Virginia Defense Force chaplains support Bulla Chapel at Fort Barfoot

Second Lt. (Va.) James Thompson, a VDF chaplain, and Maj. Dan Finley, the command chaplain for the Fort Barfoot-based 134th Chaplain Support Team, pose for a photo after Thompson led a chapel service Aug. 27, 2023, at Fort Barfoot’s Bulla Chapel. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jeff Clements)

Virginia Defense Force chaplains volunteered their time during the 2023 summer annual training season to conduct Sunday services at the Maneuver Training Center Fort Barfoot Bulla Chapel in order to provide religious support to Soldiers conducting training on the installation.“Providing religious support services to the training community and others visiting Fort Barfoot is a critical mission that we take seriously,” said Col. James C. Shaver, the Fort Barfoot garrison commander. “With the competing demands across the force, and shortage of chaplains, the VDF has filled a gap to build resilience and support holistic health and fitness here this past summer. I am very thankful to those volunteers for sharing their time and experience with us.”The annual training schedule of services included 16 dates between May 14 and August 27.“We try to utilize the Virginia Defense Force to our advantage,” said Maj. Dan Finley, the command chaplain for the Fort Barfoot-based 134th Chaplain Support Team. “The annual training season can be a busy time for us. We developed an AT schedule and identified the gaps that needed to be filled. We reached out to the VDF and they were more than happy to help fill those gaps for us.”The Virginia National Guard identified 10 dates that their Chaplain Corps would not be available for services at Fort Barfoot. The VDF was able to cover eight of those gaps identified by the VNG Chaplain Corps for an 80% fill rate.“The VDF comes on their own time, they are not paid to come here.” Finley said. “Having them step up to provide these services multiplies our force strength as a chaplain corps.”Second Lt. (Va.) James Thompson, a VDF chaplain, traveled from Virginia Beach with his wife and three children to conduct the Protestant service Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, at Fort Barfoot’s Bulla Chapel.Thompson has been a member of the VDF for nearly two years, but he is no stranger to the ministry. He has been an ordained minister for more than 33 years and is also a U.S. Army veteran.He wanted to continue to serve. The VDF has afforded him that opportunity.“I found out that there was a way that I could still serve,” he said.Thompson acknowledged that the loads carried by National Guard chaplains are “heavy and burdensome.”  He quoted the VDF motto of  “Virginians Serving Virginians.”That is why he gladly gives his time and energy to the Virginia Defense Force.During the summer, Thompson conducted three of the eight services that the VDF Chaplain Services held at Fort Barfoot.“The VDF chaplains are thankful for the relationship with the Virginia Army National Guard,” Thompson said. “We are very grateful for the opportunity, the fellowship, and to be allowed to participate as professionals and work hand-in-hand for a better and more capable, spiritually fit Soldier, a better Virginia National Guard and a greater commonwealth.”Virginia Army National Guard chaplains and VDF chaplains have been working together for several years with very successful results.“The ongoing relationship between the Virginia Army National Guard Chaplain Corps and the Virginia Defense Force Chaplain Services results in the force-multiplication of religious support to Soldiers and units training at Fort Barfoot, on a weekly basis, during the extremely busy Annual Training season each year, from May through the end of September,” explained Lt. Col. Brett Johnson, the VaARNG full-time support chaplain. “For many units training here, they come without a chaplain. The Virginia Defense Force Chaplain Services selfless service, on a purely voluntary basis, and their highly professionally and credentialed chaplains, allows for Bulla Chapel to staff a dynamic Protestant Service.”Johnson said the resulting impact of their ministry promotes enhanced Soldier and unit spiritual resilience and fitness, which is in keeping with the U.S. Army Holistic Health and Fitness program goals and objectives.“The vital joint relationship between the Virginia Army National Guard Chaplain Corps and The Virginia Defense Force Chaplain Services enhances force readiness, unit morale and Soldier resilience,” he said. “We remain extremely grateful for the level of commitment and professionalism that the VDF Chaplain Services brings to the religious support fight at Fort Barfoot over the past several years and look forward to continue to partner with them in the upcoming fiscal year in 2024.”The VDF Chaplain Services also fill other gaps the Virginia Army National Guard identifies, including pastoral counselling.  VDF as well provides the Virginia Department of Military Affairs with a variety of other services, including legal, medical and training support.  It provides Legal Services, such as legal preparedness classes, preparation of wills and powers of attorney as well as limited personal legal advice.  VDF Medical Services provides classes, personnel testing and records and personnel screening.

By Staff Sgt. Jeff Clements, Maneuver Training Center Public Affairs

Additional reporting by Cotton Puryear