Guard Chaplain Says Serving Once a Month is Not Enough

CPT Rachel Zarnke with the Four Chaplins Medal
CPT Rachel Zarnke, Chaplain for the New Jersey Army National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 102nd Cavalry Regiment, displays The Four Chaplains Medal she was presented with in Jordan last June. The four chaplains – two Protestant ministers, a rabbi, and a Catholic priest – went down with the torpedoed USAT Dorchester during World War II, giving up their own life preservers so others might survive. (Photo by SFC Brian A. Barbour, Army National Guard.)

Captain (CPT) Rachel Zarnke loves serving as a Chaplain in the Army National Guard so much that coming to drill “one weekend a month is not enough.”

“I love being an Army Chaplain,” she says. “I love the mission. I just want to do it every day.”

The 33-year-old Soldier is joining the active duty Army this summer so she can serve full-time, but after eight years with the New Jersey Army National Guard, she leaves on many high notes.

One is being awarded with the Four Chaplains Medal in 2019, which is presented to one Army Chaplain a year for “collegial selfless behavior while rendering religious support to the military community regardless of faith or race.” For that, she thanks her first Unit – the 104th Brigade Engineer Battalion – because “they grew me and taught me what it meant to be a Chaplain.”

Another is a 9-month deployment to Jordan with the 102nd Calvary Regiment, where she learned it was OK to take this next step in her career. Her mission there was to support Soldiers of any faith or no faith at all and be their “morality, ethical, and spiritual touchstone,” she says.

“When deployed, you are absent normal touchstones,” she explains. “It can become disorienting very quickly. Having a Chaplain able to reorient people on their values, their goals, and what is real, and what is just sort of the fog of the deployment is important.”

As a Christian minister, CPT Zarnke represents her faith tradition, but to help Soldiers of different or no faith, she listens and asks Soldiers how their spiritual traditions or their value sets might instruct them to resolve a problem. During the deployment, if she felt a Soldier needed support beyond what she could provide, she referred them to other resources as necessary.

In Jordan to support Operation Spartan Shield last year, CPT Zarnke also led “spiritual resiliency trips” to places that carry religious, spiritual, cultural, or environmental significance.

“Being in a place where God has been is very important to me, so to be able to share that part of my faith with my Soldiers was incredible.”

CPT Zarnke, an Illinois native, was in seminary school at Princeton when she decided to join the military. Since she was a full-time student, the Guard was the perfect branch to join because service is part-time. CPT Zarnke also served as a minister in a Lutheran church in New Jersey for 3 1/2 years.

The military, she says, showed her there were infinite ways to serve.

“I don’t like to play the demographic game, but when you are a young female, trying to step up and lead in a church, no one wants to listen to you. Not intentionally, it’s just not a voice people are used to deferring to. The Army teaches you to stay in your lane – to know what you know and to lead. It was a life-changing experience.”

CPT Zarnke especially likes working with younger Soldiers who are still figuring out who they are.

“I think a Soldier’s heart is amazing. They are so selfless, and so honorable, and to be able to support them in their moments of need really means a lot to me.”

In her first domestic mission, CPT Zarnke lent her support during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, providing what she calls “ministry of presence –  just being there for your Soldiers,” whether it’s to thank them on behalf of the citizens of New Jersey for responding to the devastating storm, being a safe person to talk to or pray with, or to provide them with the Eucharist because many churches were closed.

At drill, her job is to get to know the 300 to 400 Soldiers in her Unit and provide worship services and Bible studies, but her most fulfilling mission is “whenever I’m called outside of drill and there’s a need I can meet.” That could mean meeting up with a Soldier in a hospital, a coffee shop, or a laundromat to lend her support.

When CPT Zarnke looks back on her early days in the Guard, she says she had no idea what she’d gotten herself into, but “the Army will teach you what it needs from you. I could never repay the Army for everything it’s given me. It is an incredible community.”

If you’re interested in joining a community of dedicated women and men who serve both their communities and their country, Guard service comes with benefits that go beyond personal fulfillment. You’ll train for a career in one of 130 specialties, including everything from Administrative jobs to Police and Protection roles to serving on the front lines as part of Ground Forces. Guard Soldiers are also eligible for money for college, low-cost health and life insurance, and more.

Contact your local recruiter for more information about the Army National Guard.

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Meet the Army National Guard’s Fearless Female Leaders

In honor of Women’s History Month, On Your Guard recognizes some female leaders we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over the last few years:

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Elizabeth Evans, Commander, 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Florida Army National Guard

LTC Evans graduated from West Point looking forward to an engineering career in the Army. Unfortunately, she found out many of the engineering battalions were restricted to men, with women allowed to serve only in support roles.

Her best chance to achieve her goal of commanding a combat or construction Unit was in the Army reserve components, which offered construction formations that were 100% open to women.

She joined the Florida Army National Guard, inspired by its dual mission of serving the Nation and responding to local emergencies, like extreme weather events. Within 6 months, she was asked to command a Horizontal Construction Company.

By 2017, she had led 300 missions in a combat zone in Iraq and served as a task force commander for a counter-narcotics mission, training military components in three Central American countries.

“I think I’m extremely fortunate to be a female in the Army National Guard because of the opportunities I have to be a role model to others, both male and female,” she says. “I have the ability to show younger Soldiers coming in that anything is possible regardless of your gender.”

