The Connection: 'Connecting Airmen to each other, to the Chapel and to God'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
"A safe haven... a place to escape the stress of the dorms, military training leaders and academic pressures..." 

More than a year ago, a small group of Chapel "white ropes," or student leaders who volunteer at the Chapel, and one base chaplain set out to create a place that would be just that for the 600 enlisted aircrew students who come through the 97th Training Squadron annually. 

The program began with small dinner gatherings at the bowling alley, grew to a larger gathering at the Chapel and now includes a nine-room facility located at the Chapel Annex in Bldg. 116, said Chaplain [Capt.] Alex Palomaria. who has overseen the program since its beginning. 

"The Connection is strategically placed between the dorms and the aircrew campus," the chaplain said. "It's a half mile from the dorm and a half mile from the campus. On Friday nights, you'll see about 140 pipeliners [students who come to Altus for training directly after basic training], walking in formation, and literally three-fourths of them will peel off and come in for dinner." 

On Friday nights, the chapel hosts a free dinner at The Connection called "Friday Night SLAM" for all students who wish to attend, including permanent party students who are here on temporary duty. 

"The Connection is where we minister, and SLAM is how we minister," Chaplain Palomaria said. 

"SLAM" stands for "Student-led Adult Ministry." The student leaders who make up SLAM run the entire program, from opening the doors at 7 a.m., to cleaning up and locking the doors at 11 p.m., seven days a week. 

There is far more to do at The Connection than eat. The building includes the "Cyberzone," a room complete with 13 computers equipped with high-speed wireless internet; the "Globemaster Game Room," with four game systems; and the tabletop game room, which includes a pool table, two foosball tables, and two ping-pong tables. 

There is also the "Flightline Kitchen," complete with snacks, microwave ovens, two tabletop ovens and a refrigerator, and the largest room is the dining area where Friday Night SLAM takes place. 

This room also has a large flat screen high-definition television that the students can use to watch movies or sporting events. Additionally, The Connection has three rooms with cable television for the students' use. 

The SLAM team rescued the computers and most of the furniture at The Connection from the Defense Reutilization Market Office. Chaplain Palomaria said he is grateful to all the squadrons throughout the wing that alerted him to their DRMO bound assets.
"Once or twice a month, I check out a truck from transportation and go to DRMO to scrounge for things to bring over here," he said. "The students help me unload it, and they set it up wherever they want it." 

The SLAM program is now a "Best Practice" for the Air Force Chaplaincy, in large part because of The Connection. Since it's beginning, their budget has increased from $200 a year to $4,400 year. They also received a $12,000 grant from Chaplain Headquarters for the program. 

"The leadership here and at the command are aware of [this program's] success," said the chaplain. "The SLAM team named it 'The Connection' because we wanted the students to feel connected to each other, connected to the Chapel and connected to God." 

Based on the nearly 7,000 students who have visited The Connection since its start, SLAM has accomplished their goal.