In the spring of 2007, Chaplain (Capt.) LeyAnne Ward and Chaplain (Capt.) Alison Ward began their journey towards joining the U.S. Army -- and becoming the first sisters ever known to serve together as Army chaplains. After finishing their undergraduate degrees, both felt called to ministry yet neither was sure in what area they would serve.
"We were praying for God's leading to show us what He would have us do," Alison said. Then, one Sunday, while driving to church, they passed a hospital.
"The word 'chaplain' dropped in my spirit, a ministry vocation that I had never considered before," Alison said. "A few days later I mentioned it to our Mom, and the first words out of her mouth were, 'Oh, you mean the military chaplaincy?' I told her that God had not specified, but I'd be very excited to look into it."
The next week, while looking at the Chaplain section of the GoArmy website, both Alison and LeyAnne felt an instant connection while reading chaplain stories. They both knew then that God had called them to serve as Army chaplains -- and they have had parallel journeys ever since. They graduated from Chaplain Basic Officers Leadership Course (CH-BOLC) in August 2009, were commissioned as USAR Chaplains in June 2010, and transitioned to Active Duty in September 2012. Today, they both serve at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Chaplain (Capt.) Alison Ward Chaplain, 1-7 Air Defense Artillery Battalion Chaplain, shared her thoughts on her service as an Army Chaplain.
What is it like having a sister in the Army Chaplain Corps with you?
She is my built-in battle buddy! It is so refreshing to have someone walk on this journey with you, who really, truly knows what you are going through. As Chaplains, we hear and carry heavy burdens that our Soldiers and Family members leave with us. Since she is a chaplain, I have confidentiality with her and she with me. We are great sounding boards for each other. She encourages me to keep going, to stay close to the Lord, to be myself.
Sometimes, God calls siblings into the same field of ministry. I am so glad that He did with us! Look at Jesus' disciples. Out of the twelve, four of them comprised brother teams: Peter and Andrew, and James and John.
How have you and your sister encouraged each other as chaplains?
Iron sharpens iron. We build each other. It makes us even better as individual chaplains in our respective battalions because we share values and experiences with one another.
We are so grateful to God that we have each other through this process! It is so refreshing to know that whenever we have had a tough day, we can come home and share our experiences with one another without fear of misunderstanding or breaking confidentiality. We each understand exactly what the other is going through. Just being able to share is so freeing. It helps keep a lot of our stress at bay.
What are the unique stressors you face, and how do you maintain resiliency?
It is always difficult to walk with people through the valley of the shadow, regardless of what that shadow may be (i.e., divorce, sickness, death, etc.). What keeps us going and keeps us resilient is that while we are shepherds over our respective units, we are not the Good Shepherd. We can always take our concerns and cares to Him and let him comfort His sheep and us as His caretakers. That is so freeing. We do not have to carry these burdens, but we leave them with him. Reading the Bible recharges us, as does praying. There are times, however, when a comedy is required to relieve stress and we go to the movies. We also enjoy hanging out with friends, or going for the occasional drive.
What has been your biggest challenge as an Army Chaplain?
Becoming an Army chaplain was the hardest road. It takes a lot of perseverance and commitment because you are walking down three or more roads simultaneously: Ordination, graduate school, Army education, Chaplain Basic Officer's Leadership Course (CH-BOLC) and our civilian jobs. But, as the Bible says, "if you faint not," you will achieve the goal.
What would you say to other women considering the Army Chaplain Corps as a place to fulfill their call to ministry?
If you believe that God has called you to this ministry and you feel yourself being drawn to the military chaplaincy, there is no greater calling! God equips women in His service. We bring a great, yet different dynamic to the fight. Our nurturing presence can soothe and heal hearts, and our forthrightness can speak truth to power.
My sister and I look to Deborah of the Old Testament. In many ways, she was the first female chaplain! She was an advisor to a military leader (Barack), she deployed with them into battle, and she commemorated their victory. We, too, can have a viable ministry of presence in our units and to our commanders. If God has called you into this--and we would encourage you to spend much time discerning whether it is really Him speaking to you--then pursue it with all of your heart. God will be with you and bless your ministry. It will not be easy, but it will be rewarding.