One female Air Force chaplain’s advice to another: Know why you’re there

Military chaplains can offer military members complete confidentiality, says Park City resident and retired chaplain Meredith Reed. “Nothing is off-limits.”

Meredith Reed

Before she was a real estate agent, a mom and a school board candidate, Meredith Reed spent seven years as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. Originally from North Carolina, the Park City resident described the position as a meaningful opportunity to support service members and their families — particularly as a woman.

The Salt Lake Tribune spoke with Reed to get an understanding of some of the challenges and opportunities Jenna Carson, the first Latter-day Saint woman endorsed by her church to serve as an active-duty military chaplain, might face, as well as any advice Reed might have for her younger counterpart.

‘Just absolutely tickled pink’

At the time she began her chaplaincy in 2000, Reed said she was one of the few female chaplains in the Air Force, the same branch of the military Carson, who is currently completing her officer training, has joined.

“At least once a week I heard, ‘You’re the first female chaplain I’ve ever met,’” said Reed, adding that many had no idea women could even be chaplains.

However, disbelief and the occasional sexist comments aside, she said, “troops and families are just absolutely tickled pink that you’re there.”

Chaplains, she said, have a “unique role” that resides outside of any command structure. “You’re not in charge of anybody.”

Equally central to their role is the fact that, among military support staffers, they alone can offer service members complete confidentiality.

“Nothing is off-limits,” she said. “You can say whatever you want.”

Reed, a Baptist, stressed that few ever asked her about her personal faith background. Instead, her focus was on the religious beliefs of those she worked with, whatever they might have been.

Supporting other women

One benefit she saw to being a woman in that role was her ability to step in and support other women — in most instances the wives of military members — in ways where being a man might have been a barrier.

On one particularly “heartbreaking” occasion, she was called in to comfort a wife who had just given birth to a stillborn baby.

“I was someone who could sit with her,” she said, “and be present with her.”

Advice for Carson

(Courtesy of Jenna Carson) Jenna Carson, shown at Boston Harbor, became the first Latter-day Saint chaplain in the federal prison system. She also is now the faith's first active-duty female military chaplain.

By far the most difficult part of the job included working with other chaplains who, she said, “can get hung up on their ideas of how things should be.”

Generally speaking, she said, the chaplaincy is not “a very progressive organization.”

Her advice for Carson for overcoming these and other challenges: “Know why you’re there and really feel grounded in that. Knowing that will serve you well across the board.”