97th IS welcomes chaplains and mental health techs

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rachel Hammes
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
The 55th Medical Operations Squadron and the 55th Wing Chaplain Corps hosted an open house at the 97th Intelligence Squadron Jan. 8 in honor of the new mental health and chaplain office within the secret compartmentalized information facility.

The move, which was organized only a month before the opening, was conducted in order to give 97th IS Airmen an opportunity to speak confidentially with mental health technicians and chaplains, without worry of divulging classified information outside a secure facility.

Capt. Michael Farar, a chaplain with the 55th Wing Chaplain Corps who will be manning the office three to five days per week, said he feels Airmen in classified positions have a specific need for mental health and chaplain accessibility.

"Mental health and chaplain's offices are necessary items in a SCIF for a few reasons," he said. "The first reason is accessibility. Because we're here, people are more likely to come use us on their free time, versus having to get permission to leave the SCIF, go off site and then come back. Secondly, there's this professional, tacit, organizational understanding that says 'I can't talk about my job because I'm top secret.' But as soon as they see our badge granting us access to the SCIF, they know they can."

Farar will be joined by Maj. Shauna Crim, the 55th MDOS mental health flight commander, on Mondays, occasionally with her therapy dog, Lily.

Farar said the office, which was brought about under the orders of the 97th IS Commander Lt. Col. Jennifer Saraceno, shows her Airmen she is serious about their wellbeing.

"Instead of just saying, 'I care about people, people are our most important asset,' she's showing, 'Hey, I'm giving up my office space to make sure you're taken care of.' They can see she cares," he said.

Saraceno said the top secret nature of their work leaves Airmen in classified career fields with few outlets for the stresses their jobs may entail.

"I've got over 400 Airmen, and at any one time, a quarter of them are deployed or TDY - they come home, they're decompressing from their deployment and prepping for another deployment," she said. "Now the office is inside the SCIF, they don't have to worry about saying something they shouldn't. My observation is that it definitely has opened lines of communication, and has allowed my Airmen to easily access someone they can talk to about whatever is going on in their lives, personally and professionally."

Farar emphasized the perks of sharing worries or concerns with someone outside of the workplace chain of command.

"They can say whatever they want - we don't write their EPRs or OPRs, and they don't write ours," he said. "So anyone, of any rank, can come in here and talk to a disinterested third party."

Staff Sgt. Sinead Solomon, a signals analyst with the 97th IS, said the move into the SCIF will make Airmen more comfortable with talking to mental health technicians or chaplains.

"A lot of the time we have classified things happen that we can't tell a psychiatrist at mental health or a chaplain outside of the SCIF," she said. "Having them inside the SCIF, where we can disclose those things and feel free to talk about them is huge. There has been a big stigma around mental health and chaplains in the Intelligence community. People worry it's going to impact their clearance, and that's not true. You're fully able to - especially now they've made themselves accessible to us in the SCIF."