Breaking Barriers For God and Country
by Gary Sheftick, Defense Media Activity - Army
July 1, 2019
As the only woman to serve as an Army Special Forces chaplain,
Capt. Delana Small said the key to success was just being herself.
U.S. Army Special Forces Chaplain Capt. Delana Small in an OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter shortly before the active component divested the airframe in 2017. (U.S. Army photo courtesy
of Capt. Delana Small)
"I never tried to act like a guy," she said, explaining that
Soldiers look for authenticity. "So I never tried to be anything
other than myself."
Between May 2015 and December 2017, she
deployed with the 5th Special Forces Group to Turkey and Jordan.
The operations tempo was high and she admits that she worked
hard to stay in shape like the green berets and keep competent in
basic soldiering skills in order to maintain credibility, but said
the operators always accepted her.
Earlier in 2019, she was
inducted into the Army Women's Foundation Hall of Fame for being the
first female chaplain to serve in a combat-arms battalion at the
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
That historic first
occurred in June 2012, when she reported to the 4th Brigade Combat
Team of the 101st at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as chaplain for the
4th Battalion, 320th Field Artillery.
The Women in Service
Review had recommended an exception to policy to allow certain
battalion staff positions to be filled by women in what had been
all-male combat-arms units. These were positions such as battalion
S-1 personnel officers, S-2 intelligence officers, S-4 logistics
officers and others, including chaplains.
Small just happened
to be the first chaplain to report for duty, she said, adding that
about 10 other women soon followed in combat units across the Army.
The biggest challenges did not come from Soldiers on the gun
line, she said, but from a few staff members. At that time, the
division's female personnel were "shuffled" as women were integrated
into combat-arms battalions, she said.
"It was an
interesting dynamic to navigate," she said. A handful of staff
officers who had been working hard for years with little recognition
were not all that happy with the attention and publicity the women
"I don't want to use the word sexist -- that's
too strong -- but they definitely had their opinions," she said of
those few officers. "But I would say that number was very small
compared to the population, and over time through deployments … I
think we were able to come to understandings."
from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield,
Missouri. About six months later she was called by the chief of
chaplains and told she would be reporting to the 101st Airborne
It didn't faze her at first, she said, because she
didn't quite realize the significance.
"I probably couldn't
articulate what a combat-arms unit was at that time, versus a
support unit or anything else," she said. In addition, she was
accustomed to serving mostly with men, she said, as the seminary had
been primarily male.
spring, she went with the battalion to the Joint Readiness Training
Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and then deployed with them and the
brigade to Afghanistan.
The 4th BCT took over Regional
Command East in Khost and Paktika provinces. She visited nine
different sites to serve Soldiers.
"I was there to be a
chaplain," she said. "Knowing how to counsel and do those things
well would enhance my credibility."
On Combat Outpost
Wilderness, a mortar hit the fire direction center, killing three
Soldiers and injuring others, taking out their ability to operate
for a short period. When she arrived at the COP, she counseled
Soldiers for 20 hours straight without rest.
"It was hard,
and I was exhausted, and emotionally drained. But that was why I was
there… that's why I became a chaplain… to be there when people are
in crisis; be that support to people who have given so much."
Sometimes the most challenging situations are also the most
rewarding, she said.
Following her tour with the 4-320th
Field Artillery, she served with the Combat Aviation Brigade on Fort
Campbell. Then she attended Airborne School.
With airborne training under her belt, she was assigned to the
5th Special Forces Group. "That's actually the assignment that was
most surprising to me," she said, "because I was the first female
chaplain integrated into a Special Forces unit."
toughest part, I think, for anyone in those units is just the
OPTEMPO," she said. "You go forward, you come home, you go back...
I'd fly back from another country, try to catch up on sleep, do my
chapel service on Sunday and be back to work on Monday. Do that for
four months straight and then deploy again."
She often met
with coalition troops from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other
countries who practiced Islam.
At one point, the Turkish
translator shared that the Turkish Soldiers did not know her
appropriate title, so jokingly called her the "pope." But the
translator told her the Turkish troops appreciated her services,
because she didn't treat them any differently than Americans.
"We take their care very seriously," she said of the coalition
She was able to advise a Turkish commander on ethics
and morale issues, she said. Over chai -- a cup of tea -- he was
able to share situations with her as an outside source, she said.
Over the course of her deployments, she helped with about 25
memorial services and focused on counseling survivors.
Sometimes the toughest jobs are the most fulfilling, she said, and
when Soldiers whom she counseled in crises came to her in happier
times -- such as preparing for their wedding -- that's when she knew
her work was effective. That's her measure of success.
attended the Chaplain Captain Career Course from January to June
2018. In July, she reported for duty at West Point, New York, as a
regimental chaplain for the U.S. Military Academy. She said in some
ways, the job is tougher than Special Forces.
busy here," she said. "It's kind of like basic training meets
About 5 percent of the
Army's 3,178 chaplains are currently women. That's 178 female
chaplains in the total Army, including 71 on active duty, 40 in the
Army National Guard and 67 in the Army Reserve.
female chaplains currently serve in combat arms units, or
Maneuver/Fires and Effects units. In the past five years, four Army
women have served as BCT or division chaplains, although none
currently are in those positions.
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