Like clockwork, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant arrives at 6 a.m. every Sunday at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph’s Chapel 1 and prepares the historic facility for the 8:15 a.m. Protestant service.
The first person at the chapel every Sunday morning, he ensures everything is in order – prayer books, hymnals and bulletins in their proper places, the floors and grounds free of litter, doors unlocked at the right time.
When congregants arrive a few hours later, he’s still there, greeting them and helping them to their places in the chapel’s pews.
Chuck Roberson is the lead usher at the early Protestant service on Sundays and one of more than 300 volunteers whose selfless dedication keeps the JBSA-Randolph Chapel’s services and programs humming.
“If we didn’t have volunteers, the chapel couldn’t function,” said Anna Gary, Protestant parish coordinator. “We wouldn’t be here without them.”
Volunteers contributed some 42,000 hours of service to the chapel last year – the highest number of all volunteer groups at JBSA-Randolph, Gary said. They serve as receptionists, religious education teachers, behind-the-scenes workers at a variety of events, scripture readers, ushers and vacation Bible school team members. Volunteers help wherever – and whenever – help is needed.
“There’s never a shortage of opportunities for volunteers,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Garrell Calton, a Protestant minister. “Some volunteers will come in and do things like clean all the children’s toys. Our volunteer team is really a well-oiled machine.”
Roberson’s the dean of JBSA-Randolph volunteers with more than 40 years of service – dating back to his active-duty days at Air Force Personnel Center. But many other volunteers bring institutional knowledge as well.
“They help us in so many ways with the continuity of the chapel,” Calton said. “They bring a lot of knowledge to the chapel and to JBSA.”
Many volunteers, like Roberson, are military retirees, but there are also active-duty members, military spouses, civilian employees and students as young as middle school age.
Tech. Sgt. Erika Castro, AFPC deployment manager, has volunteered at the chapel since 2012 and has worked with Gary since 2013.
“I assist mostly with setting up and cleaning up various events such as Hearts Apart when it is hosted by the chapel, the parish socials and the annual Ecumenical Women’s Retreat,” she said. “For the monthly Airmen’s dinners, along with setup and cleanup, I create the advertisement fliers, ensure there are points of contact listed for each month and set up the entertainment that occurs during the Airmen’s dinner.”
Castro, who also serves as a Eucharistic minister, said she volunteers at the chapel as a way to give back to her community, which has become her “extended family.”
“I also want to set positive examples for everyone around me, as my daughter is now of age and is a new altar server in the church because she wanted to help like I do,” she said. “I enjoy the ministry of volunteering because it also connects me to a community of people I can talk to when things get hard or I can be that ear when they are going through trials of their own.”
Col. Roger Witek, Air Education and Training Command Joint Strike Fighter coordination and training office chief, serves as Catholic Parish Advisory Council chairman.
“Most of my work is much like my current job,” he said. “I manage people and projects under the supervision of our ‘contract’ priest, Father Phil Mahalic, and the JBSA-Randolph chaplain, Maj. Shawn Menchion. We all work as a team to primarily meet the spiritual needs of our active-duty personnel and their families. It’s a blessing that the retiree and civil service parishioners also benefit.”
Witek said his volunteer position makes him stronger in his faith.
“It makes me act as a better Catholic because I am constantly surrounded by outstanding individuals who are much stronger in their faith and are better examples of a good Catholic – especially my family,” he said.
Witek’s wife, Cyndi, is a Eucharistic minister and their daughter, Leigh, is a lector who sometimes plays trumpet in the choir.
Patti Schnaubelt has been a chapel volunteer since 2003, serving as a religious education teacher and Eucharistic minister and helping wherever needed. Her husband, Edward, is a retired major assigned to AETC from 1995 to 1998 who sometimes lends a hand, but is always supportive of her efforts.
“When we retired, we decided to go to the chapel and see how the programs work,” she said. “We liked the priest, the religious education program and the volunteer opportunities.”
Schnaubelt said she helps with confirmation retreats, Lenten luncheons and soup suppers, picnics and other activities. She also serves as a vacation Bible school pre-school teacher.
“I do whatever needs to be done,” she said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
With more than 40 years of service at the chapel behind him, Roberson said he’s seen a lot of chaplains come and go. He also has a lot of stories to tell – including one about President George W. Bush’s attendance at a Protestant service in 2005 during the time of Hurricane Katrina.
“Our chaplain thought I was joking when I told him the president was here,” Roberson said. “Like everyone else, he had to go through screening at the chapel door.”
Roberson, who also worked at AFPC as a computer specialist for 12 years following his Air Force retirement in 1989, said he’s met a lot of good people while serving as a volunteer, including his fellow ushers.
“We all work great together,” he said. “I’ve never worked with a better group of guys.”