No Small Achievement
By John W. Kennedy
May 25, 2014
When she sensed a ministry calling at age 15, Delana Ingram already knew she would become a U.S. Army chaplain.
But at the time, the daughter of New Jersey Assemblies of God pastors Robert and Dana Ingram didn’t understand the traditional limitations she faced.
Although females then could be “attached” to a combat arms unit, they couldn’t be assigned. In faith, Delana trusted that her limitless hopes would make a battalion assignment a reality.
“At 15, I didn’t know the implications of being an Army chaplain,” Delana recalls. “I just knew that God had called me for something significant.”
She enrolled at Evangel University, in part because the AG school in Springfield, Mo., had an Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.
As an assistant young adult pastor at Evangel Temple in Springfield for five years, Delana gained practical ministry experience by managing a hospitality team for college students, learned how to delegate tasks, and had opportunities to teach and preach.
“At Evangel Temple I learned how to put people first, not the mission,” Delana says. “I learned how to prioritize and have balance in my life.”
In addition to the ministry training, Delana received military instruction, doing everything from field training exercises to becoming a reserve lieutenant, serving as a chaplain candidate at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood. She also gained hands-on chaplain experience by leading worship services and counseling soldiers as she traveled for the U.S. Army Reserve.
In 2010, Delana married her husband, Lucas Small, while both took classes at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield. After graduating with her master’s of divinity degree in 2011, Small became an endorsed AG chaplain.
Small fulfilled her Army dream in style. At age 26, she became the first female chaplain in the nation to report to an Army combat arms unit — just as the military lifted its ban on women in selected combat roles.
As a new chaplain, Small had to prove herself to be physically fit for combat arms.
During 11 days at the Army’s Air Assault School, Small learned competency with aircraft, specifically helicopters. She had to fast-rope out of helicopters and rig sling loads that would move cargo. Small, who stands 5 feet 2 inches, also had to hike over 12 miles of rough terrain in three hours while hauling 35 pounds of gear.
“Delana without question is one of the most athletically fit females I have ever seen in my 45 years associated with the military,” says AG Chaplaincy Ministry Military Endorser Scott McChrystal.
Small completed the challenging rite of passage to become a member of the until-then all-male field artillery battalion within the 101st Airborne Division known as the “Screaming Eagles.”
Trailblazers inevitably face challenges to the paths they are forging. As a young, female, faith-based chaplain, Small has experienced those realities. Women personnel remain a minority in the military, particularly in the chaplain corps. Small notes that multiple denominations don’t authorize women in such ministry roles, which added to the complexities she has faced as a chaplain.
Certainly Small has dealt with the customary pushback any newcomer faces. However, pioneers such as Small face the impact of the broader public’s resistance to women in the military, particularly female placement in combat arms.
Small spent most of 2013 in Afghanistan. As an artillery chaplain, she went to visit soldiers in scattered areas of operations at particular gun lines. She also served as the officer in charge of chapels at two far-flung locations, traveling by helicopter each week to coordinate church services. Overall, she provided primary religious support for 690 soldiers and 800 civilians at the two bases.
On the upside, Small found that many females confided in her as the only female chaplain around. She also discovered that a number of males (the average soldier’s age is 19) opened up to her more readily as a peer than to a father-figure male chaplain, whose average age is 38.
Small often found herself alone for an assortment of reasons. Chaplains, because of the nature of their role and rank, aren’t in a position to be buddies with military personnel. As the highest-ranking female in the battalion, Small found it impractical to hang out with young enlisted females.
“Ministry in general can be lonely,” Small says. “When someone shares tragic secrets, and you must keep them, it can be very weighty. I was definitely fueled by the Holy Spirit in Afghanistan.”
“The depth and passion of her calling to be a female minister in what at times can be a very harsh environment speaks to her genuineness, perseverance and resilience,” McChrystal says. “I have every confidence that Delana did a superb job taking care of the warriors under her area of responsibility.”
Small calls AGTS professor Melody D. Palm her chief mentor and credits Palm for making the early going as a chaplain effective despite the challenges. Palm taught counseling classes at AGTS, including a post-traumatic stress disorder course she designed herself.
Small found the lessons valuable for memorial ceremonies she conducted and for counseling soldiers dealing with grief over the deaths of their friends.
Palm says she taught Small to remain undeterred by those who might try to derail her calling as a female chaplain.
“Delana is following God in obedience as He opens the right doors,” Palm says. “She is teachable, an eager learner, and good at what she does. Delana had a goal, she knew what God called her to do, and she has stayed the course.”
Currently, Small, now 28, is stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., with her husband.
Lucas Small previously served as an enlisted soldier for eight years, and in May he will be ordained as an Army chaplain himself. McChrystal says Lucas is an incredibly supportive spouse who has an unusual degree of understanding of his wife’s circumstances. Lucas says he admires his wife’s work ethic and caring spirit.
“I look forward to seeing how God is going to use her as she progresses in the call she has from Him,” Lucas says.
Delana’s unit will deploy again next year, during which time she will provide coverage as a rear-detachment chaplain.
“If she sticks with it, Delana will go a long way in the chaplaincy,” McChrystal says. “She certainly has all the requisites.”
Dana Ingram says her daughter inherited ambition from her father, a retired airline pilot. Robert and Dana now pastor Full Gospel Fellowship, an AG church in Burlington, N.J. Their other daughter, Mandy Ingram, is a licensed minister who is a staff pastor focusing on youth at Pennington (N.J.) First AG.
“Delana knew exactly what she needed to do in order to reach her goal to be a chaplain,” Dana says. “I told her she needed to prove herself because she was entering a man’s world and she would need to be like a duck and let some things roll off her back.”
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Email your comments to email@example.com.