Navy chaplain Judy Malana relishes new role as women’s policy adviser.In her role as a U.S. Navy chaplain, Judy T. Malana led the military funeral processionals for former President George H.W. Bush. As the regional Naval district chaplain based in Washington, D.C., she served as lead chaplain for Arlington National Cemetery, coordinating and taking part in the funerals of Supreme Court justices John Paul Stephens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with other veterans and their family members laid to rest at the hallowed shrine.
The first female Navy chaplain in the Assemblies of God, Malana, a captain, remains the highest-ranking female naval chaplain representing the Fellowship. Now she’s the women’s policy adviser for the Navy, a position created last year after a special task force examined racism, sexism, and other biases and their impact on naval readiness. The position aims to shape Navy culture, and to advise senior leaders on the recruitment and retention of service women, who compose 21% of Navy ranks.
Advocacy for sailors who might not feel they have a voice is a role for which her 26 years of pastoral care to service members has prepared her. Previously Malana served as a senior officer on the Secretary of Defense Board for Diversity and Inclusion.
In her current role, she engages with those serving the Navy across the fleet, letting them know they are valued and their voice matters.
“Every sailor is important no matter what gender, race, or ethnicity —we all have a critical role in the organization, no matter what rank or job we hold,” says Malana, 55. “The Navy recognizes the strength gained from a diverse workforce and fostering a culture which values belonging and respect is critical to the well-being of our sailors and instills trust and cohesion in our organization. These same principles are true in corporate America and in churches.”
Malana holds decades of experience as a “sea services” chaplain who has served ashore, afloat, and overseas, rotating between the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines. The chaplaincy has taken Malana to more than two dozen countries. She has ministered in moments of crisis in hospital rooms, to sexual assault and domestic violence victims, and to families and military units in the aftermath of suicide. She’s also officiated at weddings and conducted baby dedications.
“As military chaplains, we have the sacred privilege of walking with individuals in the very lows and highs of life,” she says. That experience empowers her to help those in service by extending compassionate care and spiritual strength.
“Whether it’s comforting family members who just lost their son or daughter, grieving with war fighters severely injured in combat, or sitting with young service members who are homesick, these individuals need God’s light and love,” Malana says. Chaplains provide ministry, caring, and support for service members of one’s own faith and facilitate religious needs for members of all faiths or no faith. Additionally, chaplains advise military leadership on issues of religion morals and ethics, ensuring the free exercise of religion.
Retired Navy chaplain James T. Denley, the Assemblies of God military and veterans affairs endorsing agent, notes that Malana in her position creates key framework for ministry to service members and their families wherever they may be assigned to serve, including austere environments and combat zones.
“For that environment to exist with the chaplains kneecap to kneecap, there’s a lot of policy work to get done,” Denley says, noting that ever-changing times shift the environment. “Chaplain Malana is in a position to do God’s work at the national level. Because of what she’s doing, the lives of sailors and their families are going to be changed for years to come in ministry.”
Part of Malana’s calling entails encouraging the next generation of chaplains, both male and female. She notes the importance of mentoring junior chaplains, especially those who look different and are from other faith traditions.
“We can learn from each other and widen our aperture of understanding of how to best care for those under our charge,” she says.
Attributes of an effective chaplain include a teachable spirit and the ability to care for others.
“It’s a great ministry opportunity — being with service members in the joys and sorrows of their lives,” Malana says. “It may feel uncomfortable and challenging, but this is where we learn to rely on the Lord and the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us.”
Denley says Malana’s devotion to Jesus is evident in her service.
“God prepared her her whole life to be in the place she is now,” says Denley, 63. “We’re glad she’s part of our Fellowship.”
Nationwide, 176 Assemblies of God chaplains serve the military in active duty. Four of the 41 AG Navy chaplains are women, as are 10 of 102 Army chaplains and six of the 33 serving the U.S. Air Force.