Coming together from a distance

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Members of the chapel sing holiday songs to the line of cars on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 30, 2020. The chapel members and the commmunity volunteers come together to ensure the success of the holiday tree lighting. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman William Turnbull)
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Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 355th Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., adjusted the event to comply with current guidelines, ensuring risk to exposure was minimized as much as possible.

The Desert Dove Chapel set up a drive-thru meet and greet with Santa, complete with a live choir, sealed gift bags for children, free hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies.

Residents of the community lined up for the tree lighting drive-thru on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 30, 2020. The Desert Dove Chapel hosted the tree lighting to celebrate the holiday season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman William Turnbull)

“Santa was socially distanced, maintaining six feet and wearing a mask while cars lined up to get a picture with him,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Leonard, 355th Wing head chaplain. “All of the gifts and food were sealed and handed out with gloves to minimize the threat even further.”

The chapel set up different decorations to represent the many diverse religious backgrounds of the personnel on base, acknowledging the various traditions throughout the month of December.

“This is a way to celebrate the holiday season,” Leonard said. “There are several holidays that converge this time of year and this is a chance for us to come together as a community, even though we are separated by COVID-19.”

With the flexibility and dedication of the community volunteers and the chapel team, the event was successfully socially-distanced.

“Changing the tree lighting to a drive-thru took a little extra work on the front end, but in the end it goes to show that our chapel and the Air Force can truly adjust and adapt to almost anything,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Jon Lampley, 355th Wing chaplain. “I donít think there is a better image of resiliency than the ability to change at the last minute from a sit-down ceremony to a drive-thru.”

Holiday decorations set up by the chapel members sit on display for the residents driving through on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Nov. 30, 2020. The chapel members and the commmunity volunteers come together to ensure the success of the holiday tree lighting. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman William Turnbull)

The event hosted more than 100 cars showing up to the drive-thru to celebrate the festivities with other community members.

“I was very happy with the turnout and very pleased to see how many people were able to come out tonight,” Lampley said. “Seeing the kids come through and get presents from Santa and their picture taken resulted in a very successful outcome.”

The 355th Wing works closely with its community to build a long lasting relationship not only with its on-base residents but with the surrounding area. During the event all attendees followed the current guidelines which demonstrates the resilience of our community in a time of many restrictions. The importance of this event is that it may introduce a new normal for community events on base for the foreseeable future.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David Leonard, 355th Wing head Chaplain, starts the countdown for the tree lighting on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 30, 2020. The Desert Dove Chapel hosted the tree lighting to celebrate the holiday season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman William Turnbull)
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