FORT DRUM, N.Y – In 1775, the Continental Congress authorized regiments in the Continental Army to have chaplains. These chaplains served alongside Soldiers and provided them religious support to help improve and build spiritual readiness within formations.
Two hundred four years later, the Army commissioned its first female chaplain; today, only 5.8% of the chaplain corps are women.
Chaplain (Maj.) Tanya Bindernagel, assigned to the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, is among that 5.8%.
“I think I was a bit naïve when I first started my journey,” said Bindernagel. “When I got to seminary, I was excited to become an Army chaplain. During that time, my denomination had no women trying to become chaplains. They didn’t ordain women, and that was really the start of my challenging journey.”
The Cupertino, California native added that there were many times when she wanted to quit, but something always pulled her back.
“As part of the chaplain candidate program, I had to obtain a certain amount of hours shadowing a chaplain, and I had the opportunity to go to Fort Bragg and Fort McCoy,” said Bindernagel. “Every time I came back from shadowing, I become motivated and enthusiastic about becoming this person who Soldiers could come to, so I definitely think that program helped reignite my passion to become a chaplain.”
Finally, in 2008, after four years of training and school, Bindernagel officially became an active-duty chaplain.
“It hasn’t been easy. I often felt like I had to fight for a seat at the table just because I was a female,” she said. “But throughout the years, I had leaders that encouraged me, supported me, and saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
One of those leaders is Chaplain (Lt. Col) Jennifer Cooper, currently serving as the senior account manager for the chaplain corps.
“I first met [Bindernagel] when we were both stationed in Germany, and although I was excited to meet her, I wasn’t able to really get to know her,” said Cooper. “It wasn’t until I became the assistant manager for the department of the Army Chaplains when I really got to know her, and she is one of those people that can shine a light into some really dark places, and a lot of people need that in their life.”
Cooper said she is thankful to have teammates like Bindernagel in the corps.
“It can be difficult for women in our corps because you can feel very isolated when you don’t have other women surrounding you in your career field,” she added. “So having people like [Bindernagel] who is resilient and faces challenges with a sense, dignity and joy is truly amazing.”
With females still being the minority in the chaplain corps, Cooper added that Bindernagel is a great role model for those young females just starting their journey.
“I truly believe [Bindernagel] can be a great mentor and coach for some of our junior women here on Fort Drum,” she said. “I am excited about her future opportunities in the ministry and throughout the Army. I think that she is positioned to be one of the greats in our corps.”
Bindernagel who became the brigade chaplain for the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade in January of 2022 said she is excited to serve and help the Soldiers of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division.