By Master Sgt. Kevin Nichols
52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
I normally don’t take my guitar with me on work trips; if I have the itch to play (and I usually do), I just find one on the road while on temporary duty or deployments. Being that this was one of my last TDYs of my career, I thought, “why not.” I now see it as God’s providence that I did.
Here’s my story:
I was sent to Keflavik, Iceland to write stories, capture video and photos of the ongoing Icelandic Air Surveillance mission the U.S. and several other NATO countries fly into Iceland to maintain a forward presence in Europe.
My personal mission (outside of doing my Air Force duties of course) was to learn more about, “da blues.” I wanted to stretch my abilities (I’m normally a hard rock and Christian Contemporary musician and listener), but I also wanted to breathe it in. I wanted to “know” the blues; I wanted to know the artists better and their music, mainly the guitarists that inspire me; Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix (plus a few others out there). So at night on my off-duty times, I listened to their music and took online blues lessons while discussing riffs and my excitement with a friend who’s head over heels into the blues and was constantly, “so stoked” for me (dude). It was indeed totally righteous, but not in a surfer blues way, but in an excitement that I took a step to improve my guitar playing; a step I really haven’t been dedicated to lately.
After a couple of weeks of personal jamming in my TDY room (while of course doing my job I add again), I was approached in the chow hall (oh, excuse me FSS specialists, “dining facility” or DFAC) by none other than Chaplain (Capt) Schrader of 52nd Fighter Wing Chaplaincy fame. He was in civilian clothes at the time as we were grabbing breakfast before heading out for the day. “Hey, Sergeant Nichols?” he said, catching me off guard. “Yeah.” I replied nonchalantly still not recognizing him right away (kind of like Mary Magdalene at the tomb when approached by the arisen Jesus). I’m not a morning person.
“Chaplain Schrader,” he announces himself and it clicked. “Oh, hey Sir!” I exclaimed, now surprised to see him in Iceland. After exchanging, “whattya doing here” info, he told me he was there checking on the Airmen and their morale and spiritual fitness, especially the Spangdahlem Saber team members who were in Iceland to set up infrastructure and provide ground support, protocol, services, fire fighting, etc. for about 200 Airmen. While deployed or TDY, Airmen may face difficulties or dangers that could bring about fear or doubt. This type of spiritual fitness gives Airmen the tools necessary to overcome fears or obstacles associated with situations while away from home. So it’s really great that Chaplain Schrader and the 52nd Fighter Wing Chapel team are charged with visiting Airmen in as many locations the Theater Security Package missions go or wherever Sabers are sent.
Chaplain Schrader told me that morning he was putting together a small church service Sunday if I was interested. Oh, I was totally interested.
Here’s where my guitar comes in (we’ll call her “Stella,” starting with “Tele,” because she’s a 2010 Squier Telecaster; pronounce it like in “tele”-marketer but add the ‘S’ from Squier so it sounds like a female name; ala B.B. King’s “Lucille”). Chaplain Schrader made mention of my guitar-playing praise and worship abilities which I do each week at my home church and occasionally at the chapel. “Too bad you didn’t bring your guitar,” he said. Oh, but I did. I knew there was a reason.
Sunday came and after discussing it some more, the chaplain encouraged me to run to my room and get Stella. The room we were to use for the service had a soundboard and speaker system and it wasn’t hard to plug and play. We had a great time praising God while Chaplain Schrader brought his message to about 12 of us. Through this exchange and only as God would have it I feel, I met two other Christian guys who play guitar. They were setting up a little praise and worship get-together outside our installation at a Salvation Army post. Senior Airman Blake Wilson, assigned to the 144th Fighter Wing, Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, had stopped in a week prior to us meeting, looking for a guitar to play (all guitarists are the same when we have that itch). What he found was a stage, a few guitars, two amps, a drum set (missing a couple of pieces though) and a Cajon (pronounced as, “ca-HONE,” the box-looking drum that you sit on and tap).
“The only instruments there were the ones utilized for service, but they had no one available to play them,” Wilson said. “They asked if I could maybe play one Sunday and I told them I’d do what I could. Fortune would have it that I met two men who already did services on a regular basis and one of them was affiliated with the Salvation Army. These two and Martha of the Salvation Army were able to connect and the rest was history.”
Community involvement at its finest folks, and divinely orchestrated I believe, collaborating on spiritual and social fitness. The three of us set out to begin practicing together several times throughout the week for the next Sunday ahead of us. Stella and I had a bigger purpose now and bigger than that, three U.S. Airmen and several Icelanders were going to build some lasting relationships.
We went to the Salvation Army to practice in the environment we were going to be in for Sunday, and the ladies running the Salvation Army were so happy to hear us play we ended up playing music for a few hours each time, and it began a friendship over coffee and sweets each night we were there.
“We were so blessed to have you here,” Marta said, a local national in Iceland charged with maintaining the Salvation Army in Keflavik (previously the old air base finance building). “It was so nice to hear music again in this place.”
As Sunday got closer, we invited a few other Airmen to come along and fellowship. About 20 people were there in all. We had a great time playing and singing music from some of the more popular Contemporary Christian artists and many of the Icelanders sang along and danced. Afterward, we enjoyed some prepared food, coffee and swapped stories about God, family and home life.
“It was like being invited to a cookout only to have it turn into a family reunion,” Wilson said. “You discover relatives you never knew you had and think to yourself, “Ok, so this is how this works! It made my military service take on a whole new meaning. With my unit, I helped to support Iceland militarily and, with this newly-found small group of friends, spiritually.”
“In Iceland I met friends, family, and a home church I never knew I had. Also, so did they,” Wilson added.