difficult time.”You can visit the Fort Polk Chapel Facebook page for activities, religious education, Bible studies and other activities.