We recently celebrated Veteran's Day as a nation, so it is fitting that this Fresh Path Story tells of a young woman who is following God's call to become Chaplain in the United States Army Reserve. Read how God has called Ellen into a life of serving those who serve all of us in the U.S.
Fresh Paths: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello everyone! My name is Ellen Nagle and I am originally from Adel, Iowa. I grew up with two older brothers who did their very best to raise me as a boy, hiding Barbies and refusing to allow N’SYNC to be a thing. My husband and I currently live in Davenport, Iowa where he is a (quite hunky) firefighter. I am working part-time as a direct support professional and working on my MDiv (Masters of Divinity) full-time. I am currently enlisted in the Army Reserves, as you will soon hear more about! Last, but not least, I am a soon-to-be Bernese Mt. Dog Mama! Yippee!
Fresh Paths: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My future aspirations as a young child were similar to that of 20-year-old Ellen (all over the place). I’ve included a picture below for your amusement. I loved (and still do) so many different subjects, hobbies, and activities. When my college advisor told me I had to pick a major, part of me felt as if I was participating in the most epic round of eeny, meenie, miny moe. So, naturally, I majored in Biology with plans to do something in the medical field. and now I’m well into my third year of Seminary. Life is funny, huh?
Fresh Paths: You are an alum of the World Race. (To learn more about the World Race, go to the end of the story.) What was that like for you? Choose five words that describe that experience for us.
It is wise that you’ve narrowed down describing the World Race to 5 words, because I could easily give you a series of novels. Each of these words had a special season throughout the Race
Fresh Paths: When did the idea of Army chaplaincy make it onto your radar screen? Where did that idea come from?
This is about the time I forewarn those who do not believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to “just trust me.” When I say it came out of nowhere, I mean it. It was Month 6 (of 11) and my team and I were serving a children’s ministry in Zambia. I began waking up extra early with team members to be diligent in reading Scripture daily. I was experiencing a spiritual hunger like never before. My daily prayer had been simply asking God what He had for me. For once, it wasn’t a prayer of desperation. This daily prayer was the outpouring of a heart pursuing obedience, one that was genuinely thirsty for Kingdom purpose. Towards the end of the month, I was on the top of a ladder painting (brain switch OFF) and the words MILITARY CHAPLAINCY hit me in the forehead. They were in all caps in case I missed it. Truly, this is the only way I can explain it in words. Granted, this was not the moment I made my decision final, but there was no doubt in my mind that I was now responsible for praying over this experience and seeking God for continual guidance. I asked and God answered. Just a head’s up, sometimes the still, small voice about knocks you off a ladder.
Fresh Paths: What did your family and friends think of that idea?
Let’s just say, nothing surprised my loved ones after I told them I was going on the World Race. Again, referring back to my many interests, loves, and activities, something this “unusual” was right in my wheelhouse. I was always taught to respect and show gratitude to soldiers in the military and the thought of being part of something greater than myself was a source of excitement vs. anxiety. My friends and family were incredibly supportive and I will forever be grateful for their continual encouragement.
Fresh Paths: How did you ultimately make the decision to enlist? I
I have never experienced a more active battle with doubt and fear than the month prior to enlisting. The first time Chaplaincy was on my radar was Feb of 2015, and I enlisted February 2016. This time was full of prayer and asking for peace in moving forward. I had several “doors open” after the Race and each of them was immediately closed. Each time a door closed, I was filled with more and more peace in moving forward with the enlistment process.
Fresh Paths: So, what’s it like for a female at basic training? Was it what you expected?
Everyone has a different basic training experience, depending on branch, rank, and (most importantly) the level of sanity found in your assigned Drill Sergeants. Personally, I put in the work physically to be prepared to excel in physical training. To be honest, competing with my male peers in physical training played a large role is gaining respect as a female. Staying up for 60(ish) hours didn’t go super swell for this sleepy gal, but the memories are priceless.
