By Staff Sgt. S. Patrick McCollumJuly 14, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Chaplains have a myriad of reasons for serving their country, but recognition is usually not one of them.
"Chaplains are often in the position where we love to serve so much, it's always a surprise to be rewarded for it," said Capt. Rebekah Montgomery, who will receive the "Chaplain of the Year" award from the Military Chaplains' Association, July 17.
A Unitarian Universalist chaplain serving at both the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Va., and with Maryland's 58th Troop Command, Montgomery said she has been a student of religion since high school. She found that religion fascinated her. "I was always drawn to how people negotiate their daily lives with the experience of the spiritual," said Montgomery, who grew up in Bethesda, Md. "I got so much stimulation out of understanding other faith traditions and I still do."
After an 18-month tour in Afghanistan, Montgomery found herself back in Maryland with two jobs. One weekend a month, she is the brigade chaplain in the 58th TC, a job that she says keeps her grounded in the "M-Day" unit mentality.
"With my state, that's where the real nuts-and-bolts mission is," she said.
"I feel like I'm staying in touch and serving at the local level." During the week at the readiness center, she focuses on a broader mission, advising high-level officials on spiritual issues.
"My position at NGB is sort of an aide-de-camp for a general," she said. "You go places and see things you would never see in an M-Day unit." At the readiness center, Montgomery has also participated in the recent Suicide Prevention Stand-Down, making herself available to Soldiers who need counseling.
"Suicide has been an issue I have seen deployed, in the field, and on drill weekends," she said. "It's a fact of life, and is something chaplains are often involved in."
While Montgomery feels she has made a contribution, she said it is hard to trace. Morale and the number of infractions can be indicators, but one can't measure exactly something that didn't happen.
"We don't see the direct results, but we trust God is using us in a profound and positive way," she said. "You can't quantify how many divorces didn't happen. You can't quantify how many suicides didn't happen."
Her efforts have been noticed though, and Montgomery said she never forgets the reason she was nominated.
"Just having the opportunity to serve Soldiers is the greatest mission on earth."