Feeding the spirit soul food

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- In the summer of 2003, Luke Thunderbolts began a different kind of maintenance on the flightline, a spiritual maintenance.

The Spiritual Maintenance Center chapel was created by Chaplain (Maj.) George Youstra, a former 56th Fighter Wing chaplain and retired Chief Master Sgt. Michael Kriely, when they saw a need for a ministerial outreach to the flightline, according to Chaplain (Maj.) James Claggett, 56th Maintenance Group Spiritual Maintenance Center chaplain.

The mission of the 56th Fighter Wing Chapel is to facilitate a proactive spiritual needs-based ministry, positively impacting the 56th FW and the Air Expeditionary Force missions anytime and any place.

Currently one chaplain ministers at the Spiritual Maintenance Center, located in Building 914 of the 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit.

"We are also staffed by volunteers that work with us on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings," said Chaplin Claggett.

The Spiritual Maintenance Center offers an oasis of calm in a turbulent world, said Chaplain Claggett.

"We have a place where our Airmen can come to take a break and cool off," said Chaplain Claggett. "Depending on the time of the year they might have a fresh baked cookie, some coffee, tea or Gatorade, or just get cold water from the fridge. We also offer a lending and giving library. Finally, we offer fellowship and counseling. Our goal is not to just feed the body, but to allow each person to take part in a spiritual feast."

Some of the best counseling sessions have begun over a cookie, said Chaplain Claggett.

During the last few years the Spiritual Maintenance Center has grown. Since January 2006 the center has had more than 15,000 visits and averages between 500 to 600 visits per week.

"It started as an idea and in the past two years has been brought to fruition," said Chaplin Claggett. "It has come to be known as a safe place to talk, be heard and get advice."

Not only did the number of visits grow, but the visitors have changed.

"One of the amazing things that happened in the beginning was the counseling was primarily for Airmen sent to us by their supervisors. Now our counseling has expanded to the supervisors themselves. We receive referrals from friends as well as co-workers."

The Spiritual Maintenance Center is also known outside the base.

Chaplains from other Air Force bases have come to Luke to see how we operate so they can take this idea back with them, said Chaplain Claggett.

Besides fellowship and counseling, the Spiritual Maintenance Center offers a monthly dinner on the north and south ends of the flightline. The chapel is open 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 9 p.m. Monday and Thursday. For more information, call (623) 856-6551.