"Some of you call him God, some of you call Him Lord, others refer to Him as Universe; I like to call Him Source, and I believe Him to be my most valuable Life Companion and Friend."
Staff Sgt. Altermese L. Kendrick opened with these words as she led Team Army in its service award ceremony during the 2017 DoD Warrior Games in Chicago.
As the Chaplain Corps gets ready to celebrate its anniversary on July 29th, Kendrick is reminded of her road to becoming a Chaplain's assistant. It's a position that was not on Kendrick's career radar, but being in the Army was her destiny.
"My veins bleed Army Gold -- I knew that I would join the Army when I was in the fourth grade. There was never anything else -- I was going to be a Soldier. I joined as soon as I could in my senior year," Kendrick said.
After enlisting in 1991, Kendrick became a laboratory technician. She served in the Washington D.C. area at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. She became heavily embedded in the community, often serving as a liaison between high schools and the AFIP. Kendrick helped provide opportunities for students to spend the day with Soldiers, Airmen, and doctors so they could learn about the medical research community and the miracles that are possible with medicine.
"I coordinated numerous Black History Month programs, fun-runs, walks and shelter volunteer days, you name it -- if there were people in the city that could benefit -- I was arranging for our Soldiers to show up." While Kendrick made the most of her time as a lab tech, she knew that it was not a permanent place for her. "I was completely out of place there. My heart was not in the lab. I enjoyed what I learned, but I was about building the strength of the Soldiers and the people and I couldn't shake it."
Always guided by a spiritual compass, life's twists and turns would almost shake her faith to the core.
"I had an awful non-commissioned officer who epitomized sexual assault. I lived in fear for quite a while as he would follow me home or show up to my home unannounced. This is where my dark place began and my life in the Army changed," Kendrick said. "He would use his rank and influence to make sure that we would be together for certain taskings and then he would be responsible for 'taking care of me' when we all parted. He would make me report to his office and corner me there. Something left my spirit every time I left his office."
As a result of the harassment and assault, Kendrick began to struggle with depression and became suicidal. She began to feel like she had failed at becoming the person she was meant to be.
"I never even thought of a plan B of coming out of the Army. But I couldn't stay after what happened, so I left and stayed gone until I became brave enough to try it again."
After taking a six year break to recover from what happened, Kendrick reenlisted in 2006, signing up to serve in the Army Reserve as a Human Resource Specialist. After reporting for duty on her first drill weekend, a chance encounter would change her life.
"I met the Battalion Chaplain. I wasn't aware that Chaplains served in the Army like regular Soldiers. We had a great weekend just talking and discussing scriptures, Army life and unit missions. He eventually asked me to be his assistant. He thought that I possessed a demeanor that could better serve the Army from within the Chaplain Corp," Kendrick said. "I gave up my $20,000 bonus that I had just signed up for to change my Military Occupation Specialty. It was a no brainer for me. Of Course, I would accept his offer. I can help people while I serve and I would definitely be in the right place this time."
In 2008, the Mississippi native became a Chaplain's Assistant and now serves as the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge at the Chaplain Family Life Training Center at Fort Hood, Texas.
"I am surrounded by Chaplains by day and engulfed in developing community programs in the evenings, specifically women and youth. There is still so much to be done and so many different areas, arenas, and venues in which to get it done; and I'm here to do just that."
At the forefront of Kendrick's work is her Soldiers and her determination to help and guide them through life's peaks and valleys.
"When Soldiers approach me for guidance, I try to be an ear first and foremost. I have learned that listening is allowing -- it's the starting point of healing for the person that's speaking and sharing, and when asked, listening is how I can fully share their experiences and expressions with them. I want to stay ready to encourage, empower, uplift, strengthen, and guide with my words and my energy," Kendrick explained.
Through illness, divorce, military career setbacks and injuries the Soldier who once considered herself "hardcore" found herself riddled with fear and often living below average. The trials and tribulations Kendrick overcame have helped build her up and taken her to new heights.
"I am a survivor of sexual assault and I use the growth that I experience, as I journeyed through that dark place, to help others to keep their faith and find the power to stay strong as they grow and go forward. My journey here was necessary for my time now."