In 2022, the 305th Air Mobility Wing began establishing the True North initiative within the 305th Maintenance Group at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the United States military base in Burlington County, New Jersey.
True North is a resiliency program that embeds highly accessible social workers and chaplains within squadrons and groups in an effort to promote a positive help-seeking culture, teach resilience skills, and act as guides to helping service members get elevated care when needed.
U.S. Air Force Capt. John Gillispie, is spearheading the True North initiative for the 305th MXG. With a background in missionary work and providing plumbing and electricity to the Akoye tribes on the tropical island of New Guinea, Gillispie had the foundation necessary to grow the True North program.
“Having the diversity of not doing the same thing every day has allowed me to be versatile in the chaplaincy,” said Gillispie. “I have to have the skillset of helping Airmen through various obstacles and roadblocks, which was ingrained in me as a missionary prior to being a chaplain.”
In contrast to the standard chapel model, True North provides chaplains and religious affairs personnel less additional duties on their end, resulting in more time allocated to establishing closer relationships with Airmen within their respective units.
“There’s a lot of additional duties that we will not be responsible for with True North,” said Gillispie. “This gives us more latitude to work with and be more involved in the lives of the Airmen at the 305th MXG.”
Along with Gillispie, Tech. Sgt. Carlos Catalan, 305th MXG religious affairs superintendent, is co-leading True North at the “Can Do” Wing. Prior to his current position, Catalan’s experiences as a Security Forces Defender and competitive dancer helped pave his journey developing resilient Airmen.
“Coming from a high stress career field, I knew I wanted to be the person that can help Airmen during their darkest times,” said Catalan. “I made the initiative to speak to a Chaplain when I was dealing with stuff and found out about this career field and the impact I can have on people.”
Catalan’s passion for dancing inspired him to establish salsa dance classes within the 305 MXG with the goal of not just teaching spicy moves, but building resiliency and trust.
“Not only am I teaching Airmen how to dance, I’m teaching them the fundamentals on how to work together and trust your partner with some of the moves we’re learning,” said Catalan.
As the True North program continues to develop at the 305th MXG, Gillispie and Catalan registered for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, with the goal of training frontline supervisors and 500 Airmen annually with suicide prevention skillsets.
Resiliency initiatives like the True North program are paramount in strengthening and developing resilient, multi-capable Airmen.
“I hope that as people see our program unfold and make a difference in the lives of our Airmen, it has an impact on decision makers Air Force wide,” said Gillispie. “We don’t need to just keep True North steady, we need to keep expanding it and continue inspiring our Airmen.”