WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
Col. Matthew Franke assumed the position of Air Force Materiel Command Chaplain in July 2020 faced with the challenges of COVID and a spike in the numbers of suicides within the Air Force, but also with a clear view of the way ahead.
“My job as the Command Chaplain is to be a resource for the chapel teams across AFMC and to help them to care for Airmen and their families’ spiritual needs,” said Franke.
Franke and the AFMC chaplain teams are a major resource for AFMC leadership on matters ranging from moral to morale concerns. Franke also serves as advocate for Airmen during the coronavirus pandemic and the challenges change presents.
The care Airmen need within the COVID environment must take into account increased risks of family-stress from teleworking, social distancing and potential financial concerns, says Franke. These issues can be exacerbated by quarantines and forced togetherness for extended periods of time. Buffers and coping means may no longer be present, leaving families open to relationship problems, abuse and more
At the same time, Airmen who telework are cut off from other people and co-workers they would normally see on a daily basis. The emotional separations that often result can lead to disconnection.
“Lack of connection for Airmen may put them at risk for developing relationship issues,” said Franke.
To help Airmen manage the challenges of the current climate, Franke found ways to ensure that the chapel office remained open and accessible to Airmen and families while traditional worship services were no longer a standard option.
Confidential one-on-one counseling, with proper distancing and mask wearing continued across the command under Franke’s watch, supplemented by interactions through Microsoft Teams and other virtual platforms as additional resiliency resources for Airmen and families.
“The connectedness which can protect our Airmen should always be at the forefront of our thinking in spite of the physical distancing which is required in today’s environment,” said Franke.
In addition to his own daily interactions with Airmen, Franke provides guidance and staff oversight of the wing level Chaplain Corps functions, with a focus on maintaining connection and resiliency through available, safe interaction.
“As the AFMC Command Chaplain, I’m responsible directly to my commander, General Arnold Bunch for all Chaplain Corps personnel, operations, and resources assigned to our bases across AFMC. Ultimately, it’s my job to see our chaplains and Religious Affairs Airmen have the training and guidance they need to care for our Airmen and their families more than anyone thinks possible,” said Franke.
Franke joins AFMC from Joint Base, San Antonio, Texas where he served as Chief, Chaplain Career Management Division, Air Force Personnel Center, with an eye on taking care of other chaplains and their families.