Faith Service — Army Chaplain Delana Small
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Small traces that commitment back to her childhood when she accepted Christ as her Savior and promised to follow wherever God led. At 15, Small sensed a call to ministry — and felt drawn to military chaplaincy specifically.
When she saw people going to war after 9/11, Small knew the armed forces would one day be her mission field. “It confirmed my call to serve those who serve,” Small says. “I didn’t know what that would look like, but I was certain God had called me. I was just following.”
After attending Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, as an ROTC student, Small went on to earn a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, graduating in 2011.
She then reported to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where she joined the Screaming Eagles, the previously all-male 101st Airborne Air Assault Division. She later became a member of a special forces group. The Army had just opened the door for women to serve in combat arms units, and Small was the first female chaplain assigned to a combat arms battalion.
Small brushes off the notion that she is a trailblazer. She insists God simply brought her to the right place at the right time.
“I felt like Esther, there ‘for such a time as this,’” Small says, referring to Esther 4:14. “It’s not that there weren’t other women who were willing to do these things. I just happened to be coming into the Army at a time when the rules for women in combat units changed.”
Small says she is grateful for the opportunity to advance gender equality and honor God through her service.
“I’m happy to be the first if it eliminates barriers for other women,” she says. “But I think for all of us in ministry, we have to make sure whatever we’re doing is for God’s glory — not for our own glory or to make a name for ourselves.”
In 2013, Small deployed to Afghanistan as part of an artillery unit. She traveled to various remote outposts, providing counseling, conducting services, performing baptisms, and checking in on the morale of the troops. Small saw it as another way to represent Jesus.
“A chaplain does incarnational ministry by putting on the uniform and being there in deployment, in the hard times,” Small says. “Wherever my ministry takes me, I want to be fully present.”
Small was assigned to the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, in 2018, where she was the only female chaplain. She provided spiritual support for cadets as they transitioned from high school to military life, juggled classes and training, and navigated the pressures of young adulthood. During the pandemic, most of the ministry happened remotely as cadets returned to their homes.
“Many days I was doing counseling anytime from 6 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night to accommodate time zones and schedules,” Small says.
Small is used to maintaining a demanding pace. She balances her chaplain duties with parenting an infant and a 2-year-old and working on a Ph.D. Her husband, Lucas Small, is an Army Reserve chaplain.
“Like other ministers, I have to intentionally make time for my family,” Small says. “It’s about integrating vocations and callings. I don’t stop being a mom because I’m a chaplain, or vice versa. If God has called me into the Chaplain Corps and called me to be a mother, it doesn’t stop because I’m busy.”
Women make up nearly 17% of active-duty military personnel, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. However, the share of women within the ranks of the Chaplain Corps is much smaller.
Small says she used to bristle at being identified as a female chaplain. She wanted to be known simply as a good chaplain. Yet Small recognizes the diversity she brings to the job adds value.
“I didn’t want the nuance of, ‘She’s good — for a girl,’” Small says. “But I’ve learned to see my femininity as an asset. It does influence the way I lead and minister, and that can be a positive thing. Of course, gender shouldn’t be our focus. Jesus Christ should be our focus.”
Nevertheless, as a Pentecostal woman, Small often feels like an outsider. Many of the conservative denominations represented in the Chaplain Corps do not endorse women in ministry. As a result, most of the women serving as chaplains come from more liberal traditions.
“There are male chaplains out there who see that I’m a believer, but they’re struggling with why I’m in the ministry,” Small says. “And sometimes the female chaplains are the furthest from me theologically. I have been confronted by people on all sides continuously.”
Theological differences aside, Small says other chaplains often welcome her gifts once they get to know her. And she has little time to worry about those who don’t accept her.
“As people see what I’m made of, they’re more willing to have me on the preaching roster or ministering alongside them,” Small says. “Still, I’ve made choices not to serve at certain chapels when someone was uncomfortable with me being there. Again, this is not about me; it’s about Christ.”
Small recently transitioned from West Point to the Religious Support Operations Center at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She will be working in the office of the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Solhjem, who is also an Assemblies of God chaplain in AGUSM Chaplaincy Ministries.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of Influence magazine. Used with permission.