• Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Madison Knabe
  • 128th Air Refueling Wing

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Four chaplain personnel from the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard, joined the fight against COVID-19 in summer of 2020 and continue on into 2021.

Master Sgt. Peter Sodini, superintendent of chapel operations, spearheaded the chaplaincy’s involvement in the mission by volunteering to perform specimen collection at the National Guard-run Milwaukee testing location this past June. Tech. Sgt. Gautambhai Patel, readiness non-commissioned officer in charge, joined him a month later in the fight. As needs at the collection site evolved, the two performed their chaplain duties to provide the guardsmen with support.

“We brought resources that would never have been utilized without our help,” Sodini explained. “We would be the last ones to leave each day. We provided relief from the hot weather using a Tactical Field Religious Support Kit. In addition, we would do community care events with them and we would cook food for them on occasion.”

Sodini and Patel became a traveling team when the Milwaukee specimen collection responsibilities were handed over to local officials. Now, Sodini and Patel travel anywhere east of Madison, Wis. to support any Wisconsin guardsmen responding COVID-19.

In Dec. 2020, Maj. Philip Cunningham, a 128 ARW chaplain, and Staff Sgt. Abigail Luty, a religious affairs Airman, joined the mission in a different capacity. They became a religious support team, or RST, and now provide support to active duty Army nurses deployed to the Marshfield Clinic Hospital in Marshfield, Wis. These nurses from all over the country are assisting Marshfield Clinic in their coronavirus related surge.

“We’re able to give them a real Wisconsin welcome and help them adjust to the area, in addition to offering ministry and morale support,” Luty described. “Being in a unique role like this, if I can make someone’s day better, it just makes my day better. They come to you with some kind of problem and they can leave with some resources or tools to overcome their challenge. You can get a lot out of being able to help somebody when they don’t have anybody.”

Cunningham, a chaplain both for the 128 ARW and for his local community, has plenty of experience providing spiritual and mental health support.

“Our help has been very well received,” Cunningham explained while describing the nurses who work 12-hour shifts to cover healthcare staffing shortages both daytime and overnight. “We’re just providing a place where they can come together, share experiences, and be a community - to bring them some happiness and joy during this difficult mission.”

Together, the four chaplain personnel have supported over 500 service members over the course of the last seven months.