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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Ace Lends a Paw to Guard Soldiers in Need

Ace, a therapy dog in training, is the newest member of the New Jersey Army National Guard’s Psychological Health Program. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht).

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – The New Jersey Army National Guard’s Psychological Health Program recently welcomed its fifth team member, although instead of wearing combat boots, he has four paws. Ace is a rescue dog, and at 8 months old, he’s been making waves throughout the State as a therapy animal in training.

Ace can be seen sporting military gear with a large “PET ME” patch emblazoned on the side.

“He’s going to be a tool that we’ll be able to use in order to connect Soldiers and provide emotional and therapeutic support throughout the State,” says Captain (CPT) Melissa Parmenter, a behavioral health officer with the New Jersey Army National Guard.

“Sometimes when we’re struggling with mental illness or just life stressors, it’s hard to get that courage to come forward and ask for some help, so Ace’s role will be to help open that door.”

When CPT Parmenter was pondering what to name the dog, her husband noted that Batman had a dog named Ace. She immediately took to the idea when she realized it fit the Army acronym for Ask, Care, Escort.

CPT Melissa Parmenter and therapy dog, Ace, in front of the New Jersey National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht).

“A.C.E. teaches Soldiers at the lowest level, if you have a battle buddy in need, this is how to get them to the right place, and not to leave them alone until they’re in the right hands,” she says.

Ace has already been helping Soldiers, providing comfort to those in need.

“Everybody’s body posture and everything changes automatically when they see him. He’s licking everybody, and everybody is trying to touch him, hug him, and get kisses from him. The whole demeanor of wherever he walks in changes.”

CPT Parmenter hopes that Ace will break down barriers when it comes to mental health.

“I think Ace will help change the thinking that therapy has to be sitting at a desk and talking to someone,” she says.

“I think it will help us get the message across that there are different modalities available, and there are different ways to receive therapy that can be helpful and really beneficial.”

Making an impact is ingrained in the Army National Guard’s mission. If you’re passionate about helping others and making a difference in someone’s life, consider joining the National Guard. With hundreds of positions available in the medical field, including mental health specialists, you, too, can serve part-time in your home State, and take care of those who may need you the most. To see all current job opportunities, visit the job board or contact a recruiter to learn more today.

From an original article by MSG Matt Hecht, New Jersey National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in October 2019.

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