A brief history
of the Albuquerque Corps…
When reflecting on the humble beginnings of ARCCC, the verse that depicts this history the most is 2 Corinthians 4:8,9. It says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in
despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” There is a side of agony and
a side of triumph that you will read in the accounts that are shared but our hope and peace is Jesus Christ! He is our All in All.
It all began with the experiences of those that responded to Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster
response in 2005. A cluster of Billy Graham Rapid Response chaplains from Calvary Chapel (at the time) volunteered and when they returned to Albuquerque, they wanted to make a difference in their community. Les Palmer initiated the response after becoming a chaplain through the International
Fellowship of Chaplains (IFOC). He became a Board Member and an IFOC Master Trainer. During this
three-year period, he organized and held the first IFOC class in Albuquerque in 2008. He became an
Assistant Pastor at Calvary Chapel Albuquerque and while holding that leadership gained the full support
of providing training to other Assistant Pastors to become volunteer chaplains.
At that time, Albuquerque was the first and only Corps in the nation. Chaplain Les had a vision of
organizing all the chaplains in the Southwest into his Corps; hence the name Albuquerque Regional
Community Chaplain Corps (ARCCC). The ARCCC became a corps in December 2009.
Back in those days, there were only a handful of IFOC classes around the nation so Chaplain Les started holding classes once or twice a year in Albuquerque. People came from all over the US. Many of the IFOC Corps leadership came out of those classes: 3 trainers including Gale Yandell-2010 (Executive Director of Training, Management Board Member), Kathy Thibodaux-2011 (Corps Commander, Trainer) and Jeo Oiesen-2011 (Corps Commander, Trainer and Regional Commander). They are still leaders in Corps today and they continue to raise up many more leaders.
Chaplain Les became a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) instructor and in 2011 trained over a hundred chaplains in 5 different CISM classes. The last CISM he trained was Grief Following Trauma in Taos in 2012. Then agony among the chaplains was felt. With great sorrow, an untimely loss of his life immediately transitioned from earth to heaven. Chaplain Les made mileage in God’s kingdom as he trained hundreds of Chaplains within a 4-year period (2008-2012). A month later from his last training, a memorial service was held in his honor on April 2012. Chaplain Les had pioneered ARCCC with increasing numbers and had a membership of nearly 150 Chaplains in 2012. Today, the number far exceeds 100 active in the Albuquerque area and at least that nationwide.
With agony, comes triumph. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed. Chaplain Les was a
man of action. As a precursor to our current Crisis Management Teams, Chaplain Les organized his
chaplains to respond to the Albuquerque Emcore shooting in 2010, Bastrop Fire in 2011, and the Gabby Gifford’s shooting in 2011. His death in 2012 was not the end. His life was a motivator for many. The IFOC headquarter’s leadership considered his model a means to create other corps throughout the state. David Vorce, President, instructed Chaplain Jeo Oiesen to start the Corps in Taos. Since Chaplain Les had already been implementing plans to bring on additional trainers to help him, the motion to get Chaplains Greg Griego and Jeo Oiesen was already in place. Both Griego and Oiesen had carried on what he had started. Chaplain Les had organized a trip for all three to attend the Train the Trainer Saginaw, MI, where IFOC was headquartered.
Chaplain Les left a vision and it took the rest of the body of Christ to bring command structure to ensure continuity. This is what the body of Christ is all about…bringing together spiritual gifts and talents and using them for His glory. As a result, the ARCCC began to maintain the Corps to develop a strong sound structure. This was a very difficult season as so many were still in the grieving process. We know grief is an important part of strength. Chaplain Keith Benavidez stepped up and volunteered to become the Corp’s Commander. Through his efforts, the action steps necessary for leadership involved his ability to compassionately shepherd the Corps. As the scripture stated, we were “perplexed but not in despair”. God gives eternal perspective to a side of agony that brings triumph. All worked together as they continued to encourage a rebuilding.
Another Assistant Pastor to Calvary was Chaplain/Trainer Greg Griego. He was a great asset as a pastoral leadership and served in many capacities as a volunteer chaplain. One of his outreach services was with the New Mexico National Guard and their detention center reintegration program. He also participated as part of a Debriefing team. Sorrow struck again our team of chaplains when in January 2013, news of Griego and his family’s untimely death went nationwide. This tragic event was the last part of the verse, “persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.“ God has called us to resiliency and although many of the chaplains as well as the church and the whole community were saddened to the core, Chaplain Griego and his family were well loved and inspired strength in all of us. The circle of chaplains displayed on the IFOC website is a picture of chaplains from Albuquerque, Tucson and Taos in prayer as they awaited the firetruck with compassion at the memorial service. Many attended the memorial service!
How does one rise again from this tragedy? Through prayer, love, and unity! The IFOC class in April 2013
was the largest ever held in Albuquerque with 82 students! God is on the move! The tremendous outpour of grace, love, and desire to minister in crisis increased. We live in a world of brokenness and as chaplains we get the opportunity to bring hope. Many of the graduates from this class are currently active in their roles as chaplains. The opportunity to offer a ministry of presence sustained an increase.
As the Corp moved forward, the Lord continued to anoint the efforts from tragedy to triumph. The “but
not” in 2 Corinthians 4:8,9 is testament that our salvation is the foundation to our stability. God can turn tragedy into triumph! In that same year, IFOC Appointed Chaplain Les Winnick developed, along with Commander Jeo Oiesen, a Command Structure and Leadership Manual. By Spring 2014, our chaplain leaders from Albuquerque, Taos and Tucson were able to attend the Leadership Training Class.
By November 2016, the IFOC had its first Leadership Conference in Hudson, FL for all the new Corps
Commanders. Our newest commander, David Pittman stepped up to be the ARCCC Corps Commander. David Pittman has been hard at work bringing unity to the Corp and making milestones in various aspects. Since that conference, ARCCC has continued to lead the national IFOC Corps in membership, CISM qualified crisis interventionists, and chaplains active in the community. Our active IFOC chaplains are on the move with various involvements such as hospice chaplaincy, many fire and police chaplaincies, Billy Graham Rapid Response chaplaincy, and Southern Baptist Disaster Response chaplaincy. Our chaplains have volunteered and responded to many hurricanes, fires, flooding, Sutherland Springs Baptist
Church shooting, Aztec School Shooting, Las Vegas Shooting, El Paso Shooting plus many high profile local tragedies.
ARCCC leads the country in New Mexico Volunteer Organization Active in Disasters (NMVOAD). These
Crisis Intervention Members anchors New Mexico’s IFOC Crisis Response Teams. They are extremely well trained, experienced and always expanding their knowledge base. They consistently have 40+ students in their IFOC classes and, in the last decade, have sent dozens of chaplains out all over the country to begin their chaplain ministries.
All glory and praise goes to our heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In Him we live and
move and have our being (Acts 17:28). God took the passions of one man, Chaplain Les to pioneer a corps and added another well-loved man Chaplain Greg with compassion and leadership. Both paved the way and will never be forgotten. We are all part of the body of Christ remembering our past and working together now and into the future for His glory! -- Chaplain Gavi Ola