Skip to main content

Alese Underwood, journalist at Bay News 9

Answering a call to military service can come in many shapes and sizes.

For chaplains, sometimes it’s about helping those in uniform and other times a community in the midst of tragedy.

Spectrum Bay News 9 caught up with one MacDill Air Force Base Reserve Chaplain who reflected on his time spent with victims after the Surfside condo collapsed.

“This wasn’t just something that happened in my city, it was something that happened quite literally in the neighborhood of my office,” said United States Air Force Captain Elie Estrin.

Estrin is a rabbi and reserve chaplain at MacDill Air Force Base.

When the Surfside condo collapsed in June, he put on his uniform and did what he was trained to do.

“My job really was to watch peoples faces and to see if they needed someone to speak to, and gut-wrenching is a minimal term to describe it,” he said.

This wasn’t the first time Chaplain Estrin answered a tragic call to service.

In 2018, he spoke with families in Parkland after the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School.

“From the first responders, the police, they see you as one of their own. So they felt comfortable talking to me and the victims as well. They see you as a person that represents the United States and there was a just a great, great feeling of being uplifted that people care,” Estrin said.

Finding what people need in their darkest moments of grief is a responsibility unlike any other.

“One example was this woman who was walking with her son who survived and her daughter did not. They were still searching for bodies at that point. She looked truly true broken. I said to her, your daughter sounds like an incredible person, I just want to thank you for bringing her into this world,” he said.

Estrin says one of the most uplifting parts about responding was watching people hold each other close.

“And that’s something our society needs to pick up again. We’ve forgotten how to speak to our neighbors, we’ve forgotten how to approach our neighbors and recognize this guy doesn’t necessarily look like me, but that person is a human being and we should interact,” said Estrin.

This article was originally published in August 2021 on