By Lori EganMarch 3, 2017
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- On the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the Dorchester during World War II when the heroic actions of four Army chaplains are commemorated, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate the first chapel built for Soldiers in Europe in more than 17 years.
Described as the BMW of chapels by Chaplain (Col.) Kevin Pies, USAG Bavaria chaplain, the 115-feet steeple can be seen for many miles and is now a landmark for the area.
Grafenwoehr resident engineer Jonathan Byrd said the design of the Netzaberg Chapel fits the scenic beauty of the Oberpfalz.
"And on a clear day, you can see both the chapel tower and the tower on the Rauher Kulm in the distance," Byrd said. "The Netzaberg Chapel fits with the landscape and the architecture of the area -- externally and internally."
"It's a beautiful building -- I have never worked in such an elegant cathedral," said Sgt. Luisa Salas, a chaplain's assistant with 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, who moved to Grafenwoehr in May.
The chapel cost nearly $16 million in military construction funding. In addition, $1.6 million of the cost was Operations and Maintenance, Army funded. The OMA funds covered the furnishings and equipment, said Peter Barth, a regional program manager and host nation liaison for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, who was the original project manager.
"It was a unique project, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on a chapel with its unique design and architecture of the building," Barth said. The stone floor, in the worship and activity center, is known as "Solnhofer Platten" and uses a very specific material that is traditional for chapels in Bavaria.
The chapel, built for the military community here, will be a power projection platform for faith and resiliency, said Col. Lance Varney, USAG Bavaria commander, during his opening remarks Feb. 3.
Before Col. Matthew Tyler, commander of Europe District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, presented Varney with the ceremonial key for the facility, he said, "As a Soldier, I recognize the importance of maintaining spiritual health and focus. It's part of our readiness and resilience. It's critical to the well-being of our personnel and community.
"This is the final Netzaberg project our district is turning over to your community after more than a decade of new construction," Tyler said. "The work includes the elementary and middle school, youth services and child development centers and supporting infrastructure.
"Today's milestone wouldn't be possible without the patience and hard work of a dedicated team … and worth every bit of effort."
Cambrey Torres, who took over as the project manager in 2014, said it is really great to see the completion of this project and to share it with her children.
"They asked what I did since I'm not an architect or an engineer -- I told them I was part of the team," she said.
With seating for 600, the chapel greatly increases the space for religious education and community events, said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Terry Simmons, deputy chaplain for USAG Bavaria. He also talked about the acoustics -- pointing out how the mesh material pushes sound out -- and how the chapel was made with a majority of Bavarian materials.
Ben Lazo, project engineer, said it was those details that made the chapel such a unique job.
"The sound and lighting system is professional, concert quality equipment," Lazo said while pointing out the interior arches and explaining the acoustic evaluations done on the mesh for the best sound.
"It was a great team who worked on this project," Lazo said.
Guest speaker Chaplain (Col.) James Watson, Installation Management Command -- Europe chaplain, said in his remarks that chaplains give credit to laborers, construction workers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the chapel's construction; but "unless the Lord builds the house humans labor in vain."
The chapel was the final project of more than a decade of construction in the region and the culmination of Efficient Basing Grafenwoehr, according to Col. James E. Saenz, former commander of USAG Bavaria in his remarks during the ground-breaking ceremony in 2014.
EBG was one of the largest military construction programs in Europe -- it began in 2004 with more than 150 projects valued at close to $1 billion, according to USACE officials. As part of U.S. Army Europe's transformation, EBG consolidated the headquarters and six battalion-sized units to maximize readiness, operational control and force protection. USACE managed the construction of motor pools, barracks, family housing, schools and even an outdoor recreation facility when the population grew from 800 active-duty Soldiers to that of a brigade combat team. The Grafenwoehr Training Area is the U.S. Army's largest overseas training area.
Simmons said the chapel was necessary to support the community's growth and though the size decreased by 45 percent from the original design, it's larger than any other chapel in Europe and will be used by the community for special occasions.
"As this chapel stands on this hill may it be a beacon of life in this community, in this country and in this world," prayed Simmons during the dedication ceremony that took place nearly three years after the start of the construction.