Skip to main content

Military Health System

AFIMSC Chaplain Shares His "True North" Calling

Image of An Air Force Airman inspects a target used during a shooting competition at Davis-Monthan Air Base, Arizona, in 2021. The True North program is a resilience program that embeds providers and spiritual leaders within squadrons and groups. Davis-Monthan implemented True North in October 2020. (Photo: Air Force Airman 1st Cl. William Turnbull). An Air Force Airman inspects a target used during a shooting competition at Davis-Monthan Air Base, Arizona, in 2021. The True North program is a resilience program that embeds providers and spiritual leaders within squadrons and groups. Davis-Monthan implemented True North in October 2020. (Photo: Air Force Airman 1st Cl. William Turnbull)

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Spiritual Fitness | Mental Health is Health Care

Finding your True North – your authentic self, your purpose, your beliefs – can be a struggle for many today. And, in an Air Force where there’s been a large increase in suicides in recent years, helping people find and appreciate their own, unique selves is a calling for Chaplain (Capt.) Portmann Werner and the service’s chaplain corps.

“Life is full of struggles, and we could all use some support along the way,” said Werner, a member of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s Chaplain Corps Division and a mentor and proponent for the True North program.

True North is a resiliency program that embeds providers and spiritual leaders within squadrons and groups to strengthen mental and spiritual health, two of the four pillars of Air Force resiliency. It was started by Air Force Special Operations Command in 2010 to normalize help-seeking behavior, optimize performance, and increase resiliency and is now available at 16 installations.

“When a person has direct access to someone they know will listen and cares, simply put, it works,” Werner said. Before joining AFIMSC in 2021, Werner was assigned to one of the True North installations -- Ramstein Air Base, Germany -- where he was a cross-functional team chaplain for the 693rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group.

During his time there, Werner spearheaded several activities that helped Airmen connect and strengthen their spiritual resilience, like a month-long “Soul Food” lunch discussion that brought Airmen together to discuss the powerful role spirituality and religion can play in peoples’ lives.

But it was in early 2020 that Werner put together what he considers his most important event.

“COVID-19 created major challenges for a program centered around bringing people together — I had to find a way to safely bring people together to have fun and relax,” he said.

Werner built a radio transmitter and used the side of a windowless facility to project movies.

“With the approval of a medical doctor, we established a monthly drive-in movie experience where Airmen and families could safely come together to watch a movie,” Werner said. “It’s one of my proudest career moments.”

Methods

One of the methods the True North initiative uses to decrease negative and violent outcomes for Airmen and their families is offering team-building opportunities that expand or strengthen their support networks, like physical fitness education, leadership training, and family and single retreats.

The underlying message is that they are not alone, Werner said.

“We did some tandem skydiving to remind them that even when they feel like they are falling, someone has their back and is ready to help them and guide them,” he said.

Chap. (Capt.) Lauren Hughes worked briefly alongside Werner in 2018 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

“I co-led my first-ever single Airmen retreat with Chaplain Werner and it was a very good experience. He’s truly a great leader,” Hughes said.

Because of his reputation and experience with the program, the Chaplain Corps College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, requested that Werner teach a course for future chaplains and religious affairs Airmen who will serve in True North or group chaplain positions at installations.

“There are a lot of professional communication, funding, emotional intelligence and career development skills involved,” Werner said. “Ultimately, if the chaplains walk away knowing how to care for their religious affairs Airmen and in return the RAAs know how to care for their chaplains, then the needs of their respective locations will reap the benefits.”

High Energy

At AFIMSC, Werner is known for his innovation and high energy.

“He helps keep our focus at the tactical level where it needs to be, and how best to support them,” said Chap. (Col.) Theadore Wilson, AFIMSC Chaplain Corps Division chief. “He runs our Management Internal Control Toolkit program and has increased the pass rate and the average scoring of our Chaplain Corps in the field by breaking down every question in the assessment and teaching them what specifically needed to be uploaded into MICT.”

That’s not all Werner is pushing forward.

“He’s also been working with Air Education and Training Command and AFWERX – an innovation arm of the Department of the Air Force – on a project that targets our newest and youngest Airmen called ‘Choose Your Own Adventure,’ which focuses on positive psychology that emphasizes wise decision making,” Wilson said.

While luncheons, movies and other activities are important mediums for bringing people together, Werner places greater value on the support networks they create.

“Everyone needs someone to talk to and to feel heard,” he said.

Listening also helps Werner find a baseline where he can connect with someone and relate to them, even in some small way.

The chaplain said he finds it easy to connect with people from all walks of life by being an open book.

“I’m a giant nerd,” he said. “I will talk video games, board games, card games, Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, Serenity and Babylon 5 to anybody that wants to. Otherwise, I prefer to listen and learn about what other people are passionate about.”

Werner knows the healing power of conversation and connection firsthand.

“Honestly, talking to people when I am hurting is always the quickest way for me to bounce back,” Werner said. “Usually that means talking to God, but if I need to talk to someone, I always have my fellow chaplains and my own personal chaplain, my wife, Chap. Jessica Werner, to lean on.”

