Chapel staff here for everyone

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tammie Moore
  • 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The six-person chapel staff at the Transit Center hosts 23 services a week, but they spend their time here doing more than preparing for the next service.

They stand ready to meet the needs of anyone passing through their doors regardless of their branch of service, religious affiliation, or lack of one.

"The chapel is the center of the community in so many ways," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Steve Thompson, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing chaplain. "We minister to the permanent party as you might expect. In addition, we do a lot of ministry with the transients in terms of helping them with a variety of needs."

The staff can provide support in the form of spare razors, making a call home, spiritual fellowship or leaning an ear to someone who wants to discuss a problem.

"We have a lot of our permanent party who serve as volunteers and they're just an incredible help to us," Thompson said. "If anybody would like to help, we'll give you a quick orientation and get you volunteering."

One of those volunteers is Senior Airman Kyle Eisenbarth, 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Expeditionary Theater Distribution Center journeyman.

"I mainly help out with the people coming in transient," Eisenbarth said. "It gives me something to do on my days off. I like helping out the people on their way home or downrange. We show them where everything is and if they need anything particular we'll help them find it. If they are looking for anything around the installation we instruct them how to get there."

The previous chapel staff took the commonly heard deployment phrase "leave it better than you found it" to heart, coordinating the addition of the chapel offices tent providing the staff room to assist more people.

"The amazing, mission-enhancing upgrades are the result of the work of a lot of people on base," said Thompson, who is deployed from the Florida Air National Guard's 125th Fighter Wing. "In essence, I'm sitting under the shade of a tree whose seed was planted long before I arrived."

The addition tripled the staff's workspace and provides more privacy for individual counseling. Since the expansion, as many as 7,000 servicemembers have passed through the chapel facilities during a month.

"Sometimes it can be very difficult for people to come to a chaplain," Thompson said. "It is a humbling thing to say, 'I can't do this -- I need help.' To have to walk into a busy place that is cramped and noisy and everyone can hear what you are saying just really diminishes the environment to the point that people would not want to come in to talk to you. What we have now is very welcoming, very inviting and very secure. I think it really facilitates getting over that stained-glass hump to come in and talk to someone who cares about them."

Another way the chapel staff supports those assigned or passing through here is by offering four different types of services at a variety of times each week.

"We want to have something for everybody," Thompson said. "We want to provide a variety because we found people like to have the availability and they like to have the different kinds of worship services."

The chapel staff strives to connect with customers. Recently, an Army private came to the chapel for assistance when he found out he couldn't redeploy in his mountain boots. His tan boots were already loaded on a pallet, so he could not get to them.

"Now if you're an E-2 you don't make a lot of money, so going and buying new boots is not an easy thing," Thompson said. "He just thought; I'll go to the chaplain, the chaplain will fix my problem, so he asked if we had any boots. We didn't have any boots, but a chaplain's assistant asked him, 'What size do you wear?' He told him the size, and the chaplain's assistant said, 'I wear the same size boots.' So our chaplain's assistant took his tan boots off and gave them to the private. Then he walked to his dorm, pulled out his green boots and put those on. God blessed him because in the green boots -- that he hadn't worn since he got here -- he found letters from home and candy from his kids. He would not have found these if he had not given away his tan boots."

The chapel staff is here to help whoever walks through the doors.

"Our mission is people," Thompson said. "So we are putting all of our attention and emphasis on that; they are not an afterthought for us. The pilots are flying the planes, the baggage handlers are loading the planes, our job is the people. So if they come here they will get real personalized attention and friendly faces, and they will find a very welcoming spirit. We can't fix all of the mountains they're going to have to deal with, but we can take a few pebbles out of their shoe."