Shelbyville woman signs up for a third hitch in the military, this time as a chaplain

ctruman@herald-leader.comMarch 14, 2014 

SHELBYVILLE — Angela White believes in the power of grace — and in the military.

White, 46, was sworn in Feb. 21 as the second female chaplain ever in the Kentucky National Guard.

The appointment requires her to work on a National Guardsman's schedule — one weekend a month, with one two-week residency a year. Her unit, the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion in Burlington, includes about 100 members.

"We are basically pastors for the guardsmen, ... but we operate in a pluralistic environment" that recognizes many creeds, White said, describing her new role.

A chaplain deals with counseling soldiers of all faiths and those who are agnostic or atheist, White said. She also preaches and conducts a church service.

White is by faith a Southern Baptist, although she studied at the Wesleyan Asbury Theological Seminary for her master of divinity degree. She was ordained in May 2013 by Dover Baptist Church in rural Shelby County, where she is the Sunday school director.

Originally from Montana, White joined the Air Force in 1986 and served until 1990. She worked as an active-duty aircraft mechanic. She got her bachelor's in nursing at Washington State University and joined the Army, where she worked as a nurse from 1995 to 2000.

She and her husband, Kentucky Air Guardsman Lt. Col. Jamie White, a pilot with the 123rd Airlift Wing in Louisville, have two children, Alex, 15, and Hannah, 13. They live in rural Shelby County near the Henry County line, where they raise cattle and have what Angela White calls "ornamental" horses.

Major Bill Draper, brigade chaplain for Kentucky's 63rd Theater Aviation — White's brigade — said military chaplains provide religious support and counseling, provide solace for wounded soldiers and sick members of a soldier's family, and help honor the dead.

White will use her previous military experience and her updated education "to build relationships quickly with soldiers," Draper said. "Chaplaincy is about trust. ... She has worked with young people in her community and church. It gives her a unique skill set."

White brings to the organization "the ability to relate to not only the private but to the colonel," he said.

White was in her 40s when she went to divinity school. It took her 31/2 years to finish. She said the experience "built up my strength in God."

Now, she enjoys preaching on subjects including Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, who was healed of leprosy by Elisha in the book of Kings. She also likes the story of Caleb, an older soldier whose story of fidelity and faith is told in the books of Numbers and Joshua.

She said her husband, who White called her biggest supporter, encouraged her to go into the National Guard chaplaincy and helped her find opportunities to hone her skills in preaching and teaching.

"I find God's work exciting, and I want to teach people that he is a loving God, a healing God, not a legalistic God," White said. "It's about grace."

No matter what mistakes a person makes — from crime to addiction — God wants them to turn over their lives to him and receive grace, she said. Believing in that kind of grace carries the possibility of living a better life, White said.

Initially, it was hard for her to imagine a life as a military chaplain because of the lack of role models, she said.

"When you grow up and every minister is a man and every missionary you see is a man, you don't think you can be," White said. "(But) I hold my faith very deeply that God has called me, and I can preach and can teach."

The National Guard has physical fitness standards, but they are scaled to age, and White said she has welcomed the opportunity to get into and stay in shape. People ask her whether she dreads drill weekends. White said she looks forward to them.

"I love to hang out with soldiers," she said. "We enjoy the same things, military life and challenge."

She hopes to be able to stay in her new job for 10 years. If her unit is deployed, she hopes to go along: "I didn't join the military not to go."

"I love the military," White said. "God called me to that. He gave me a call for the physical challenge and discipline."

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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