A guardsman in the 186th Air Operations Group at Key Field Air National Guard Base, Meridian, Mississippi, Pickering filled the slot as chaplain on the Base Operating Support Integration team (BALSI) for 7th Air Force at the LSA. He was one of 30 Air National guardsmen from Key Field who were tasked to support the exercise. There were approximately 17,500 total U.S. service members who participated, with approximately 3,000 coming from outside the Korean peninsula. This year with tensions high in the area, the role of the chaplain was vital.
“No one knew how this exercise was going to go,” Pickering said of the exchange of words that was being played out between the United States and North Korea in early August as everyone arrived. “The building may not have been on fire, but people showed up not knowing how this was going to play out politically, and these folks stepped up to the plate.”
“People in a deployed situation search for meaning and purpose, and it allowed me the opportunity to present my faith to them in a non-threatening way,” Pickering remarked.
Tent life brought on its share of problems. Leaks, wind damage, hard cots, and the heating and cooling were among the many listed on the bulletin board across from the Personnel Support for Contingency Operations PERSCO tent. Pickering got the most out of his counseling degree as he explained the challenges that service members faced while not just working long hours and sleeping on a cot, but being on a different continent from their families.
One New Jersey Airman lost a grandfather, another had a mother put on hospice, while another was having marriage problems.
“These people brought real problems when they came with them, and I really didn’t expect them to open up to me like they did, with only being here a month, but they did,” Pickering said.
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