Depot makes 'canned' chapels for soldiers

January 28, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Amid tight security, officials on Tuesday unveiled Letterkenny Army Depot's contribution to the Force Provider system - a combined church, synagogue and mosque called the Containerized Chapel.

"In Bosnia, we were living in some nasty warehouses until Force Provider arrived," Depot Commander Col. William Guinn said of the 500-man tent cities of which the Containerized Chapels are now a part.

Guinn, who was a battalion commander in that Balkan country, said the chaplain had to make do with the mess hall between 9 and 11 a.m. He conducted services and other pastoral duties between breakfast and lunch at tables still cluttered with salt and pepper shakers and Tabasco sauce bottles.


Depot workers have assembled 36 of the portable chapels which, when unpacked from their 20- by 8- by 8-foot containers, inflate into 64-foot long, multi-denominational houses of worship with seating for 100.

The depot received the order for the $1.1 million program last April. Guinn said it came in on schedule and under budget.

Containerized Chapels are not merely glorified tents. They come equipped with everything the Chaplain Corps requires to conduct Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim services for soldiers at base camps around the world.

That includes heating and air-conditioning units, electrical distribution equipment, a sound system, communion sets, religious literature and every other conceivable need "right down to the coffee pots," Guinn said.

"It is packed like a jigsaw puzzle," Guinn said.

"It's an art to put everything in those containers," said Lynn Fisher, the project manager for the chapel program at the depot.

He said eight depot employees worked on the containers full-time and that the project will open the door to do more Force Provider work at the depot.

"It's different from the work we're used to doing," Fisher said.

A short distance from the Containerized Chapel, depot employees were working on a line of Humvees equipped with Stinger surface-to-air missile mounts.

Assembly of the chapels is required, along with disassembly and repackaging. Technical assessment teams accompany Force Provider equipment to their destinations for that purpose, said Lt. Col. Lawrence Silas, production manager for Force Sustainment Systems in Natick, Mass.

By truck, rail, air or sea, the chapels can go anywhere in the world, Silas said.

"There is no one among us ... so made out of steel that we don't need something to hope for," said Chaplain Maj. John Wheatley, who accompanied Silas from Natick.

The chapels, he said, would serve as refuges "for those who are weary and broken in spirit."

"This one system you are delivering today is perhaps the most important system," Silas said to several dozen depot workers gathered for the ceremony. "What's inside that box and what is delivered ... nothing can measure up to it.

"Paychecks are good, but you can feel good about doing something for somebody's son or somebody's daughter," he said.

"I can tell you, having been over to the hot zone ... the quality of life for the soldier today is significantly enhanced" by Force Provider, Silas said.

In the 140-degree days in Baghdad, Force Provider facilities give soldiers a place to eat, rest, refresh and recharge before heading out on patrols.

"This place may be the last place a soldier lives," Silas said. "So it has to be a home away from home."

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