By Staff Sgt. Jacob Cessna, 110th Wing
/ Published February 02, 2020
The 110th Wing’s Chapel Staff, (from left to right) Tech. Sgt. John Slocum, Chaplain (Maj.) Courtland Pitt, Chaplain (Capt.) Leslie Craymer, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Gregory Van Huekelom, Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Drew Brennen, Staff Sgt. Robert Orvis, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kurt Taylor, and Master Sgt. Christopher Kronenwetter. stands for a group photo after the 110th Wing’s annual Prayer Breakfast. The Prayer Breakfast has been an ongoing tradition for 21 years, started by Lt. Col. Gregory Van Huekelom. Van Huekelom acted as the speaker for this, his last Prayer Breakfast, at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Battle Creek, Mich., Feb. 02, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob Cessna)
BATTLE CREEK, MICH.– There is a lot to take in when you go to a Prayer Breakfast at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. The smells of coffee, eggs, and pancakes compete against the sounds of laughter and good conversation. Really, it’s the smiles that stick out. Whatever comes their way today, the men and women here ready themselves with community and faith. Having finished praying over the food, the chaplain busies himself greeting his brothers and sisters in arms with an air of unbridled positivity. Perhaps this should be surprising, considering how not only is this his last prayer breakfast, but he was also responsible for this 21-year-old tradition.
Lt Col. Gregory VanHuekelom has been at the 110th Wing since 1999, serving for a total of 33 years. Early in his time at the Battle Creek base, VanHuekelom aspired to bring an annual Prayer Breakfast into existence for the organization. Initially, VanHuekelom found it difficult to find assistance with this initiative. The Saturday night before that first prayer breakfast, he prepped enough food for the entire event, almost entirely by himself. But this first prayer breakfast was a success, with 90 people in attendance. Here the 110th members found a venue for fellowship, an expression of faith, and of course, a hearty breakfast. After 21 years of these breakfasts and dozens of respected speakers, VanHuekelom finds himself leading this morning’s service.
“In the past, we’ve had politicians do the speaking, World War II veterans, and we’ve had recipients of the Medal of Honor come to speak,” VanHuekelom says. “This year, the chapel staff asked if I would speak since I started it 21 years ago, so it’s really an honor.”
VanHuekelom, standing at the center of the room, begins his sermon. Service members listen attentively, their coffee going cold in their focus. VanHuekelom speaks on his experiences at the 110th Wing, the value of spiritual fitness, and the importance of chapel staff. He briefly delved into the history of military chaplain in World War 2 and the Vietnam War; men of faith who risked their lives to give service members peace of mind and, at times, made the ultimate sacrifice themselves. After finishing with prayer, the congregation joins together in song.
The final verse of God Bless America commences VanHuekelom’s last prayer breakfast, though he has no doubt the yearly tradition will continue long past him.
“Most years we’ve had from 60 to 100 people show up,” he says, smiling. “I believe it has become part of what goes on at the 110th, like part of the strategic plan. When I’m gone the Chapel Staff will still be putting the event together. So once a year we have an opportunity for learning, for fellowship, and for food. It's good nourishment, physically and spiritually.”