Nellis chapel singles experience something grand

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Oleksandra Manko
  • Nellis AFB Public Affairs
Excitement was in the air as seven Nellis Airmen piled into a shaggy blue van on a sunny Friday afternoon, May 4. Something truly "grand" was awaiting them at the end of a four-hour drive - the Grand Canyon.

This free trip was possible due to the initiative of one of the leaders at the 6 p.m. Refuge service at the Nellis chapel, Staff Sgt. Dan Bittner, who works at the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron, and the new chaplain, 1st Lt. Craig Nakagawa.

The lucky seven were heading to a Navigator retreat organized by Luke AFB, Ariz., where they got to camp out on the edge of the Canyon for one full day and two nights. A total of 58 Marines, Airmen and civilians from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.; MCAS Yuma, Ariz.; Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.; Luke and Nellis AFBs, participated in the event this year.

When we arrived it was already dark and snowing. A scary man in a yellow trench coat came out to greet us, his weathered face suddenly appearing from the darkness. A pale fist hit the van's window: "I know what you did last summer," the man growled ... well, not really. The one knocking on our window turned out to be none other than Zetty Kratz, the Navigator leader who invited us on the trip. He informed us about the next day's program and showed where we could pitch our tents.

Three hikes for different levels of fitness and eagerness were planned for Saturday. A 16-miler to the bottom of the canyon and up for the daring and the able, a 12-miler to Plateau Point and up for the daring and the able who wanted to sleep-in an extra hour, and a 3-miler to Cedar Ridge for the laid back and the couch potatoes.

That night everyone went to bed early. The wake-up call for the first hike was 5 a.m. Between the excitement of experiencing the Grand Canyon for what for many was the very first time, and the 20-degree temperature, staying asleep that night was even more difficult than waking up at 5 on a normal Saturday morning.

The breakfast was cordially served by Luke AFB Outdoor Recreation personnel and two volunteers who came along on the trip: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas, cereal and various nutrition bars -- yum.

Upon loading up with water and snacks and saying a tearful farewell to the camp fire, the only source of heat on that frozen morning, the first group, counting nine enthusiastic souls in all (including me), was on its way. An hour later group two, consisting of three members, departed as well. Around nine, the predominant group of 26 people went out for a 3-mile stroll, and finally, a few exceptional individuals contented themselves with raiding the tourist shops and gazing across the canyon from the shuttle windows.

Fearlessly the hikers marched past the "Do not attempt to go to the bottom of the Canyon and back up in one day" signs, through the tunnels and across the bridges. In spite of the chilling winds, the scorching sun, ferocious squirrel attacks and tempting resting places, worn out, but extremely pleased with ourselves, we made it back up in one piece in some nine hours. Sixteen miles is not that big of a challenge for the fit to fight.

Whether it was a straining hike deep into the canyon, or a relaxed pastime at the campsite, everyone was happy with the way they spent their day. A hot dinner was served at 5 and around 6 everyone gathered 'round the fire for some guitar songs and a message from Col. Rick Hum, a chaplain at the Air Force Academy Community Center Chapel, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Zetty's friend and the guest speaker for the trip. The program ended with s'mores, roasted marshmallows and conversations that went well into the night.

Besides the plastic snake continually placed in strategic locations in order to scare the unsuspecting campers, Sunday morning went by rather peacefully. Everyone was packed by breakfast, which was served at 8. Hot pancakes and scrambled eggs lifted the spirits of the weary Navigators, who had endured another night of below-freezing temperature.

At 9, the group gathered again for some more singing and another encouraging message from Chaplain Hum. And then it was over. Last minute goodbyes still rang in the air as the vans hit the road.

Contacts of new friends on a wrinkled piece of paper, muscle aches for some and souvenirs for others, colorful pictures and even more colorful memories, were all the things the seven Airmen had brought back to Nellis from their Grand Canyon experience.
This free trip is only the first fruit of the dorm outreach that is about to unfold at Nellis AFB, complete with weekend trips and other activities centered on building comradery and spiritual bond between Airmen, taking the wingman concept to the next level. As part of the program, a chaplain will be assigned to the new Airman's Center slated to open June 12 on the ground floor of building 775.

"I could come up with a list of things I'd like to do, but it has to be something dorm residents are interested in," said Chaplain Nakagawa, who added he will most likely fill the position. "The primary goal for this program is to give the dorm people some options, [and] some good choices. We don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, we are here to facilitate your spirituality, whatever faith you claim."

Some things the chapel is looking into are an all-terrain-vehicle weekend, which will probably take place in the second half of June, and a Seeker's Bible study for those interested in exploring their spirituality.

The nearest event on the schedule is a trip to the Spirit West Coast-Del Mar Memorial Day weekend. It is a three-day festival featuring concerts by many top artists in Christian music, comedians, magicians, and contemporary Bible and life application teaching by well-known and gifted speakers. A complete schedule of events is available at www.spiritwestcoast.org/delmar/. The price, including transportation, lodging (tents and sleeping bags), event tickets and two meals a day, is $60. Sign up deadline is May 20. For more information, contact Sergeant Bittner at 652-9748.