KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Nov. 13, 2012) – Some people search
their entire life for signs telling them what to do. For Erika
Espeseth, it was a billboard for military chaplaincy that pointed
her in the direction she had been searching for.
Nov. 13, 2012 - Spc. Erika Espeseth, a Madison, Wis., native, is a chaplain's
assistant with the 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat
Team “Rakkasans,” 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and serves
her country by providing ministry support as a member of a religious
support team at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan.
Espeseth carries her patriotism pridefully while combining it with
her passion for God. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Abram
Pinnington, TF 3/101 PAO
She finally knew what she wanted in life: a life of ministry and
In January 2010, she would agree to enlist as a
chaplain's assistant half-way through her senior year of high
school, something she never thought possible.
considered military service," said Espeseth, now deployed to
Afghanistan as an Army specialist working as a chaplain's assistant
with the 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team "Rakkasans,"
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). "I always put [it] on a
pedestal. I always thought soldiers were amazing and I could never
do what they do. I always thought: I'm little, I'm a female and I'm
However, she found she could relate to her recruiter.
"My recruiter was a female and she was small like me," said
Espeseth. "I saw her and thought it wasn't that big of a stretch for
me to be able to do this."
Initially, the billboard attracted Espeseth to become a chaplain.
But once she began talking with her recruiter, she found that she
wasn't qualified to become one.
"I didn't have a masters in
divinity," said Espeseth. "You need a lot of different credentials
to become a chaplain."
Refusing to be denied her calling, she asked about exploring
other options within military ministry.
"My recruiter then
told me about this thing called chaplain's assistant," said Espeseth.
"We looked into it and I immediately fell in love with it."
While sporting a 3.95 GPA and an ACT of 31, Espeseth nearly aced her
military entrance exam with a score of 93. Her score caught the eyes
of the personnel at the military entry processing stations.
"They tried to convince me to go into intelligence," said Espeseth.
"I was told I could do something better. I told them, 'there is
nothing better than being able to help Soldiers in the way that I
can in ministry.'"
Long before these conversations with her
recruiter, Espeseth had a love for the military and those who served
During her junior year of high school she volunteered
for a program called Soldier's Angels, which pairs soldiers with a
caring civilian in order to help boost morale through communication.
"It was a great way to get to know Soldiers and help them out,"
said Espeseth. "I would be given a name of a Soldier, I would write
to them asking what they are in need of. Then I'd send them gum,
jerky, baby wipes and even homemade crocheted hats."
program enabled her to say thanks, and she didn't take that
"I wanted to do something for people who
did so much for me," said Espeseth. "I thought about the people who
needed me. I felt Soldiers do so much for our nation, they defend
us, I didn't want them to feel forgotten."
carries her patriotism pridefully while combining it with her
passion for God.
"I believe there are two types of people who
have given their life for me,” said Espeseth."That is Jesus Christ
and the American soldier."
Standing amongst those soldiers
she admired and helped for so long, she is not only standing with
them but she is standing out.
Recently, Espeseth earned high
praise and honors by becoming the top chaplain's assistant of more
than 75 other Soldiers within Regional Command –East, Afghanistan.
Her command has also recommended she go before the promotion board
to become a sergeant soon.
It isn't just her professional
appearance, military tact and mannerisms that makes her
distinguished. Espeseth carries a large amount of enthusiasm and
energy with her around the battle space and Soldiers gravitate to
her and the chaplain because of it.
"Soldiers really need the
morale boost," said Espeseth. "They look forward to seeing us and
get excited when the chaplain and I come around. Their faces really
Being a part of a battalion that has soldiers with
more than 50 military occupational specialties, for Espeseth there
is no shortage of soldiers to see, places to go or things to
"I love battalion work, it is the best," said
Espeseth. "I get to do battlefield circulations and go out to see
the Soldiers and provide them with ministry, assistance or just a
good laugh. Wherever they are in the 3rd STB we get to be on the
ground with the Soldiers. I truly love it."
In addition to
providing ministry support as a member of a religious support team,
Espeseth is working on a special project that she is anxious to see
On June 1, 2012, Forward Operating Base Salerno
was attacked by a vehicle borne improvised explosive device. During
the attack, the chapel was damaged on its eastern side. All the
stained plexiglass was completely blown out and since replaced with
Since her brigade's arrival at FOB Salerno, the
ministry teams have decided to repair all of the chapel's eastern
windows with new stained plexiglass.
"We decided we wanted to
make the chapel beautiful for people to worship in," said Espeseth.
Espeseth was appointed the duty of designing three different
sketches of stained glass for the head chaplain to choose from. Her
duty doesn't stop there, however.
"I did art metal and glass
in high school, so I will get to actually make the stained
plexiglass windows for the chapel," said Espeseth. "I'm well versed
in it. I get to use the skills I got in high school in an art class
that most people would think is just fun and you never get to use
Even though Espeseth is giving the Army and its
Soldiers everything she can, she plans on pursuing her next
challenge once she returns from Afghanistan in the spring.
"I'll leave the Army 90 days after we get back to Fort Campbell,
Ky.," said Espeseth. "I'm planning on going to college and getting a
degree in American sign language and then my masters in divinity. I
want to become a chaplain."
Although she's leaving the Army
in the near future, don't count her out.
"I really love the
military," said Espeseth. "I love our service members and what they
do for our country. I love the Army and I'll definitely try to come
Indeed she is keeping the Army in her thoughts and
plans, but states the need for chaplaincy everywhere.
"Chaplaincy is in hospitals and so many other things," said Espeseth.
"The experience I've gotten; to know what a chaplain does, to see
how much of an effect it has on a group of people, has really helped
me solidify what I want to do. Being a chaplain is something that
will enable me to really have an impact on a lot of people in so
many different ways."
While looking ahead to her future she
is grateful for her present.
"I've learned so much compassion
in the Army," said Espeseth. "I've gotten to know so many different
people from many different places in the world while having the best
experiences. I would definitely recommend military service to
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Abram Pinnington
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