Eyes on the Pies

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Andrew Alvarado
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations

At Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, the resiliency team constantly provides an array of activities to bolster the wellness of its team members. One event in particular looks to cut through the surface of self-reflection one slice and song at a time.

“With pizza and conversation, we start off talking about a song, and pretty soon we end up talking about us,” said Maj. Matthew Knight, AFMAO senior military chaplain.

Over the course of a regular lunch break, members gather with pizza and handouts of song lyrics. They discover personal meaning in featured songs belonging to every type of genre. The event acts as a vehicle for participants to share meaningful perspectives on life, hardship and relationships.

“We talk about things like race, justice, family, how we treat one another, love, sorrow … all those things,” said Knight. “That’s very relatable to us.”

Knight moderates conversation topics and ensures every member has a chance to be heard while representing various points of view. His guidance helps foster a respectful and inclusive environment.

“Sometimes people say controversial things,” said Knight. “We want to be a place where that’s okay – where they can bring any viewpoint which may be stated inartfully or in a rough draft. And folks have an opportunity to restate what they mean. We can bring very different perspectives together and have a productive dialogue.”

Across the spectrum of personnel, every member has the opportunity to recognize their own experiences are unique and act as a launchpad of thought.

“Even though we serve the same government and in the same capacity together, our experiences are totally different,” said Master Sgt. Terrell Costa, who is deployed from the 87th Force Support Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey to AFMAO, as the departures section lead.

The chaplain’s team covers the full spectrum of resiliency through their programs. The social aspect of a pizza and conversation luncheon invites attendees to find an intersection between fun and edifying fellowship.

“We’re really targeting a social resilience, but also a spiritual element to it. Not necessarily religious, but music connects spiritually to people,” said Knight. “Food can connect spiritually to people. It’s a chance to connect people socially and spiritually in a way that maybe wouldn’t connect people who are not religious.”

The casual nature of the event places the participants at ease and helps them connect in a constructive way. This connectedness leads to self-reflection, deeper professional relationships and improved morale.

“The conversation is the main course and the pizza is just the appetizer,” said Costa.

Knight remains optimistic that even minimal participation affords attendees a respite from the demanding tasks of the mission.

“It’s not therapy, but it can be therapeutic,” said Knight. “My hope is that we build each other up in those discussions.