By Army Staff Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 14, 2009 - Chaplains have myriad reasons for serving their country, but recognition usually isn't 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 Army Chaplain (Capt.) Rebekah Montgomery, who will receive the Chaplain of the Year award from the Military Chaplains Association on July 17.
Montgomery, a Unitarian Universalist chaplain serving with both the Army National Guard Readiness Center here and Maryland's 58th Troop Command, said she has been a student of religion since high school.
"I was always drawn to how people negotiate their daily lives with the experience of the spiritual," said Montgomery, a Bethesda, Md., native. "I got so much stimulation out of understanding other faith traditions, and I still do."
After an 18-month tour in Afghanistan, Montgomery returned to Maryland and took on two jobs. One weekend a month, she is the brigade chaplain for the 58th Troop Command, a jobthat she said keeps her grounded in the "M-day" unit mentality. An M-day unit one in which troops serve one weekend a month and a two-week annual tour each year.
"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, she focuses on a broader mission at the readiness center, advising high-level officials on spiritual issues.
"My position at [the National Guard Bureau] 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 participated in a recent suicide prevention stand-down, offering her counseling services to soldiers.
"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."
Montgomery said she feels she has made a contribution, but finds it difficult to quantify the results. Morale and a decreasing number of infractions can be indicators, but it's tough to measure a chaplain's full impact.
"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."
With her award, Montgomery said she realizes her efforts have not gone unnoticed, and she always keeps in mind the reason she was nominated.
"Just having the opportunity to serve soldiers is the greatest mission on Earth."
(Army Staff Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum serves in the National Guard Bureau.)