Carol Yeager named Chaplain of the Year
By Katie Scarvey
Chaplain Major Carol Yeager was named the Reserve Officers Association (ROA) Chaplain of the Year for 2010 during the organization’s National Security Symposium in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31.
The annual award is given to a chaplain who has made a significant impact in the military and the local community, Yeager says.
Yeager was informed in October that she was a contender for the award and was requested to submit additional information.
She found out in December that she had been named the nominee for the Air Force Reserve Command, and in December, sometimes around Christmas, she received word that she had been selected to receive the award.
She remembers she had just finished her workout at the Salisbury Y — she teaches Zumba there — and was sitting in her car in the parking lot when the phone call came.
Going to the conference, she says, was a great opportunity to meet with her “brothers and sisters” in the different services, she said.
Yeager’s family accompanied her: husband Greg Yeager, who is pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in China Grove; son Sam, a junior at Carson High School, and daughter Abby, an 8th grader at Southeast Middle School.
“I didn’t do it alone,” Yeager says. “I had to have the support of my family, the church and the community, who helped my family while I was deployed.”
Yeager, who is pastor at Luther’s Lutheran Church in Richfield, continues to be an active reservist, traveling every month to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in New Hope and doing an annual tour that lasts for several weeks.
Yeager has been in the reserve since 2005.
She entered the military right after college, serving 10 years as an active duty line officer.
She then went to seminary and in 2005 joined the Air Force Reserves as a chaplain.
In 2009, she was deployed to an Air Force base in southwest Asia — a location she can’t disclose — where she worked 12-hour days, six days a week, for four months, serving a population of about 10,000. She was responsible for the base’s Protestant programming, which included more than 20 small group studies and eight worship services every weekend.
She completed that deployment early in 2010.
Back here in the states, she’s spent the last two summers working with a chaplain candidate program, training and evaluating about 30 seminary students each summer who want to be chaplains.
Although she’s still an active reservist, she hopes to stay put for a while.
“At this point, I’ve committed to my church and my family that I won’t volunteer for any deployments,” she says.
Still, if she were to be deployed, “you adjust and go,” she says. “My husband says, ‘We’re a military family, and that’s what military families do.’ It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary.”
Yeager met her husband, Greg, in Okinawa, Japan, in a Bible study in 1991. Greg Yeager was a Marine pilot.
While she’s proud to have been named Chaplain of the Year, Yeager says that she’s “not doing anything different than the other chaplains,” and adds that her service wouldn’t have been possible without all the support that she received from “everybody else along the line.”
Because she’s been on active duty and in “the operational world,” Yeager says she’s better able to understand what people in the military are going through.
“I know what it’s like to fly on an airplane for 12 hours. I understand the stresses. Some of our folks are gone away from home for the majority of the year. I’ve had times were I’ve been gone a lot, and I understand that,” says Yeager, who mentions that she missed her daughter’s first father-daughter dance — but was happy when a neighbor stepped up to help her daughter do her hair.
Understanding the realities of military duty helps Yeager to “reach out to people and be a better chaplain,” she believes.
Some of Yeager’s accomplishments were developing programs ‘to make sure family members of those on duty were being supported.
That includes maintaining contact with spouses, parents and fiances, Yeager says.
“We try to coordinate so that these family members get several phone calls or letters from us each month,” she says.
It helps for people back home to simply know that they’re being thought of, she says.
Sometimes the loved ones left at home don’t understand the stresses of service, she says.
“They’re sitting there at home, thinking, ‘Why can’t he call or e-mail?’ And they don’t understand that their loved one may be working 12-14 hours a day and not have time to stop to do that.”
Yeager notes that civilian communities can make a real difference in the lives of reservists and national guardsmen.
“I love being deployed, but taking care of the family members at home is just as important,” she says.
Yeager notes that the three main roles of the Air Force chaplain are to glorify God, to serve the airmen, and to advise leadership.
“We’re not just there to provide a worship service,” she says. “The constitution guarantees everyone the free exercise of their faith. We are there to stand up for that. Sometimes that means I have to support someone of a different faith than me. I can’t be a Catholic priest or a rabbi or an imam, but I can be there to say ‘What do you need?’ and ‘How can we help you to continue to practice your faith in a military environment so you can be spiritually sound and fit?’”