USA, June 12, 2011 (First Post): She spent two years earning a Masters in Theology and training in a Protestant seminary, when a phone call from the US Army in 2006 caught her by surprise.
"I was all geared towards hospital chaplaincy when I got a call, asking, 'Would you be interested in joining the Army?' I said, 'What, no!' It blew me away. I could only think to ask, 'How'd you get my number?' They said 'Oh, we got your number as the Army goes into seminaries to look for chaplains. I was surprised, even a little concerned. Gosh, am I committed because the Army called? I was a US citizen by then. So, did I have to say yes? It took me six months to decide."
Excerpts from the interview:
Question: Is it difficult to deal with soldiers, who are under stress and facing death?
Answer: It is difficult. It is also a great honor. The beauty of the job is that it gives me the privilege to be next to somebody I consider a hero. It is almost like I am chosen to be there for that sacred moment.
There is a great bonding that occurs especially in a deployed environment so it becomes an honor to be a part of a soldier's life. It is a big deal for me that my soldiers trust me with their most profound secrets because as a chaplain you are privy to a lot of information.
In Iraq, soldiers would come into my tent and say, 'Chaplain, I need to talk to you' and start telling me things that are perhaps not spoken to anyone. If it is their last day on earth, you say a prayer, you comfort them. You are their mom, sister, friend for that moment. It is a faith moment.
Question: What about your family?
Answer: I left a five-month-old daughter at home with my husband and went to Iraq. There were other women who did the same. There were men who did the same thing or hadn't seen the faces of their babies. I think we were able to comfort each other because we were all in the same boat. The army gave me four months to get ready to go to Iraq after my second daughter was born. My husband, a great guy, took charge of our family. My mom was there to help. My mother-in-law pitched in too.
I have to thank my mom for raising me with a lot of faith. She is a simple person, not highly educated, but really wise. She is just so squared away. She is the avatar of a good mom and wife. My sisters are also happily married and have careers. I had good examples in my brother and father too.
Question: Since you are part-priest, part-spiritual advisor, did the Chinmaya Mission have any hesitation endorsing a female candidate?
Answer: They were wonderfully supportive. I believe women are just as empowered as men. It's not that I am a great adherent of the women's lib movement. I just believe the role of women in the Vedas if you read them is equal. Women read the scriptures in the old days. I love the way they actually support that women are equally called by God to be the best they can be.