By Dovi Meles
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- On February 25, 2013 the Philadelphia District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, together with officials from the 436th Airlift Wing and from Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, participated in a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony to officially open the newest building at Dover Air Force Base -- the Chapel Center.
With its opening, the center joins a long list of buildings constructed at Dover AFB by the Army Corps in recent years. Some of the other recently completed projects include a maintenance training facility, a new fitness center and an aircrew flight equipment faculty.
The chapel center was built by the Philadelphia District through a contract awarded to Gardiner and Gardiner LLC. Groundbreaking for the facility was in May 2011. It took nearly 2 years to build and cost approximately 8 million dollars to construct.
"This Chapel Center represents a great example of cooperation between the U.S. Air Force, the Dover Air Force Base community, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and our civilian contractors," said Philadelphia District Commander Lt. Col. Chris Becking. "All of these parties worked tirelessly to build a great facility. It was a real privilege to be part of a project that will serve this community -- and the nation -- well for years to come."
Built on the site of the original chapel (built in 1956), the new chapel center is 19,343 square feet and can accommodate up 1,100 people. In addition to the main sanctuary, which can fit 300 people comfortably; the center contains all-purpose rooms, chaplain offices, six classrooms for training, and a library for religiously oriented materials. Tom Lavender, who oversees the Philadelphia District's projects at Dover AFB, said the chapel center is centrally located and easily accessible to both single airmen who live in barracks and couples who live in family housing.
Philadelphia District Commander Lt. Col. Chris Becking took part in the ceremony along with Sen. Tom Carper (DE) and Rep. John Carney (DE-At large); Col. John Devillier, Commander, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations; and Col. Richard Moore, Commander, 436th Airlift Wing. Also participating in the ceremony was Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Howard Stendahl, the U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains, who served as the keynote speaker.
The dedication ceremony focused on the chapel's location -- Dover Air Force Base, a place where families from all over the country come to pay tribute their loved ones who have paid the ultimate price in service to their country. Nearly 30,000 service members and government civilians who lost their lives overseas have been brought to Dover since the 1950s. Since 2009, when the policy changed allowing media and family members to come to Dover to witness the dignified transfer of their fallen service members, more than 8,000 have traveled to Dover to witness those ceremonies.
Chaplain Stendahl spoke passionately on the importance of service members' ability to exercise their religion openly and freely.
"The new chapel center is an architectural expression of the value that our Air Force places on the role of faith and religion," Stendahl said. He went on to add how this and all military chapels serve to protect and preserve the constitutional right for freedom of religion. He discussed the role of faith and religion in helping to meet the challenges that airmen face. He noted that the Air Force Chaplains Corps is responsible both for the spiritual care of its airmen and to be advocates for the free exercise of religion while in the service.
A unique aspect of this facility is a section of the building referred to as the Annex. While the majority of the facility will be used primarily by 436th Airlift Wing airmen, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations will use the annex area for times of great loss and sorrow, such as a mass casualty event.
According to AFMAO Commander Col. Devillier, the annex is "a place where families of fallen service members can come to meet and rest and that can serve as a reception center for mortuary operations."
Taking care of the families of the fallen is not just a mission of AFMAO. "To care for our fallen warriors is not just a job for the mortuary or Dover Air Force Base; it is the collective mission of all of us as citizens of the United States", said Devillier.