Keep the Faith at BMT
The folks that BMT understand that it’s a stressful, challenging experience and environment. Contrary to popular belief when you’re down there, they actually want you to be successful and do well in the Air Force! Think about it – it’s fiscally unwise to send people down there if they’re not going to be up for it or if they don’t have what it takes. As my MTI used to say, their first priority is your safety and well-being.
All of that being said, they recognize that faith can be a powerful motivator and coping mechanism for trainees during this time. BMT offers one of the widest varieties of chapel services, exclusively for trainees. In fact, the only time anyone else is permitted to attend is during graduation weekend, when your family may accompany you. Otherwise, you won’t see permanent party Airmen (other than chaplains assigned there or tech schoolers serving as chapel guides) there at the service. Once you get to your first duty station, you won’t see this sort of variety, as you’ll be able to go off-base to meet your faith needs.
Per the BMT Factsheets, the following services are available:
- Protestant (e.g. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.)
- Liturgical Protestant (e.g. Episcopal, Lutheran, Congregational, etc.)
- Eastern Orthodox
- Seventh-Day Adventist
- Church of Christ
- Christian Science
- Latter-day Saints
Additional Services and Supports
I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t even heard of Eckankar before BMT! During 0WOT, prior to that first Sunday, your MTI will march you over to the main chapel where you’ll sit through a chapel briefing that explains your options and their services. If you don’t see your preferred faith/service, you can ask your MTI to put you in touch with the Chaplain so that they can connect with you and try to meet your needs. During this brief, small groups will break off so that you may meet the worship leaders of your service and learn the location and times for your service. When military chaplains are not available, civilian leaders are brought in from the community to lead your service.
Chaplains are also available for counseling services, if you’re having a particularly challenging time while at BMT. These services may or may not discuss your religious faith, so don’t be concerned if you’re not particularly religious. If you’re feeling distressed beyond the norm or if you’re feeling suicidal [I say this because it happens], reach out to a Chaplain so that you can get the help you need.
Trainees are allowed to go to two services a Sunday, to include a service and a religious education class. If you’re Christian, this normally takes the form of a bible study. You can go to just the service, if you’d like. Your MTI will provide you with a roster every week, prior to Sunday. You’ll sign up for the service(s) that you want to attend, indicate a departure time from the dorm, and initial when you return. If so inclined, you may choose to attend a different service every week.
Services vary in terms of starting time. I remember the LDS service being somewhat later in the day than others. Most of the Christian and Catholic services are in the morning. The Contemporary Christian service is the most popular service, and as a result of the large(r) crowd, only two squadrons attend at a time. Each pair of squadrons has a different start time, one right after the other.
Getting to Chapel
During 0WOT, you’ll be marched to chapel by older [well, more advanced in training] trainees in your squadron, who’ll come to your dorm and pick you up. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb on that first trip to chapel, since you won’t be wearing your boots with your ABUs yet. “Sneaker weekers,” they’ll call you! If I recall correctly, they’ll march you again in 1WOT, but by 2WOT, you’re on your own! Remember your military bearing while marching to chapel. While your MTI won’t accompany you, there are MTIs that linger in the roadways to make sure no one is fooling around. Once you start marching yourself, you can leave as needed to get to your service. My flight members liked arriving to the Contemporary service early so they could get seats up front and enjoy all of the music videos that they played before the service started.
Each chapel service is different in its expectations of trainees. I only attended the Contemporary service, so that’s the only one I can report on. At the contemporary service, you could do some mixed-gender socializing while you were waiting to go inside the chapel, but once inside you were segregated by gender. Flights tended to sit together, as everyone files in line to the pews. Many enjoyed this service because it gave them the opportunity to be emotional – to openly cry, to sing, to move/dance a little, without being reprimanded. If trainees got too rowdy with the dancing, they were asked to tone it down. Praising was fine, dancing for the sake of dancing was not. Sleeping in the Contemporary service wasn’t tolerated either, and while the Chaplain wasn’t mean about it, they cautioned that they’d have to pull a 341 if you fell asleep. Trainees were responsible for keeping their wingmen awake during the service, and drinking water was encouraged as a strategy. Letter writing is not acceptable during chapel. The Contemporary service has a praise band comprised largely of civilians that is really talented.
As for the other faiths, I’ve heard a variety of stories. I’ve heard rumors of services where trainees got to take off their boots, converse openly with trainees of the opposite gender while in chapel, eat candy, etc. As with anything else in BMT, your experience may vary!
What If I Don’t Go?
If you are not religiously inclined and don’t care to attend a service, fear not. Many choose to attend just to get out of the dorm/squadron and have a cathartic emotional experience, but staying behind isn’t as bad as they’d lead you to believe. Your MTI will have reduced hours on Sundays, especially as you progress in training. Eventually, ours wouldn’t show up until 1300 or so. Fear not, there are chores to be done while he/she’s gone!
On Sunday mornings, you’ll get to sleep in until 0545, instead of 0445. Once the chow hall opens at 0600, your chow runner can report the flight for breakfast. After breakfast, you’ll begin dust down and your deep details. Trainees attending services will filter out of the dorm, as needed. Trainees remaining behind will continue to work EC (as trainees come back from meals and services) and check items off the deep detail list as they are completed. Deep details include things like dusting inside and outside of the weapons cases, dusting the exterior of the flight office, detail cleaning the empty wall lockers, etc. Normally by lunch time, most everyone has returned.
Do not fool yourself into thinking that if you stay behind during services that you’ll get to sneak in a nap or write letters. Letter writing is limited to personal time. If you do finish all of the deep details to perfection, studying the BMTSG is always an option, as is rolling and folding in your personal area. I also used that time to distribute laundry.
Yes! You can bring a bible, prayer book, devotional, and/or another piece of religious text with you to BMT. These are the only authorized books in the training environment, aside from your BMTSG. You can rest assured that you will not be criticized or judged by your MTI for having these materials with you. Keep in mind that these must be stored in the back of your security drawer, which is limited in space. If you can find a smaller version of your desired text, that would be ideal. This is not the time to break out the large family bible and take it along. These books can be utilized during personal time [typically at the end of the night], during chapel, and during your religious education class.
Yes! You are allowed to wear a religious necklace or pendant to BMT. Aside from wedding rings [not engagement rings], these are the only authorized pieces of jewelry that you can wear at BMT. Remember that BMT is a rough and non-forgiving environment. I would be hesitant about bringing anything that is sentimental to you or that may be a family heirloom. If you would like to wear a religious necklace that can withstand the abuse that BMT will dish out, most clothing sales stores on military installations sell GI Jewelry, which is designed to meet military specifications as well.
If you’ve never been baptized and are interested in becoming baptized while at BMT, you’re in luck! They offer that service, at least in the Contemporary chapel services. The chaplains will give you information on which day you can attend an informational meeting/class, and which day you can be baptized. These events are held in the afternoon on Sundays, after the Contemporary services are finished. When I was at BMT, they typically held one of each type of event a month, so the class would be held on one Sunday of the month and baptisms were conducted on another Sunday of the month. Trainees being baptized had to bring their PT clothes and a towel to chapel that day, so I’m assuming that it’s more than just a sprinkling of holy water, although I’m not sure.
Any other questions? Just leave a comment if I haven’t addressed something that you’d like to know about chapel!