HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Every year, thousands of new Airmen depart Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to begin the next phase of their careers.
Like BMT, technical school is structured to a specific schedule that eventually becomes routine.
Amidst the marching, reporting statements and hours spent in classrooms, new Airmen do not always process how their new careers affect their personal lives at technical school, especially when it comes to making friends.
For Airman 1st Class Femke Vargas, 49th Comptroller Squadron financial operations technician, it was not until arriving to her first duty assignment at Holloman that she began to feel her social fitness deteriorating.
Vargas arrived at Holloman in February 2017, determined to involve herself in the base and local community.
But, as soon as she was settled into her new dorm, her enthusiasm began to fade.
“I never realized how hard it would be to meet new people,” said Vargas. “I had so many friends back home, so I never considered myself to be an introvert until I came to Holloman. For months, I was holding myself captive. I did not want to go out of my way to meet anyone or go anywhere – I was even bringing my food back to my room.”
While Vargas struggled to make friends and adapt to her new lifestyle, an opportunity surfaced that would fill the void she was feeling.
Looking for a place to belong outside of work, Vargas began volunteering at the Refuel Café and Airman Ministry Center three months after arriving to Holloman.
Joe Brinegar, Refuel Café coordinator, and his wife, Ann Brinegar, Refuel Café volunteer, have been a part of the program since its conception in 2011.
The Refuel Café is a Chapel-run outreach program that facilitates a safe, alcohol-free environment for first-term Airmen in the dorms to volunteer, develop friendships and socialize.
After 48 years of marriage, including five tours in Vietnam, the Brinegar’s are passionate about their involvement with the Refuel Café and the morale it provides to Airmen.
“It truly is a ministry for us,” said Joe.
Vargas was welcomed with hospitality and open arms by the Brinegar’s, as well as other Airmen who knew how it felt to be away from family for the first time.
“As a new Airman, it can be overwhelming to arrive to your first duty assignment,” said Lt. Col. Travis Yelton, 49th Wing Chaplain. “But, the fear and anxiety they experience is more common than they realize. The Refuel Café brings Airmen from different backgrounds together, who are all experiencing a similar journey.”
Airmen, who do not affiliate with religion, may feel hesitant about volunteering with a Chapel-run program.
However, the Refuel Café is not a religious sanctuary.
“The beautiful thing about the Refuel is that you belong before you believe, as opposed to believing in something before you belong,” said Yelton.
One of the core values of the Chaplain Corps is to inspire readiness, not only spiritual readiness, but all pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness.
Social fitness and resiliency are not black and white, but are several shades of grey.
Whether it is playing a board game, updating social media with group pictures, conversing over a cup of coffee or playing the newest video game, the Refuel Café can facilitate a fun and safe environment for everyone.
“I have learned that embracing who I am inspires others to do the same,” said Vargas. “Everybody has something special that makes them unique and the Refuel Café has introduced me to so many genuine people.”
Through making handcrafted beverages at her new home away from home, Vargas found her stride, improving the morale of other Airmen and developing leadership skills.
“Being recognized by my fellow Airmen, of all ranks, brings me a lot of confidence,” said Vargas. “I’m grateful for the opportunities my career and the Refuel Café have given me. Refuel has made an impact on my personal life and I know I am making a difference.”
When Vargas is not working, volunteering or maintaining strong communication with her friends and family from back home, she enjoys hiking and exploring the local area with the friends she has met through the Refuel Café.
“Vargas is not just a volunteer, she is a leader,” said Yelton.
The Refuel Café is located in Dormitory 336 and is open to anyone with base access, Friday from 6-10 p.m., Saturday from 6-10 p.m. and Sunday from 5-9 p.m.