Major General Lorraine Potter, chief of the Air Force Chaplain Service, shares personal and professional anecdotes regarding her training and experiences as a female Chaplain. Major General Potter also discusses the role of the Chaplain and the current concerns of and advances in the Chaplaincy.
Introduction: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person assigned to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. We're at Bolding Air Force Base in Washington, DC. Today's interviewee as part of the military chaplains oral history project is Major General Lorraine Potter.
Zarbock: Good morning, how are you?
Potter: Great thank you, how are you?
Zarbock: I'm going to start off by asking what is your job title here?
Potter: I'm the chief of the Air Force Chaplain Service and responsibility is to lead the Air Force chaplains enlisted and ensure the free exercise of religion for Air Force members.
Zarbock: I'm going to start off by asking the question that I've asked all previous interviewees which is, what event or series of events, individual or series of individuals led you into deciding on the ministry as your chosen profession?
Potter: It goes back to my immediate family. My mother is a lay minister in the American Baptist Churches and received her license to preach when she was 18 years old. That's over 72 years ago. So as I grew you in the summer she was preaching.
Zarbock: And you grew up where?
Potter: In Rhode Island which I believe had a significant impact on my value system and particularly in the commitment to the free exercise of religion which most folks should know the birth place of religious freedom in our country was there in Rhode Island.
But it was in that environment when my mother was preaching summers filling in doing some supply preaching. The church was the center of our social life for our family and it was around the church that all of our routines started.
Zarbock: Although I've never perceived of Rhode Island as having a very high population of Baptists.
Potter: No, not at all. Actually Rhode Island when I was growing up there, the percentage was a little higher than it is now. There was 90% Roman Catholic, 5% Jewish and then 5% others so for Baptists to be there, the numbers were not very significant , but for Baptist the value that we have in the freedom of conscience to believe as the Lord speaks to each individual, the autonomy of the church and particularly the principle of free exercise of religion is pretty key in the tradition of the American Baptist churches.
In growing up there though probably the most significant event that challenged my religious faith and my sense of calling was my father's illness when I was in college. For almost 18 months, he was terminally ill with cancer. It was during that time that I really wrestled with what I thought was my call from the age of 13 and really wrestled with the God is dead movement in the 60's which was going on as well. I was personally experiencing the absence of God during that time.
Zarbock: You were how old at that time?
Potter: I was 19 and 20. My major in college was
Religion. Did not know what else to do with a Psychology and Theology degree, so made a choice to go on to a seminary in Rochester, New York. I made that commitment just before my father's death and it was because of that commitment that I decided I needed to stay. He was very proud.
Zarbock: Let's pick it up from the time, how old were you when your father died?
Potter: I was 21 years old; I was a senior in college. I have a twin sister and both of us were in college and we were six weeks before we graduated was his death. The advantage of that timing was that we understood that our father's goal; he had one significant goal in mind which was that all of us children have college educations. So we knew that he knew that we were done, that we had finished, had graduated, got our Bachelor's degrees and that we would fulfill his dream and his expectations that his children will have college degrees.
I was majoring in Theology and Psychology. Was not sure what my own personal faith journey was, but I had promised my father that I was going to seminary and he was so excited about that that whenever anyone visited that's all he talked about. So I felt that I had made a commitment to do that and at least do it for a year.
Zarbock: What was your father's involvement in a church life?
Potter: He sang in the choir. He was a deacon in the church. He by trade was a blue collar laborer. My mother was the one who had most of the leadership opportunities in terms of worship, but during his illness his quiet faith and his courage really spoke to me. It was not wanting to disappoint him. That I'm sure he wasn't aware of what my own faith struggles were, but it was my commitment to him that I was going to wrestle that monkey down and figure that out.
Going into seminary after my first year, I then chose to go to do Clinical Pastoral Education which was in hospital ministry. Having been kind of on the family side of the hospital felt like this was probably an opportunity to try some things out and also as a woman in ministry, being challenged for the first time when I went to seminary about what I was doing trying to pursue a church vocation...
Zarbock: Now you said the seminary was in Albany?
Potter: Rochester, I went to Colgate Rochester. It was an interfaith school. It was a consortium of seminaries which also I think significant in my preparation to be involved in this pluralistic ecumenical and diverse ministry that I ended up going into.
