On Post

Chaplains Offer Support,
On and Off Post

Maj. John Casper ’04, associate chaplain, checks in with quarantined cadets digitally.—VMI photo by Mary Price.

When cadets are placed in isolation or quarantine due to the pandemic, the commandant’s staff must work harder to keep track of their day-to-day needs, especially when numbers balloon into the hundreds as they did in mid-February.

Luckily, the VMI Chaplain’s Office stepped up with a daily check-in via Microsoft Teams. The late afternoon video call, made seven days a week by Maj. John Casper ’04, associate chaplain, is a way to keep eyes and ears open to the needs of cadets off post. During the pandemic, many cadets in isolation and quarantine have been housed at four hotels north of Lexington.

What’s called a welfare and wellness check allows Casper to find out how cadets are doing and relay any needs to the appropriate individuals on post—and it also allows cadets to see each other virtually and chat among themselves.

“It’s a morale boost for them, because they get to see who else is in quarantine,” Casper noted.

The cadets also get an update from Casper about how many are in isolation due to the positive COVID-19 test, as well as how many are in quarantine after being deemed a close contact of someone who has tested positive or who are in quarantine as they prepare for a medical procedure. While on the call, Casper reads the most updated statistics from the Institute’s internal spreadsheet, which is updated throughout the day.

“They’re interested to know what the numbers are like,” he said.

While there have been some hiccups with things such as Wi-Fi in the hotels and delayed meal deliveries, overall there have been few problems with cadets in isolation and quarantine, according to Casper.

“For the most part, morale is good,” he commented. “Cadets are very resilient.”

Chaplain Bob Phillips ’87 has also been doing his part to check on cadets in isolation and quarantine, those on post and those in hotels, by making in-person visits.

“They’ll open the door, and I’ll step back and just check and see how they’re doing,” he stated.

Last fall, before VMI’s COVID-19 cases went up significantly, Phillips’ wife, Tracy Phillips, teamed up with others in a massive effort to provide each cadet in isolation or quarantine with four home-baked cookies, along with other treats, in a goodie bag distributed each Friday afternoon. Support for this project came from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, the Navigators, and Grace Presbyterian Church, among others.

“She was making 800 to 900 cookies a week,” Bob Phillips said of his wife.

But even the double oven in the chaplain’s house couldn’t keep up when cadet numbers rose to 400, as they did by mid-February. “It would be 1,600 cookies a week, and that’s a lot of cookies,” Phillips noted. “We just couldn’t sustain it this semester.”

The chaplains have, though, been able to sustain their outreach to the Corps. The regularly scheduled Sunday night chapel service is still ongoing, with socially distanced seating, and both Casper and Phillips report a higher-than-usual level of cadet attendance.

The chaplain’s office has also stepped in to support cadets who have lost a family member and are unable to go home for the funeral. In those circumstances, cadets are invited to use the Mountain Room, located in the basement of the Old Post Hospital, so they can have privacy as they view a livestreamed service.

Perhaps no surprise in this off-kilter academic year, the chaplains have noticed an uptick in phone calls from parents. When those calls come through, Phillips and Casper seek to reassure parents that their cadets are well cared for, even when they are away from post.

“Most cadets are doing well,” said Phillips. “Most cadets understand that the circumstances we’re living under are beyond everybody’s control and that everybody is doing the best they can. The vast majority of cadets and parents understand that everybody’s doing their best.”

  • Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing