CMSgt takes a leap of faith

In Dec. 2019, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jackie Harris, 693rd Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group superintendent, retired after 27 years of service.

The close of this chapter provides Harris the opportunity to focus on a different type of service.

Harris, with his wife, Senetra, will continue serving as pastors for Kaiserslautern-City Mission, an extension of the Ramstein Air Base Chaplain and Religious Services.

There is rarely a better opportunity than a holiday communion to showcase the true impact that the church’s volunteers have on the surrounding community.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jackie Harris, 693rd Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group superintendent, locks hands and prays with a member of the church at Kaiserslautern – City Mission, Dec. 7, 2019. On Jan. 1, Harris officially retired from the U.S. Air Force after 27 years of service.

Earlier this month, a holiday service led by Harris was held at the church located in the center of “K-Town.” Dozens of German families showed up for the night’s festivities. Pastors, volunteers (almost all U.S. service members) and German families participated in prayer and shared laughs. They ate together, drank together and sang together.

Towards the service’s conclusion, German families received gift baskets containing non-perishables and holiday related items while the German children received their own individual presents. The faces of each child lit up as they received their gift.

In total, the church handed out 1500 dollars worth of children’s presents during the Dec. 7 holiday service.

“It’s important to keep in mind we do things like this for the community on a regular basis,” said Harris. “This isn’t a one-off type of event.”

Local families wait to receive a gift-basket full of non-perishables and holiday related items following the conclusion of the holiday service at Kaiserslautern – City Mission church in Kaiserslautern, Dec. 7, 2019. Almost every volunteer who helped put the event together was a Kaiserslautern Military Community U.S. service member.

Every Saturday, the church distributes donated bread and pastries to the community. Danny Triscas, Kaiserslautern-City Mission associate pastor, stated last year alone, 37,000 dollars worth of bread and pastries were distributed to the community.

Six times per year, Kaiserslautern-City Mission passes out donated clothing to German families in the community. A vast majority of the donated clothing comes from military members on Ramstein.

“You know, maybe these families are PCSing from Ramstein or maybe they work out a lot so they grow out of their clothes, but either way, a lot of what we receive for our clothing distribution are from military families and we are really appreciative for that,” said Triscas, pastor and close friend of Harris. “We receive great brand name clothing 100 percent for free and give it back to the community for free.”

Running a food bank is another way the church and its volunteers stay actively engaged with the community. In one food drive held for the Kaiserslautern-City Mission church last year, 4,000 pounds of food were collectively raised after two flights on Ramstein competed to see who could raise the most food.

Danny Triscas, Kaiserslautern-City Mission associate pastor, speaks from the heart during prayer towards the end of the holiday service on Dec. 7, 2019. Triscas is a close friend of recently retired Chief Master Sgt. Jackie Harris, 693rd Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group superintendent.

Triscas said there are a lot of families in need, and through the food bank they are able to assist those in the most dire of situations.

With bread and pastry distribution, clothing distribution and food banks, is this magnitude of relief warranted and necessary to help keep families heads above water? Does Kaiserslautern need this support?

“Absolutely, what we do here is necessary,” said Triscas. “Kaiserslautern has a 30 percent poverty rate. I can’t believe it, but that just means we have a calling and a reason to be right here, at this time, serving the community.”

As pastor of 14 years, Harris agrees with Triscas’ sentiment. However, the decision to remain in Germany following Harris’ military retirement didn’t come without sacrifices.

“I’m going to be honest, the decision to remain here in Germany was difficult,” said Harris. “We have our kids and our family back in the states. There’s something compelling though about being in a place you believe you were called to be in.”

In addition to the challenge of being far from family, there is some anxiety as the Harris family explore life without the military.

“There is some anxiety and trepidation on one end because all we’ve known for 27 years is the Air Force,” said Harris.

Harris’ retirement, however, lifts a weight off of his shoulders as he is now able to concentrate and put his time and effort into the ministry.

“Both the Air Force and the ministry are 24/7 kind of jobs,” said Harris. “My heart and priorities are with God and yet the Air Force brought me over here so I fulfilled those duties to the best of my ability. The fact that I can retire over here from the 693rd ISRG, a unit I love, is a blessing. I feel blessed in general to have served 27 years in the Air Force and to have the opportunity I do now to continue serving with the ministry.”

City Mission is a Ministry to the Military, with a rich history of serving the KMC for approximately 60 years. Using language borrowed from U.S. Air Force General Tod D. Wolters, former United States Air Forces in Europe and Africa commander, Harris states, “while City Mission is a Ministry to the Military church, with so many U.S. service members volunteering their time and giving back to the community, it is clear that a major part of the organization’s success can only happen, By, With, and Through the Military.”