Military Celebrates 40 Years of Female Chaplains


WASHINGTON -- The Navy, Army and Air Force Chiefs of Chaplains hosted a ceremony to mark the 40th Anniversary of women in military chaplaincy at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery March 4.

Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, Chief of Navy chaplains; Maj. Gen. Donald L. Rutherford, Army Chief of Chaplains; and Maj. Gen. Howard D. Stendahl, Air Force Chief of Chaplains, honored female pioneer chaplains from their respective services and identified the importance of their mentorship.   The Navy was the first service in the Department of Defense to commission a female chaplain, Lt. j.g. Dianna Pohlman, in July 1973. The Air Force and Army followed suit later that same year.

Rev. Dianna Pohlman Bell delivered an invocation and reflection to several hundred chaplains, past and present, in attendance asking, "Even as we serve those who are prepared to go to war, may we never shrink from praying for peace."   When asked how she felt about being recognized and honored as a pioneer for female chaplains, she responded, "Every woman that goes into military chaplaincy is a pioneer in her own right to choose to enter into and serve within a male-dominated profession and organization."  

She also commented on the overall sense of "camaraderie, recognition, and sisterhood" that marked the event.

The ceremony was followed by a ribbon-cutting and dedication of a year-long exhibit at the Women's Memorial entitled, "A Courageous Journey of Faith and Service," featuring the impact of women in military chaplaincy over the past 40 years.   Rear Adm. Margaret G. Kibben, deputy Chief of Navy Chaplains and 18th chaplain of the Marine Corps, performed the dedication and blessing at the exhibit's ribbon-cutting.   "In celebrating the gifts of our heritage, may we also share the stories of the sacrificial ministry all chaplains-counting women equally among them-have provided at sea, in the air, with boots on the ground, in hospitals, training centers, and at home," Kibben remarked.   Kibben was among the female chaplains recognized, as the first female promoted to rear admiral in the Chaplain Corps and the first female chaplain of the Marine Corps.

Reflecting on the large turnout, Kibben was particularly impressed with the "remarkable number of men and women who came back from retirement to celebrate the event with their fellow chaplains."   Every five years, the Navy Chaplain Corps has held some type of event for all active-duty chaplains to celebrate "who we are and from where we come," according to Kibben.

 This year, a concerted effort was made to include and transcend the generations of chaplains who have served over the past 40 years. "Their presence, today, gave testimony to the impact of the Chaplain Corps on them and on us, and reaffirms that the opportunity to serve doesn't go away when we take off the uniform," Kibben said.

Lt. Jessica K. Bell, a Navy chaplain currently assigned to U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command Support Group, travelled all the way from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to attend the celebration. She came to "explore the history and legacy of the Chaplain Corps," and left, "inspired and renewed" by the connections made with her fellow chaplains and mentors.   Cdr. Judy Malana, a Navy chaplain assigned to the Chief of Chaplains office, has spent the last 17 years in ministry to the sea services.   She headed up the Navy Chaplain Corps committee for the event which was a 10-month long, collaborative effort across the services.

"It was an event, which not only honored women in military chaplaincy, but also showed the significant progress the Navy has made to embrace diversity. It also nourished the soul of who we are as a chaplain corps, as we collectively honored and recognized those who navigated unchartered waters and continue to inspire us," Malana said.

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