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Dobbins Chapel Taxis Across Runway

A front-end loader pulled the Dobbins Air Reserve Base chapel down Dobbins' runway toward Georgia National Guard Camp Clay.

by Senior Airman Elizabeth Van Patten

“Tower, this is Chapel 1950, request permission for engine start-up and taxi on Alpha crossing, Runway 27 for Clay,” said Col. Timothy Tarchick, 94th Airlift Wing commander, into his land mobile radio.

“Chapel 1950, this is Dobbins Tower,” said Melanie Rogers, Dobbins air traffic controller. “You are cleared for taxi on Alpha crossing, Runway 27. Thank you for your service and God-speed.”

Taking its cue, an orange front-end loader rumbled to life on the Dobbins Air Reserve Base flightline and began its journey of approximately 10,000 feet towards Georgia National Guard Camp Clay. 

The front-end loader was attached to and began pulling the Dobbins chapel. The chapel, which could be seen from Cobb Parkway by any passers-by, was at that moment taxiing down Dobbins runway to its new home - taking and keeping safe its history, and making history with every foot it traveled.

As far as anyone on Dobbins knows, this has been the only chapel, and will likely be the only chapel ever, to taxi down the flightline.

The chapel played an important role for more than 60 years as a spiritual home to airmen and their families. It was deployed to Europe during World War II. After the war, it was acquired by the Georgia Air National Guard through private donation. Placed on then active-duty Dobbins Air Force Base, it was dedicated to veterans who served their country in World War II by Army Brig. Gen. J.H. O’Neil, Third Army chaplain. 

O’Neil is known for writing Army Gen. George Patton’s prayer for clear weather during the Battle of the Bulge.

Many years later, Dobbins became a Reserve base and the chapel remained standing as a memorial and place of worship for drilling Reservists. After 9/11 however, the chapel was on borrowed time. Air Force leadership mandated increased security and logistics requirements. 

Because Dobbins, as a reserve base, is not authorized a chapel, no government funds could be spent on its relocation. It appeared that the chapel would have to be demolished in order to make way for a logistically required access road.

This brings us back to the history-in-the-making on March 17. Rather than demolishing the chapel, base officials honored its history and the service members - some of whom paid the ultimate price for freedom - the chapel was originally dedicated to.

During the ceremony, Tarchick stated the importance of not standing idly by and doing nothing – where doing nothing in this case would have resulting in the demolition of the little chapel.

“What I believe makes America truly great is the good men and women that choose to get passionately involved every day in making sure the right things happen, instead of sitting idly by,” said Tarchick. “I would like to thank the Dobbins Chapel Foundation for their passion in preserving this chapel. Their perseverance and dedication in fundraising over more than seven years was instrumental in making this day and relocation possible."

The Dobbins Chapel Foundation is a private, nonprofit group established in 2005. Appointed to lead the charge to preserve the chapel and its history of faith is retired Col. John Powers.

“She looks pretty rugged right now – a little worn around the edges,” said Powers. “You can be assured that this chapel foundation is committed to making her look good again.”

The foundation will be given one year to raise funds and bring the chapel up to current building codes at no cost to the government, according to Powers. The final location chosen for the chapel is the old gas station site on Camp Clay. This location does not require any additional grading for the chapel to be placed.

In addition to the efforts of the foundation, Tarchick also praised the members of the contractor teams who worked together and the members of the community at large who expressed their support of the project. He also praised the many military members, both in the Air Force Reserve and the Georgia Army National Guard, who put in the time to see the chapel move become possible. 

“I believe we are seeing the results of that this morning and this accomplishment is a new legacy of this chapel,” said Tarchick. “My hope is that this accomplishment will inspire the many watching to get passionately involved in something bigger than themselves and create their own legacy.”

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