This year marks the 40th anniversary of women in military chaplaincy. The Navy Chaplain Corps, along with the Army and Air Force Chaplain Corps celebrated this historic milestone on March 4 with a ceremony, ribbon cutting and dedication of a year-long exhibit at the Women In Military Service for America Memorial entitled “A Courageous Journey of Faith and Service.”
(The ceremony and dedication was particularly fitting since it took place during Women’s History Month.)
The Navy was the first service in the Department of Defense to commission a female chaplain. Lt. j.g. Dianna Pohlman was commissioned July 2, 1973. The Air Force and Army followed suit later that same year.
Attending the 40th anniversary ceremony were generations of courageous and faithful individuals who answered the call to serve their God, our country, and the men and women who wear the cloth of our Nation. The celebration marked a milestone achievement for women serving in military chaplaincy over the last four decades. It also highlighted the great strides those women made for diversity in the Navy and our military.
Since Lt. j.g. Dianna Pohlman was commissioned on July 2, 1973, hundreds of women from diverse faith traditions have answered the call to serve as military chaplains.
While assigned to Naval Training Command in Orlando, Fla., Chaplain Pohlman was able to help shape the perception of women in the military and in ministry for a generation of Sailors who sought her advice and spiritual counsel.
As a true pioneer, she navigated the uncharted waters of gender diversity within the Navy and Navy Chaplain Corps. Her immeasurable contribution helped change the face of today’s Navy Chaplain Corps.
When asked how she felt about being recognized and honored as a pioneer for female chaplains she responded, “Every woman that goes into military chaplaincy is a pioneer in her own right to choose to enter into and serve within a predominantly male profession and organization.” She went on to say how she faced a lot of resistance and pressure to get out but she knew it was “essential to survive and fulfill my commitment for the women that would come after me.”
The expeditionary nature of the maritime mission places Navy chaplains, both women and men, on a broad range of platforms for ministry. From flight decks of aircraft carriers in the Arabian Gulf, to forward operating bases in Afghanistan, to the bridge of Coast Guard cutters in the Central Pacific, Navy chaplains remain on the frontlines, providing a ministry of presence to our warfighters.
Looking forward, the path forged by these pioneering women has endured and grown. The Naval service is deeply committed to enhancing diversity within its ranks. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Greenert emphasizes that diversity is an integral part of the Navy’s effectiveness across his three fundamental tenets: Warfighting First, Operate Forward and Be Ready.
The Navy Chaplain Corps embraces this. It’s essential that we value the diverse talents of all of our chaplains to meet the vast religious needs of our equally diverse people.
In an interview after the event, Rev. Pohlman Bell was particularly encouraged by “the evolving role and integration of women chaplains in the military,” and the overall sense of “camaraderie, recognition and sisterhood” that marked the commemorative event.
If you’re in the area, consider visiting the exhibit at the Women’s Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, featuring the impact of women in military chaplaincy over the past 40 years. The exhibit will be there for the next year.