Zarbock: Now your twin sister did not follow this path?
Potter: No, not at all. I shouldn't say not at all. She's very involved in our local church, but she became a school teacher first and is now in the business world doing personnel management, benefits for a manufacturing company.
Zarbock: Not far distant from the chores that are placed upon your shoulders.
Potter: No, that's right. It was in seminary that I did this hospital training. It's there that I realized the connection to the church was absolutely vital in reaching out to certain populations. My first experience was in a resident mental hospital with all male patients from age 18 to 92. And just walking in and saying I was a chaplain and I was connected to the church for many who had been disconnected from their families and their communities that that was an automatic bonding for them.
That was the first time that I thought well being connected with the church was absolutely important to reach out and minister to people who were struggling. It really clarified my call that God wanted me to be involved with people who were going through difficult times in life, their crises in life and kind of just journey with them and to help them see that even in the midst of what's going on, that God may feel absent but God hadn't abandoned them.
If I could somehow do that in my life, then it would be a tribute both to my father's faith as well as my personal commitment that we have a God who loves and cares and can redeem even the most difficult things that happen to us. So I went through my seminary training and really felt that hospital ministry was my calling. In order to get into full time training I felt that I probably needed to do some parish ministry.
Zarbock: What is the ordination process in the Baptist church?
Potter: In the Baptist church once finishing seminary you ended up asking your local I guess it was the local jurisdiction which for me was I went back to my home church. My home church sponsored me for ordination. There was an Ordination Counsel where I then get interviewed, presented a theological paper in belief stances.
At that time I had a rather interesting experience. I was in my home church being interviewed by a group of about 40 people who were local. There were a lot of lay people. There were some clergy that were in the group, but I just started to present my theological paper and this woman came in late and she interrupted the process and stood up and said, "Which man's paper is she reading."
The area minister who was sitting next to me who was a very large man. I was about 5' tall and he was 6'5". He stood up rather embarrassed, "Lorraine is presenting her own paper. She is our candidate for ordination." No one can present another person's paper in their theology. What I didn't know was that that really set things up really well for me because there was no way that committee would turn me down after embarrassing our area minister so badly.
It was also my home church so I felt like they were on my home turf and my calling. I was the first woman who was ordained by the American Baptist in Rhode Island which I was not aware of because my mother had been a lay minister preaching since she was 18 years of age. So it was that experience that I kind of got launched.
Did do some interviewing with churches. They were not anxious to hire me. Those churches that could afford a real minister, which means a male minister, they would hire them. There were a couple of associate positions I interviewed for, but my real calling was to hospital ministry and fortunately after some unemployment, a little bit of depression, gaining a few pounds in my depression, I went to ______ to do a Clinical Pastoral Education resident year.
They then invited me to do my second year to go into Supervisory Training. I then encountered the issue of how do I get hired in a teaching hospital environment when those who were competing for the jobs in medical centers were males who had eight to ten of pastoral experience.
It was during that time that I thought about the military chaplaincy. My brother had been in the Army. I knew there was no way he wanted me to go to the Army because no sister of his should go in the Army because it wasn't very respectable. But I had heard of the chaplaincy and also had heard it was possible that they were going to be doing some Clinical Pastoral Education.
So I wrote to the Air Force Chief of Chaplain Service what with now I say tongue and cheek wrote a very assertive letter which said, is it possible for a woman to be a chaplain in the military. I received a letter back. It was as standard letter. It said that in order to be a chaplain in the military, you must have your Bachelor's degree, your Master of Divinity degree, two or three years of pastoral experience and you must be male.
Zarbock: The year is what?
Potter: This was the year 1972 I had written. At the time I had been approved to continue into my second year in supervisory training but within two weeks I got another letter which was kind of oops, we didn't read your actual letter and this is a federal government position. If your church says that you're qualified to represent them, the Chief of Chaplains had deleted the requirement for a male.
I decided I wanted to finish up my training and found out that the Air Force after several interviews they were still interested in me. My church was also interested in sending me in. The advantage I had in this was that our Chief of Chaplains at the time, Chaplain Roy Terry, was committed to have women in the chaplaincy and so when I came in and had been carefully screened, I had the support of the Chief of Chaplains.
