The delicious aroma of a home-cooked feast wafted through the hallway of the Samek Airmenâ€™s Center. An inviting spread of fresh rolls, succulent turkey and ham, warm mashed potatoes and an assortment of side dishes was laid out on a long table. It was a meal to rival Thanksgiving Dinner â€“ but it was just the first Thursday of the month.
On the same night every month between 5-7 p.m., the center has hosted a meal sponsored by the base chapel. The meal offers food, spiritual fellowship and social connection in the centerâ€™s relaxed environment.
Opportunities for relaxation and camaraderie such as the dinner are the reason for the Airmenâ€™s Centerâ€™s existence. The center, maintained by the 99th Air Base Wing and located in the bottom floor of building 775 near Fitzgerald Boulevard, is what Capt. Glen Harris, Protestant chaplain, described as a â€œthird place.â€
â€œThe Airmenâ€™s Center provides that third place â€“ a place thatâ€™s neither work with all its pressures nor as isolated as home can be in the dorms,â€ Harris said. â€œItâ€™s a place to relax, unwind â€“ a place that makes dorm living more like an actual home.â€
The place makes for a well-equipped home. Spacious, padded couches and chairs outfit the centerâ€™s entertainment rooms, facing large screen televisions with game systems, and music and video players. For less wired pursuits, there is also a full kitchen, a game room complete with a felt topped gaming table, a library and a music room.
Besides the dinner, many scheduled events are hosted from the center, including paintball games, outings to University of Las Vegas basketball games, canoeing and fishing trips, or excursions to the Grand Canyon or other destinations. It is a place for impromptu trips as well, with Airmen meeting up here to make plans and head out for Vegas and the local area.
Groups of Airmen come in and out throughout the day and night â€“ the center is open all the time to accommodate shift or traditional schedules alike. Several organizations also work from the Airmenâ€™s Center, including the base Airmen Against Drunk Driving chapter, the Airmenâ€™s Council, and others.
In one of the rooms, several Airmen arranged to come together to watch a show on the big screen. Airman Hyuk Yoo, a Military Personnel Section customer service tech from the 99th Force Support Squadron, explained that they had set up a â€œSimpsonsâ€ marathon over the course of several nights.
â€œI like the fact we have a community here â€“ we get an opportunity to meet people from other squadrons who Iâ€™d never get to meet in other circumstances,â€ Yoo said. â€œWe are free to use whatever we want here â€“ we come here to get together.â€
Harris said the center offers a place to escape or hang out with others in a time where isolation is a serious and dangerous problem.
Here, Airmen can link up with real people with similar interests facing similar challenges, which can be a real struggle in a generation where wired â€œfriendsâ€ often offer plenty of diversion but not much actual friendship.
Harris says the Air Force has taken a broader, more balanced view of fitness than in the past: Comprehensive Airman Fitness is a concept which acknowledges that four pillars â€“ mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness â€“ are all required to hold up an Airman. For this, the Airmenâ€™s Center plays an important role in helping Airmen stay connected to people who look out for one another, what Harris called â€œspiritual and social first aid and buddy care.â€
â€œBy hosting events like the meal and the outings, it fosters those real connections that let Airmen have a healthy social and spiritual life,â€ Harris said. â€œItâ€™s truly important to their readiness to perform the mission and their personal well-being.â€