Chaplains Corp embark on unorthodox training

  • Published
  • 125th Fighter Wing

125th Fighter Wing Chaplains Corp experienced a different type of training on Thursday, April 6, 2017.

“We were on a guided kayaking tour that was held in the Okefenokee Swamp and was about 10 miles round trip,” said Maj Gary Poplin, chaplain. “[The purpose of which was] to combine team building with leadership skills in an outdoor environment.”

Starting off at the 402,000 acre Stephen C. Foster State Park in southern Georgia, the group learned the basics of kayaking and proceeded down the swamp.

The crew consisted of two chaplains and five chaplain’s assistants. Bob Landham, an experienced kayaker of the Okefenokee Swamp, led the group and planned a way to tie the entire adventure into leadership skills training. He called this experience: ‘Expeditions 2020: Adventures in Leadership Development’.

“Half of us are new to the section. So for the rest of us for us to be able to spend time engaging them beyond just a duty status on base was very unique and we really appreciated that opportunity,” said Staff Sgt Erik Winter, chaplain’s assistant. “We were able to gain some comradery, some trust with each other that may have taken a longer time to get to just on our simple duty days out here. But out in that environment, it accelerated the opportunity to attain some of that.”

To Winter, the perception of this trust was encapsulated when his kayak flipped over.

“I flipped over and was submerged in the water,” said Winter. “Everyone charged in to help me. It was quite a big project. The entire kayak was filled with water. Getting it cleaned out and getting back into it in the water: it was all teamwork. It would have taken me 10 times longer to figure out what to do and recover.”

After making it downstream to the turnaround point, the team took a break, ate lunch, and went over their leadership training. Each individual was given a worksheet with “the ENGAGE acrostic: six-way points for servant-leaders.” The letters stood for: Expectations, Nurture, Get to the elephant, Accept good enough, Generate ideas, and Encourage. As they uncovered each word, the team discussed its potential meanings in a leadership capacity.

“The paper itself: the template, the format of it; that was all Bob,” said Winter, “but the input was all collaborated from our team. We all learned from each other.”

Upon completion of the discussion, the group turned around and started their trip back. By this time of the day, the weather shifted from pleasant to blustery. Going against the wind and the flow of the swamp proved to be much more difficult than the original trip.

 “We had to encourage each other,” said Poplin. “We didn’t leave anyone behind. No one had to be towed. Everybody carried their own weight.”

Sore and exhausted the team succeeded in returning back to their vehicle after hours of paddling.

“When you’re there with someone for their first time doing something it makes an indelible memory, and I think there’s an inherent bonding with that” said Poplin

Unorthodox team building exercises have garnered media and commercial attention in recent years. Escape rooms, sports tournaments, paintballing, and other activities are being put on many company credit cards for the purpose of building a better team in the workplace.

“Things to keep in mind are: not lose focus on incorporating whatever that idea is strongly ahead of time,” warned Winter. “Don’t just plan something, get out there, and just hope it’s going to work itself out. Escalate preparation based on the number of people. Start to finish, our whole time out there was very involved and they (the organizers) got it down.”

With the training over and the team reflecting on their accomplishments, the benefit of such training was quickly seen.

“We are already planning our next event,” said Poplin.