NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Approximately 14.6 percent of today’s U.S. military members are women. For decades, women have held high-ranking positions leading Airmen in times of war and peace, and for approximately 40 years, women have also led Airmen spiritually as military chaplains.
Two female chaplains and a female chaplain candidate serve at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Chaplains (Maj.) Tam Cookson, a reservist serving on an extended active duty for a period of three years, as well as (Capt.) Amy O’Connell, an individual mobilization augmentee reservist, and chaplain candidate (2nd Lt.) Amber Bentley are assigned to the 99th Air Base Wing.
For any military base, this is a rare feat to have three female chaplains on one installation as many bases only have one female clergy, if any at all.
“Having female reverends within the church can be a rarity in itself. It really depends on the denominations. Women [are] put through a different ‘ringer’ when it comes to some ordination processes,” said O’Connell.
Throughout history, women have fought for equal footing beside their male counterparts, and today, attitudes toward females is largely more accepting than in the past – including in the Chaplains Corps, as women couldn’t participate as chaplains in the military until July 1973.
“The fact that Nellis has two female chaplains and a female chaplain candidate is very refreshing; it opened my eyes to what the future will hold as the military continues to bring on female chaplains,” said O’Connell.
A female chaplain’s point of view has the potential to add diversity and comforts that their male counterparts may not be equipped to pacify in a male-to-female setting.
“The fact that [being female] brings diversity, I feel it helps women see they can come to a woman chaplain and be comfortable,” said Bentley. “I feel like I have the opportunity to bring a new energy and a new experience.”
The Nellis Chapel offers a very diverse experience for the men and women of the base, providing pastoral care by conducting worship services, as well as confidential counseling to support the religious needs of all Air Force members.
Members of the Chaplain Corps stand ready to provide care to Airmen and their families as privileged communication.
To speak to a chaplain during duty hours, contact the Nellis Chapel at 702-652-2950; after hours, call the command post 702-652-2446 and ask for the on-call/emergency chaplain.