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Chapel community bids farewell to 'exceptional' leader

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael Grubbs will relinquish leadership of the 30th Space Wing Chaplain position to Chaplain (Maj.) Warren Watties at a "Changing of the Stole" ceremony Jan. 22 at Chapel 1 here.

The Changing of the Stole is a ceremony that symbolizes a changeover of leadership within the church. This is similar to the military tradition of passing a guidon to a new leader. The ceremony that will take place here is to show the change of leadership in Vandenberg's chapel community at wing level.

"I am really going to miss the hands-on level of ministry here; I would have really liked to have stayed," said Chaplain Grubbs. "The Air Force, however, has other plans for me and so that is what I am going to do, because that's what we do as military men and women; we follow orders."

Chaplain Grubbs has his mark here, going beyond his normal duties as chaplain in many different ways. Besides performing the general duties of weddings, baptisms, providing advice to leaders and counseling, he feels particularly partial to is his role in caring for Airmen returning from deployments. Along with agencies such as the Airman and Family Readiness Center and Life Skills, the chaplain designed a program for security forces Airmen returning from combat. The 30th SW commander, Col. David Buck, recommended that program for all Airmen returning from deployment, not just security forces.

"We meet with the Airmen the first week they return, 30 days after the initial counseling and then once more 45 days after, to help make the reintegration and adjustments back to home life better for them and their families," Chaplain Grubbs said.

"Among other things, Chaplain Grubbs is probably the most deployed chaplain in the Air Force," said Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Robertson, a chaplain from the 30th SW. "He has had three tours with special forces units and nine deployments. He really knows what it is like to care for the war fighters' soul and knows how to be an expeditionary chaplain. Chaplain Grubbs takes his deployment experience and combines it with his family experiences and in turn conducts marriage seminars."

Meeting with the redeploying Airmen did not happen before Chaplain Grubbs arrived at Vandenberg, but the chaplain has many other notable achievements during his time here, one of which was his support of his chapel staff members.

"Chaplain Grubbs is a good chaplain and not just because he does a lot of work, but because he empowers his staff to do good work," said Chaplain Robertson. "He spends time equipping his people. Just like he has received exceptional expert training, he encourages and sends his chaplains and chaplain assistants to receive the same types of training. He provides his staff with door-opening, career-developing opportunities."

Chaplain Robertson imagines Chaplain Grubbs' reasoning would be reflected by Chaplain Grubbs' signature line of "If you're going to chop wood, you have to take the time to sharpen your ax."

"Training sharpens a person's ax, and if you do not train you will find yourself sitting there with a dull ax," Chaplain Robertson said.

Chaplain Grubbs is highly respected by the Vandenberg community as well as his staff members.

"Chaplain Grubbs is truly exceptional," Chaplain Robertson said. "His training philosophy is watch one, try one, teach one."

Chaplain Grubbs leads by example. He lets his staff watch him undertake a task, lets the other chaplains try to attempt the same task and then lets his chaplains teach the skills learned to the other chaplains at the chapel.

"The wing chaplain is also very good at getting resources for us," Chaplain Robertson said. "He has found the resources enabling us to keep the GI Java up and running, and he has made it possible for us to have a new sound system and kitchen here."

As Chaplain Watties assumes leadership at the Changing of the Stole, Chaplain Grubbs will be preparing to become the deputy command chaplain at Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.