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Peterson learns from its first contract priest

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Wingmanship is key to a successful fighting force and making sure Airmen are mission ready at all times. To some people that means hitting the gym every day, others need quiet and solace, while still others need to seek spiritual fulfillment by going to church - whatever the denomination may be.

The First Amendment establishes the right for Americans to practice their religion. For Airmen, as long as those practices don't interfere with the mission of the Air Force, the same understanding applies.

Here at Pete there is a large demographic of Catholics, so the need for a priest is high. Due to the military's constant deployments and permanent changes of stations, there is a shortage of active-duty priests. This required Pete to look at other options and now, for the first time, the base chapel has a contract priest.

What does that mean? There is a civilian priest preaching to the masses on base, bringing with him a whole different mindset and experiences.

That priest is Luis Alfredo Garcia-Chavez, 21st Space Wing Catholic priest...but you can call him "Father Garcia."

Ordained in 2002, Garcia spent time in a Hispanic parish, preached at two parishes in the plains, and finally came to Colorado Springs. He has been at Peterson and currently preaches both in the community and on base.

Even though the members of the military community have a different background and there is a different dynamic, Garcia said it's not that different because the soul remains the same.

"It's the same human soul," he said. "It has different ingredients because (there are) different needs and different backgrounds."

The constant changes in the military lifestyle are more life-giving because you're always on-the-go, he said. It gives you an exposure to different people, different understandings and different mindsets.

Chaplain (Maj.) Daniel Forman, 21 SW deputy wing chaplain, agreed. He said on the civilian side of things change isn't so frequent, so it's nice to have the military community who understand the frustrations of military life.

"It's something to sit down with someone in worship who knows the frustrations of opening up a box and finding your favorite china broken," he said. "It's important to have that person who is going to come in and help you with resiliency and spiritual resiliency."

While Garcia may be from the civilian world, being immersed into the military lifestyle will not only help him grow as a priest, but will help the military community get a little different perspective.

"Why is it important to maintain worship services of a military nature?" Forman asked. "Not so much that the priest may be military, but that your fellow parishioners are. There is a little bit of (the parishioners) teaching him and he's teaching them."

The Peterson Chapel hosts many services in addition to catholic services. For more information on meeting your religious needs, call 556-4442.

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