He added, “everyone has struggles, but not everyone has a built-in support system like I do. That’s why access to chaplains and programs like True North are so important to the Air Force and to the mission.”

(Editor’s Note: If you’re thinking about suicide, are concerned about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24 hours, seven days a week across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 to reach a trained counselor. For the Veterans Crisis Line, call 1-800-273-8255 then PRESS 1 or send a text message to 838255.)

You also may be interested in...

Seek Mental Health with TRICARE

Video
8/18/2022
Seek Mental Health with TRICARE

Mental health problems can affect your thoughts, mood and behavior. Watch TRICARE's latest video on how to take care of your mental health.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Psychological Fitness

July MHS Minute

Video
8/9/2022
July MHS Minute

The July MHS Minute highlights a dedicated webpage for women's health to educate women and their partners on the health care services and resources available to them. Visit https://www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Total-Force-Fitness/Preventive-Health/Womens-Health to learn more. Additionally, learn more about the new national suicide and crisis lifeline, 988.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Suicide Prevention | Psychological Fitness

Join us for Soul Care

Video
8/1/2022
Join us for Soul Care

Soul Care is a bi-weekly meeting for everyone in the MHS family to come together as a community of support and regain their spiritual centeredness. It's part of DHA’s commitment to a fulfilled staff. The series is open to military personnel, civilians, and contactors. Please contact the DHA Chaplains' office to learn more: 703-681-4665

Recommended Content:

Spiritual Fitness

Managing Burnout

Video
5/19/2022
Managing Burnout

Burnout is really a state of extreme exhaustion caused by chronic overwhelming stress. Lt. Col. Catherine Callendar, Air Force Deputy Director of Psychological Health, gives some advice on coping with burnout. Learn more at health.mil/mentalhealth.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Psychological Fitness

MHS Minute | April 2022

Video
5/3/2022
MHS Minute | April 2022

The MHS Minute highlights some of the outstanding work taking place across the Military Health System, including major milestones, events, notable activities, and much more. Help us get the word out about all of the unique, meaningful, and fascinating work taking place across the MHS by watching and sharing the video, which you can download from DVIDs: https://go.usa.gov/xuy7M. This month’s topic is mental health awareness. Check out the entire playlist: https://go.usa.gov/xtAAq

Recommended Content:

Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Psychological Fitness

Anger

Video
2/11/2022
Anger

A brief introduction on anger. How Anger can impact your life and the people around you.

Recommended Content:

Anger | Psychological Fitness

PTSD: Help is Available

Video
6/24/2021
PTSD: Help is Available

PTSD can happen to anyone. The Military Health System can help you get diagnosed and provide you with evidence-based treatment so you can get your life back. If you're struggling with PTSD, reach out to your local military hospital or clinic and make an appointment today. Learn more at health.mil/ptsd.

Recommended Content:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Psychological Fitness | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Avoiding Substance Misuse as a Coping Mechanism

Video
6/23/2021
Avoiding Substance Misuse as a Coping Mechanism

Military life is rewarding, yet often stressful. Learn five options to help you find healthy ways to cope with stress.

Recommended Content:

Substance Abuse | Psychological Fitness | Real Warriors Campaign

5 Tips to Manage Anger

Video
6/23/2021
5 Tips to Manage Anger

When dealing with the stresses of military life, anger can become frequent or intense. Use these tips to manage anger in a healthy way.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Anger | Real Warriors Campaign

5 Tips for Better Sleep

Video
6/23/2021
5 Tips for Better Sleep

Sleep is important for staying mission ready and keeping your mind sharp. When possible, get the Zzzs you need with these tips.

Recommended Content:

Sleep | Psychological Fitness | Real Warriors Campaign

59 Sec PSA: Staff Sgt. Brittany Johnson

Video
6/23/2021
59 Sec PSA: Staff Sgt. Brittany Johnson

Staff Sgt. Brittany Johnson spent years reliving memories of her sexual assault. By seeking care, Staff Sgt. Johnson learned what triggered her and how to cope when memories resurfaced. Hear how Staff Sgt. Johnson turned a traumatic event into an opportunity to share her story and help others.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Real Warriors Campaign

59 Sec PSA: Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher K. Greca

Video
6/23/2021
59 Sec PSA: Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher K. Greca

As a senior noncommissioned officer, retired Command Sergeant Major Greca did not recognize the subtle signs and symptoms of his physical and invisible wounds. Hear how CSM Greca realized that it takes strength to recognize the warning signs, and to seek support from military health resources.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Real Warriors Campaign

Depression: Know the Signs and Options for Care

Video
6/23/2021
Depression: Know the Signs and Options for Care

Depression is treatable and treatment works. Learn the signs and options for getting care.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Depression | Real Warriors Campaign

Coping with Flashbacks Between Appointments

Video
6/23/2021
Coping with Flashbacks Between Appointments

Flashbacks can sometimes occur during treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder. Follow these tips to help cope with flashbacks between appointments with a health care provider.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Real Warriors Campaign

4 Facts About PTSD

Video
6/23/2021
4 Facts About PTSD

Learn about PTSD symptoms, the benefits of seeking care and get connected to confidential, 24/7 resources.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Real Warriors Campaign
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 3
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 26, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery