Chaplain's assistant pulls inauguration duty
By Staff Sgt. Eric M. Hamilton, 129th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 03, 2009
MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- For some people, deployments might be voluntary or involuntary, but for Staff Sgt. Rachel E. Cruz, a chaplain's assistant at the 129th Rescue Wing, timing was everything.
"I had just finished a class, and had a few days off when I got the call, asking if I could deploy in support of President Obama's inauguration," Sergeant Cruz said. "I was very excited--not only was it my first deployment as a chaplain's assistant, but I was honored to take part in such a historical moment for our country I felt like I was taking part in history. That's what I love about the Guard, missions like this."
The duty was a first for the chaplain she worked with, another California Air Guardsman by the name of Chaplain Beyer, who'd never worked with an Air Guard chaplain's assistant before, Sergeant Cruz said.
"It seemed like we were the only Californians there," she said, because most of the members called to support the inauguration came from the area surrounding Washington, D.C., and almost all were from the National Guard.
The chaplain and his assistant were primarily on hand for a "ministry of presence," Sergeant Cruz said, "to be visible, available if needed." For her, this meant lending a hand to people she came across. In one instance, she said, she helped an overworked Army administrator trying to complete "a big pile of paperwork."
"It was a cool experience," Sergeant Cruz said. "I'd never worked with the Army before, so now I have a better appreciation for what they do and how they operate. They were also surprisingly receptive (to the chaplaincy's mission) and welcoming."
Sergeant Cruz, who spent the first three years of her military career as an active duty Air Force firefighter, said that when she came into the California Air National Guard, she had to make a choice, because there were no firefighting slots available. "I had always wanted to be a chaplain's assistant, because you get to work with the chaplains, who are always so positive and level-headed."
After she'd spent six weeks training for the job at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, she learned one of the keys to being a successful chaplain's assistant: "you have to embrace change and be flexible." Because of that, every day is different, she said. For the chaplains, having an enlisted assistant on hand can help to bridge the hesitancy other enlisted members might have in reaching out for help from the chaplaincy.
While deployed, Sergeant Cruz said she found this to be true--"we had one member who had just found out his fiancé was cheating on him, and we were there to support him when he needed us." This is when her part in the ministry of presence paid off, she added.