FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- With a toss of some cold, red Alabama clay, Fort Rucker and Army construction leaders officially broke ground on a new 22,600-square foot chapel at Guthrie Airfield Tuesday.
It has been 20 years since construction crews built a chapel on post, and in that time, two World War II-era buildings used as chapels were demolished, according to Garrison Commander Col. Yvette Kelley.
The new building will alleviate crowding in the post's other chapels, said Chaplain (Col.) Stephen Cook, installation and garrison chaplain.
"We have a really tough time juggling service start times. This will greatly expand (services we can offer)," he said.
The new chapel will seat about 600 people, nearly double what the Main Post Chapel does, Cook said.
Cook said the Army Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver, recently issued a challenge to Army chaplains to keep the service communities spiritually strong, something the new facility will help local chaplains accomplish.
"Keeping the Army community strong is not a small undertaking, and having an adequate facility is essential," he said.
Fort Rucker officials expressed the importance of helping Soldiers obtain great spiritual health through the chaplains' programs.
"A physically, mentally and spiritually healthy Soldier is a better Soldier," Kelley said.
Chaplain (Maj.) Mark Mitera, chaplain office resource manager, agreed with Kelley's sentiments.
"We believe this will not only add to the aesthetics of the beautiful Fort Rucker community, but it also will add to the spiritual well-being of our Aviation Center and community," he said.
One Fort Rucker community member echoed the officials' comments on the building's importance.
"It's very important. It gives the spiritual being of the Soldier a home he can come to to get some relief from the world's problems," said Eckhard Schiller, a retired lieutenant colonel from Enterprise. "It's going to be a tremendous asset for the whole community."
Officials initiated the funding request for the project about two years ago, and bids were announced last summer, Mitera said. The Clement Group, who is also working on some on-post classroom construction projects, won the bid, and staff members expect to finish the project by March 2011.
After the chapel's completion, the post's current chapels will continue to be used for improving the community's spiritual well-being, Kelley said.