Read more.

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Shereka Danzy, Drill Sergeant and Recruiter, New Jersey Army National Guard

As the first woman to become a drill sergeant in the New Jersey Army National Guard, SFC Shereka Danzy knows her position embodies more than just the average job.

“You’re representing women, one, and that’s a big deal, then I’m representing myself and my support team – everyone that was behind me,” she says.

The Army veteran teaches Soldiers at the Recruit Sustainment Program how to march and about military customs, courtesies, and acronyms to get them ready for basic training.

SFC Danzy, who’s also a Guard recruiter, felt honored to be asked to become a drill sergeant by her command.

“They could have chosen anybody, but they saw something in me.”

That something, she believes, is her “passion for soldiering. Grabbing Soldiers under your wing. Teaching them right from wrong, not only teaching them, but showing them what right looks like.”

Read more.

Cadet (CDT) Christina Meredith, Florida Army National Guard 

CDT Christina Meredith is living her best life as a Florida Army National Guard Soldier, author, and non-profit founder.

After years of abuse as a child, she entered the foster care system and then became homeless. Eventually, she was “discovered” by a pageant recruiter and crowned Miss California United States in 2013. She finally had a platform to accomplish one of her goals: to share her story so others would realize they could overcome their circumstances.

Since then, CDT Meredith has written a memoir, “CinderGirl: My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” and started The Christina Meredith Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for foster care reform and mental health.

The flexibility of serving in the Guard part-time allows her enough time for everything important in her life.

“I have my civilian job and still have that military experience and leadership, and I can really bring something to my country,” says CDT Meredith.

Read more.

If you’re interested in joining these leaders, find out more about what the Guard has to offer, including great education benefits and training in careers ranging from police and protection to intelligence to transportation. Visit our job board for details and contact a recruiter for more information.

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National Guard Ramping Up COVID-19 Response


Specialist (SPC) Reagan Long, left, a Horizontal Construction Engineer with the New York Army National Guard’s 827th Engineer Company, and Private First Class (PFC) Naomi Velez, a Horizontal Construction Engineer with the New York Army National Guard’s 152nd Engineer Support Company, register people at a COVID-19 mobile screening center in New Rochelle, NY, on March 14, 2020. (Photo by Sergeant Amouris Coss.)

ARLINGTON, Virginia – About 2,050 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen in 27 States have been activated to support COVID-19 response efforts, according to Air Force General (GEN) Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, who addressed reporters at a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, March 19.

At that time, GEN Lengyel said the number most likely would double by the weekend, and it is even possible that tens of thousands of Guard members could be activated as the situation unfolds, depending on the needs of communities.

By Sunday, March 22, an update was released stating all 50 States, three Territories, and the District of Columbia are engaged in combating COVID-19, and 7,300 Guard Soldiers are providing critical skills and support.

There are about 450,000 Guard troops overall, GEN Lengyel noted, who can provide logistical and other capabilities, including ground transportation, command and control, engineering services, kitchens, tents, and medical personnel.

Current National Guard COVID-19 response missions include, but are not limited to: delivering food in hard-hit communities; manning call centers to provide a knowledgeable and calming voice; providing critical personal protective equipment training and sample collection to first responders and hospital personnel; supporting local emergency management agencies with response planning and execution; providing support to testing facilities; serving as response liaisons and support to State emergency operations centers; providing transportation and assessment support to healthcare providers; assisting with disinfecting/cleaning of common public spaces; and collecting and delivering samples.

Last week, GEN Lengyel provided a snapshot of what the Guard already has been doing:

  • The New York National Guard is helping local officials distribute food, much of it in the hard-hit area of New Rochelle.
  • A Tennessee Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft delivered 500,000 swabs to be added to COVID-19 test kits in Memphis last Wednesday.
  • More than 500 Soldiers are assisting with collecting samples from drive-through testing in Broward County, FL.
  • In Maryland, the National Guard is supporting medical assessments and testing site operations.
  • The Wisconsin National Guard is supporting transportation missions for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
  • In Louisiana, Guard liaison officers are assisting the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security in emergency preparedness.
  • Across the U.S., Civil Support Teams are supporting the local departments of health with drive-through testing stations.

“With COVID-19, it’s like we have 54 different hurricanes hitting every State, every Territory, and the District of Columbia. Some are Category 5, some are Category 3, and some are Category 1. But a historic event demands a historic response ­– and that’s what you’re seeing from the National Guard,” says GEN Lengyel.


Air Force GEN Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, briefs Pentagon reporters on the National Guard’s response to COVID-19 on March 19, 2020. (Photo by Staff Sergeant Brandy Nicole Mejia.)

“We remain flexible and committed for whatever mission we may be called to do,” GEN Lengyel said. He noted that the governors of each State have the flexibility to use the Guard in ways they deem most fit and productive.

So far, six members of the Guard in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, he said. Force health protection measures are in place to prevent more from contracting the virus.

If you’re interested in helping your community, find out ways you can serve part-time in the Army National Guard. Your service is rewarded in education benefits and training in careers ranging from police and protection to intelligence to medical services. Visit our job board for details and contact a recruiter for more information.

From an original article by David Vergun, DoD News, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on March 19, 2020, with updates added.

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