BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - It was nothing special, just a coffee pot and sink in a nondescript break room tucked away in the Craig Joint Theater Hospital just down the hall from the hospital chaplain’s office.
In little more than two months however, it has been transformed into “Holy Joe’s” café, an inviting, cozy spot where members of the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group can take a break, have a cup of "joe" and maybe use a phone to call home.
The renovation was the brainchild of Tech. Sgt. Sheldon Milligan, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing chaplain assistant. Assigned to the night shift at the hospital, Milligan saw the boring, underused space as a potential project.
“It was more of an ‘in and out’ kind of thing,” Milligan recalled of the original room, which he described as little more than a storeroom. “We realized what an important place it could be for people in the hospital,” Milligan said. “Everywhere else [in the hospital] is really fast-paced … people need that space to just ‘get away.’”
Chaplains and their assistants each receive monthly stipends from the U.S. Air Force Chaplain Corps to use toward building morale in the units they serve. Milligan and Chaplain (Capt.) Brent Mulder, agreed that improving the break room would be the morale booster for their deployment.
“We stock everything in that room,” Milligan said. “The initial thought was ‘we’re going to make this place look better.’”
With their pooled stipends, Milligan and Mulder purchased new lighting, stools and decorations for the new coffee shop. However, Milligan stressed that the project would not be the rousing success it is without the help of the 455th Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron facility manager, Staff Sgt. Logan Kendrick.
“Sgt. Milligan came to me asking what we could do ... as far as upgrades, and it just grew from there,” Kendrick said.
Kendrick brought a unique talent to the table, as his father was in the cabinetry business. Having learned the family trade, Kendrick built almost all of new furnishings from scratch, including the countertops and storage cabinets for coffee. The cabinetry was the most complex part of the project, requiring 60 hours of work all told.
“With Sgt. Kendrick’s skills, he [was] able to build whatever we asked him to build,” Milligan said. “Without him, it would not have been done.”
Now fully completed, there has been nothing but positive comments from the hospital staff.
“This is the first place I stop for coffee in the morning,” said U.S. Army Col. Daniel Chapa, Task Force Medical-East deputy commander.
“These guys are so creative … using what was essentially scrap wood to make this,” Chapa said, marveling at the hand-built cabinets and counters and joking that having a Holy Joe’s has “boosted morale above the daily ‘grind!’”
Mulder said he considers the finished project a home run.
“It’s so far beyond what I imagined what would happen.”