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Queen of Buckley Chapel

Debbie Cruz, 460th Space Wing chapel secretary, and Col. Scott Romberger, 460th Space Wing vice commander, talk and laugh during th monthly fellowship luncheon Mar. 2, 2016, at the Buckley Chapel fellowship hall on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The monthly luncheon brings members of Team Buckley from every rank, branch and even civilians together for fellowship and food the first Wednesday of every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Debbie Cruz, 460th Space Wing chapel secretary, and Col. Scott Romberger, 460th Space Wing vice commander, talk and laugh during the monthly fellowship luncheon Mar. 2, 2016, at the Buckley Chapel fellowship hall on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The monthly luncheon brings members of Team Buckley from every rank, branch and even civilians together for fellowship and food the first Wednesday of every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Debbie Cruz, 460th Space Wing chapel secretary, places cake at the end of the buffet during the monthly fellowship luncheon Mar. 2, 2016, at the Buckley Chapel fellowship hall on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. Cruz took care of the details of the lunch from planning and grocery shopping a week ahead of time to making sure there was enough dessert during the lunch. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Debbie Cruz, 460th Space Wing chapel secretary, places cake at the end of the buffet during the monthly fellowship luncheon Mar. 2, 2016, at the Buckley Chapel fellowship hall on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. Cruz took care of the details of the lunch from planning and grocery shopping a week ahead of time to making sure there was enough dessert during the lunch. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Debbie Cruz, 460th Space Wing chapel secretary, replenishes the fried chicken for the fellowship luncheon Mar. 2, 2016, at the Buckley Chapel Fellowship Hall on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. Cruz is responsible for all of the preparations of the lunch and works while everyone else enjoyed the meal she organized. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Debbie Cruz, 460th Space Wing chapel secretary, replenishes the fried chicken for the fellowship luncheon Mar. 2, 2016, at the Buckley Chapel Fellowship Hall on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. Cruz is responsible for all of the preparations of the lunch and works while everyone else enjoyed the meal she organized. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Team Buckley members enjoy the fellowship lunch Mar. 2, 2016, at the Buckley Chapel Fellowship Hall on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The lunch averages around 400 people between the two available seatings at 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Team Buckley members enjoy the fellowship lunch Mar. 2, 2016, at the Buckley Chapel Fellowship Hall on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The lunch averages around 400 people between the two available seatings at 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The first Wednesday of the month at the Buckley Chapel, the tables are lined and the air is filled with the smell of fried chicken and potato salad. Friendly chatter can be heard throughout the fellowship hall. The relaxed atmosphere brings conversation and a chance to take a break from work.

The first Wednesday of every month the chapel hosts two seatings and provides the base with a home cooked meal and the opportunity to get to know other members of Team Buckley during the fellowship luncheon.

The preparations for the lunch take a lot of time, but the woman behind it all, Debbie Cruz, 460th Space Wing chapel secretary, never asks for anything in return.

"She's humble in the sense that it is not about her, it's all about other people," said Lt. Col. Robert D. Ward, 460th Space Wing chaplain. "Yet at the same time, there is one day a month where she shines and that is the first Wednesday of the month. She is beaming, loving it and working hard."

The focus for Cruz is to make sure everyone is always taken care of and providing them all with a good meal and even better company.

"We routinely have our leadership sitting side-by-side with young Airmen who have just arrived or even our janitorial staff," said Cruz. "Everybody sits down together, shoulder-to-shoulder, no formality. Good food, good fellowship and a good break from work. Hopefully it provides encouragement to go back to work and enjoy the rest of the afternoon. Just watching people do that, that's what it's all about."

Cruz was involved with the Buckley Chapel before the current building was even built. She had worked with many military organizations for approximately 15 years when she heard about a job as the chapel secretary.

"I started in December of 2000, my first week I attended the Sunday service just to see what I was supporting and what needed to be done," said Cruz. "Then about two weeks later my husband and I went back for another Sunday. We were raised in different denominations. When we married we didn't fit into each other's church, but like many other people we found a mutual home at the Buckley Chapel."

The chapel has been a part of the Cruz family for many years. Cruz works and socializes at the chapel; her life is centered around the church and the people who go there.

"This is home to her," said Ward. "She comes to services every Sunday, she sits in the Protestant congregation. So it's not just where she is Monday through Friday, but also where she is on Sunday. It's her family, faith family and work."

The monthly fellowship lunch at the chapel is Cruz's way of bringing her love for food and people together.

"I think she uses food as a way of hospitality, as a way of welcoming people," said Ward. "She loves doing the monthly fellowship luncheon, it feeds her soul. She loves looking out and seeing hundreds of people having a good lunch."

The lunch is not focused on the food, it is all about making sure people are taken care of. This chapel event is an opportunity for everyone to be a part of something bigger than themselves and to feel welcome.

"During the fellowship lunch, she's in her element; she is the queen of Buckley Chapel," said Ward. "The rest of the month she doesn't step into any spotlight."

The woman behind one of Buckley's most well-known, recurring events never asks for any recognition or anything in return for all her hard work.

The fellowship lunch started with less than 50 people in the summer of 2001 but Cruz stuck with the project, intertwining her passion with every meal. With determination and perseverance, she is now seating and feeding over 400 people.

"Being on a base that's growing, after being on bases that were locking doors and closing buildings, it's so exciting," said Cruz.

With a constantly growing base, the chaplains have a greater population to tend to. Cruz provides structure to everything going on with the chapel, but also involves herself with everything around base.

"There's so many fun things around base that I get to participate in and be a part of," said Cruz. "That's what makes it such a pleasure to be here. When someone walks into the chapel and I can help them in some way or get them to the correct chaplain who can help them, that's what matters. You can take care of someone."

Those who come into contact with Cruz will probably witness her caring personality and the love she holds for the base and the members of Team Buckley.

Cruz says she does not plan to leave Buckley anytime soon, even with retirement looming.

"She chooses to make a difference where she is at, she believes firmly that this is where God wants her to be," said Ward. "People around the wing have tried to get her to work in their offices. She's been offered positions, but she turns them down. She wants to stay where she's at."

From the start, Debbie Cruz has been the heart and soul of the Buckley Chapel. She does whatever is necessary to help those in need and never wants anything in return. Cruz has worked at the chapel for many years now and hopes to have made a difference.

Cruz says she believes that she just does what she is supposed to and chooses to stay in the back ground. She would rather focus on all that the chaplains do.

Debbie Cruz's hard work and longtime persistence of has made the monthly chapel luncheon a consistent event that many members of Team Buckley attend every month. The smell of a home cooked meal and the camaraderie that comes with the lunch have brought people back month after month. One thing is for sure, Cruz's hard work and dedication is the backbone of this event and will hopefully to be a longstanding event on Buckley AFB.
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