In all honesty, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. It was only two years ago, but my platoon has already lost two amazing soldiers since then. The camaraderie amongst your fellow peers is what it’s all about. I firmly believe that both belonging to and believing in something larger than yourself inevitably builds wholesome character.
Fresh Paths: What does an Army chaplain do every day? What is the training like for that position?
As expected, an Army Chaplain is responsible for supporting the spiritual and moral well-being of the soldiers assigned to his/her unit. The service of a Chaplain is not limited to the soldiers, but includes families and civilian employees as well. Pastoral counseling plays a large role within Chaplaincy. I am, however, in the Army Reserves and would like to continue to serve in the Reserves. I would not physically be with soldiers every day like active duty Chaplains, but would remain a point of contact for all soldiers who may need advice, guidance, or pastoral assistance.
Currently, I am an enlisted soldier going through the process of direct commissioning to a Chaplain Candidate. I will attend Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course (12 weeks) at Fort Jackson, SC. People enter into this field of work in many different ways, but I will be considered prior-service due to completing three years as an enlisted soldier. Don’t worry if you’re not following, I still have to look up military acronyms to make it through drill weekends.
Fresh Paths: What are you loving about your career choice?
As I mentioned previously, I am not yet an Army Chaplain. In fact, I’m only about 60% of the way there! Why might I be speaking of the career so confidently? I believe God is faithful and will complete the work He started in me. With that being said, I LOVE that this career will introduce me to people I would otherwise never encounter. This may seem too simple-minded for some, but loving people is what it’s all about. God just happened to assign me a specific group of people needing His presence.
Fresh Paths: What are some of the challenges you face?
Let’s just be honest, balancing relationships, work, school, and military is tough! I am currently in year 3 of a 4(1/2) yr MDiv. program and have my fingers crossed that I’ll enjoy writing a paper by year four. Furthermore, the process to become an Army Chaplain has proven to be a lengthy one, requiring determination. The greatest personal challenge I foresee will be sacrificing time and memories with family in order to serve my brothers and sisters. My husband is my biggest fan and actively reminds me to keep the big picture in focus. With Christ within me and the love of my family behind me, perseverance is inevitable.
Another staggering challenge within the military world is facing the reality of suicide statistics. As of right now, there are an average of 20 veteran deaths DAILY due to suicide. Let that number sink in. To me, that is 100% unacceptable, and I desperately pray for God’s healing to cover our military service members.
Fresh Paths: How God has used you already in this role?
There have been some incredible opportunities to display the grace and love of Jesus Christ throughout drill weekends, trainings, and relationships formed with my “battle buddies." I joke with my husband that God has me as an “inside man” right now due to not yet holding the title of Army Chaplain. God has led me to some of the most amazing people, friends I will cherish forever. You do not need to be a Chaplain to sit and listen to someone in need and affirm that they are worthy of love. We are all responsible for the well-being of our brothers and sisters, regardless of title, rank, or pay grade. This is something God has continuously reminded me. He has given me a heart for loving soldiers well and that’s what I intend to do, whatever that may entail.
Fresh Paths: So what’s next? How do you see this career impacting your marriage?
Since I am serving within the Army Reserves, I will not be moving to a new duty station every 2-4 years like active duty soldiers. I report to my unit one weekend every month and for at least 2-3 weeks of active training each summer. The greatest challenge to our marriage will come with future deployments and periods of training that inevitably take me away from friends and family.
Fresh Paths: What lessons have you learned that would be helpful to someone else who is considering pursuing a “fresh path”?
The best way I can describe my pursuit of Chaplaincy is through the analogy of riding a bike (weird, huh). When God placed this calling (heavily) upon my heart, I knew there was a long road ahead before achieving the end goal. However, I trusted God would steer the bike. The thing is, a bike can only be steered if it’s moving. I’ve been pedaling hard for the past three years, and God has been faithful in steering. There is no shortcut and sometimes there are hills, but being diligent in working towards your goal is part of being a co-worker with Christ. As my husband says, “Nothing to it but do it!”