A teacher of more than faith
March 25, 2014
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - As we embrace this month-long celebration recognizing outstanding women service members, it can be difficult to single out just one among the multitude of inspirational individuals in uniform. These exceptional people have paved the way for future generations, motivated others to follow in their footsteps and continue to lead our military and our nation into a brighter future.
Capt. Heather Borshof, the battalion chaplain of the 330th Joint Movement Control Battalion, 1st Sustainment Command (Theater), utilizes her rabbinical expertise and talents as an empathetic listener to help others build meaningful relationships.
From a young age, Borshof's faith and studies in Judaism have been integral in shaping her not only as a person, but also as someone others can depend on.
"I was very fortunate growing up in New Jersey," said Borshof. "I had a religious school upbringing and I also grew up with a lot of Jewish people around me, so it wasn't something that was foreign to my friends; not even my non-Jewish friends."
"I got more involved with my faith when I was in high school," added Borshof. "I was involved with youth groups and also helped lead services when the clergy were away."
Even Borshof's lifelong mentor and teacher, Rabbi Don Weber, rabbi of the Temple Rodeph Torah, Marlboro, N.J., saw something special in her.
"She was the first student of her high school to ask to join the adult educations program at our temple," said Weber. "At the same time she was studying with her peers, she was also studying with people 30 to 40 years older than herself."
"She was so amazing to have in class," he added. "She would question everything. People would come up to me and say, 'Don't you get tired of all these questions?' I would say, 'No I don't, I wish everyone would ask me this many questions'."
It might have seemed, to those around her growing up, that Borshof was well on her way to becoming a rabbi from the start, yet the road to a true calling isn't always a straight line.
"When I went to college I studied Jewish studies and liberal arts, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do," said Borshof. "People would say to me when I was growing up, 'Oh you're going to be a rabbi.' When I got out of college, I just needed to take a step away from it to see whether or not this was something I wanted to do and not just what I'd been hearing my whole life."
"I took a job as a waitress and also worked as a concierge at a hotel, just something totally removed from studying to be a rabbi," added Borshof. "I decided after a couple of years that this was something that I did want to do, because it wasn't just a job, but a way of life."
Borshof's continued studies would lead to her ordination as a rabbi from the Hebrew Union College-Institute of Religion. Her decision to become a chaplain would come from her time in Israel.
"I saw how the military plays a huge role in Israel's culture," said Borshof. "It made me really appreciate what our military does for our country."
The decision to be a military chaplain afforded Borshof the opportunity to involve herself with people of different backgrounds and personalities.
"I feel really fortunate and I love what I do," said Borshof. "I have so many different parts to what I do and I get to meet so many different kinds of people. I'm really lucky that this is what I get to do with my life."
"One of the things I love about the military is that it's not your typical congregation where you mostly work with people of your same faith," added Borshof. "I get to work with everyone. I believe very strongly in not pushing ones faith or any faith onto somebody. When people come to me and ask questions, I will try to answer them or give them something from my perspective. I might say, "Hey, this is how I see things and you don't necessarily have to see things this way."
Borshof is currently deployed in Afghanistan with the 330th in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"I'm grateful for this deployment because it gives me an opportunity to identify with soldiers who have deployed already," said Borshof. "Most soldiers who have been in the service for a couple of years have deployed by now and this gives me a chance to connect with them and a better understanding of what they've gone through."
"A friend of mine, who has deployed multiple times, said something to me that I've remembered every day," Borshof added. "He said, before I left, 'Don't wish your deployment away. Take what you can from it, learn from it and enjoy each day as you can.' I've tried to do that with all my experiences here. Obviously there are more challenging times than others."
"In every place that we're in and with everything we do, I think that there are always challenges that come along the way," Borshof added. Yet, we can find the positives in it and we can take of it what we will and know that if we're having a hard time now, we can always look to the future."
Borshof's experiences thus far have given her a keen perspective that allows her to connect with those around her.
"She's a great communicator," said Gordon Vincent, the battalion executive officer of the 330th. "She does a very good job of connecting with our soldiers and a tremendous job as far as reaching out to all of them whether they're in need or not. She also has an understanding quality and never comes across as judgmental. She has a genuine care that really makes that connection."
Rabbi Borshorf's overall view of the chaplaincy and her personal mission to serve those under her charge, express a fervent desire to not only tend to spiritual needs, but to also strengthen personal morale.
"Most of the time, when soldiers come to the chaplain, it doesn't really have anything to do with religion or spirituality," said Borshof. "They're coming because they have an issue that's bothering them and need someone to talk to. They want somebody they can trust; someone who will keep their confidence and be as neutral and unbiased as possible."
"Often when people come to me, they're having issues with someone they're working with; someone either in their leadership, one of their peers or maybe one of their subordinates," added Borshof. "I try to help them see that we have lots of different choices and places where we can go and as we make these choices, we take a look at how we treat others."
Borshof frequently relies on her faith to guide her as she interacts with those around her each day.
"Judaism is a faith of morals and values that looks at how we are to treat other people," says Borlof. "It is very big on social action and making the world a better place. There's a concept called "tikkun olam," which means: repairing the world. I believe that we are all here for that job and to help and look out for others."
Borshof not only reaches her soldiers on a communicative level, but also makes it a point to be there in person for her troops as she travels to the various Forward Operating Bases here in country.
"I love traveling," said Borshof. It's really interesting to see the different FOBs and getting to meet all of the different soldiers."
"She's the most traveled staff officer we have in the battalion," said Vincent. "We have more than 15 mobile combat teams and she hits all of them. She doesn't like to just come in and breeze out. She really likes to get in and spend some time with the Soldiers and get to know them and the dynamics of the organization."
Whether it's serving stateside or overseas in a harsh environment, Borshof displays an unwavering desire to counsel where she is needed most.
"When I first started as a student, I was approached about working as a chaplain in a cancer hospital," said Weber. "My gut thought was that I can't do that kind of work. The person who approached me said, 'Are you becoming a rabbi to serve where it's pretty or to serve where people need you?' I think of Heather all the time when I think of that; because where she's serving, from what I can tell, isn't very pretty. She's serving where people need her. I think it's very special, even within the ranks of rabbi."