From the time Lt. Holly C. Short was 3 years old, she wanted to be a sailor. At least to wear the sailor uniform. Three decades later, God fulfilled that tender-age desire as Short donned a sailor’s uniform for work as a U. S. Navy chaplain.
“Even when I was younger and wanted to dress up in camo, it didn’t dawn on me until I found myself in the military that maybe God hardwired me for this,” says Short, 37, a Fleet Marine Force qualified officer.
Short didn’t plan to enter the military, much less the ministry, until her sophomore year at Clemson University. During a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event she attended, the speaker mentioned that someone in the audience might be called to full-time ministry.
“As soon as he said that, I could feel the presence of the Lord all over me and I knew, This is it,” says Short.
Stephen Chitty, senior pastor of Christian Life Church in Columbia, South Carolina, who served as Short’s pastor for 12 years and remains a mentor, wasn’t surprised.
“Even from her earliest years, she was always diligent about seeking God,” Chitty says. “She’s always had a scholar’s affection for the Scriptures, but also she has a shepherd’s instinct in the way she cares for and encourages others in the faith.”
The next semester, Short dropped her engineering major and transferred to Southeastern University, the Assemblies of God school in Lakeland, Florida. She earned a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry and youth ministry, then pursued her Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, with the intention of becoming a pastor.
Before she graduated, a friend mentioned that she should consider the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps. The thought intrigued Short, and the more she prayed about it, the more she realized God had called her to such a pursuit. She signed up and began extensive training. Shortly before her 2013 commissioning, the AG ordained Short. Not long afterwards, she received endorsement from the Assemblies of God Commission on Chaplains as a U.S. Missions chaplain.
“They put a stole around me and prayed for me and that was when I knew this was what the Lord had been calling me to since I was 18,” she says. “I just hadn’t put it together until that moment.”
Short deployed twice with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, traveling extensively throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. She forged relationships as troops saw her care and concern.
Three years later, in 2016, she deployed again overseas after transferring to Combat Logistics Battalion 15 with the Marines.
“She is very engaging and motivated to get to know all the personnel she supports,” says Lt. Col. Jamey Stover, her former CLB-15 commanding officer at Camp Pendleton, California. “She built up trust easily. She’s a woman of great integrity.”
Yet another reassignment came in November 2018, this time to serve as First Battalion chaplain to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. She is the only female among nine chaplains, and she is the only AG chaplain. Short preaches, leads multiple worship services, and offers spiritual insight and guidance to all the military ranks.
Short believes being single has helped in her role, as it allows her more freedom to get involved with those she’s serving. But she admits it has challenges. Each time she is reassigned, she has to be more intentional about seeking out community.
“I also have to be careful that I pay attention to self-care,” she says. “Otherwise, I could end up staying all night long in my office focusing on work.”
Despite the hectic and often unglamourous military lifestyle, however, Short is content.
“It’s about the people,” she says, her voice filled with excitement. “There are sacred moments with Marines or sailors who are completely different from me. It’s the coolest thing to get to care for these people and be part of seeing God show up in their lives.”