My first supervisor also knew the Chief of Chaplains wanted it to go and succeed so my first assignment in '73 was to go to Wilford Hall Medical Center. That was ideal. It was really taking care of me. I was going to another large medical center. I was a qualified hospital chaplain, didn't know about the Air Force. Wasn't even sure I knew how to salute.
Zarbock: I was going to ask, how in the world, how were you socialized into the role of a military person?
Potter: Well all chaplains when they come in, we come in from a very homogeneous kind of environment. They ask us if we can work in this diverse environment. Of course if you want to be hired, you say yes and you don't really know what you're saying yes to. But I went to
Chaplain School for six weeks.
Potter: Which is located in Montgomery, Alabama at Maxwell Air Force Base. It was six weeks at the time and at that time they did both the officer type training and the orientation into the chaplaincy. I figured in my coming in that I had survived three years of seminary which was not always the most Christian supportive environment.
But I could do three years in the Air Force and I made a very strong commitment to God, to myself and to the women chaplains who would follow me. That no matter what I would do three years and do the very best I could so that if anyone followed, they would have the opportunities and no difficulties.
As I did that, I was really challenged. I thought nothing could be worse than seminary. The six weeks of chaplain school was very painful. It was the first time they had a woman there so they tried to take very good care of me, the faculty, by putting me in a special place so I was very isolated from the rest of the class. I had members in my class that continually challenged, what I was doing there. I actually had two chaplains who said that I had taken a qualified man's job and that that wasn't fair.
But I really felt like I was here, I was committed, but once I left and went to my first assignment at Wilford Hall, I was back in my environment.
Zarbock: Let me probe a bit. Here you are surrounded, am I characterizing this correctly, all of your other classmates are male.
Zarbock: The faculty is male.
Zarbock: Well that would suggest to me at least a great sense of isolation. Who pastored you at that time?
Potter: There were several faculty members who were very concerned for me but I will say that I was there four and a half weeks before I ever went to dinner with anyone and that was because I heard the group talking about going someplace for dinner that evening and they were going to get crabs. Well I love seafood but I do not like crabs, but I asked if I could go have crabs with them.
So there were six of us that went to dinner. I'd been there four and a half weeks. At lunchtime I had a car so we'd go over to the dining hall together so I always ate with them there but did not, in the evening time we'd go do our P.T. which was kind of do it on your own or we would go play volleyball as a class. I'd go back to my quarters and they would go to theirs which was on the other side of the base.
Had one weekend that I had where one of the members asked if I would want to go Christmas shopping with them, because it was in December so I went and did that on one Saturday. I ended up on weekend going to visit friends which kind of broke it up a little bit. It was an isolating experience but I felt like once I got to my own apartment, my own place I could do that.
We did make a trip down to San Antonio, Texas as a class and one of the chaplains at Lackland which wasn't even the base I was assigned to, he and his wife offered to take me apartment hunting. So I see that as one of the human touches and a caring touch that I got. I will never forget Chaplain Simmons and his wife willing to do that. So I had an apartment before I got there, made the arrangements on that weekend. Once I got to Wilford Hall it was hospital ministry...
Zarbock: Are you saying Wolford?
Potter: Wilford Hall. It's named after a military member. It was a large medical center, 900 inpatients so it was similar to what I'd left. We were starting the
Clinical Pastoral Education training program so we started an official program because it was not certified by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education.
Did our first training, but then we had a change of Chief of Chaplains and they decided that they no longer wanted to do the Clinical Pastoral Education program and cancelled the program.
Zarbock: Were you on the faculty of the CPE?
Potter: Yes, I was Acting Supervisor when I came in. Actually that's why they assigned me there, not just to do patient care, but to help set up this program with another chaplain. He was a
Lieutenant Colonel and had two years in civilian training in order to set this up. Tom Williams, that's his name.
Tom and I were to set up the first program. We did do two programs training 12 chaplains in a 10-week course down there but once they changed their minds and said no, we're not going to do this anymore, my first inclination was I didn't come in to do hospital ministry. If I'm here I want to do something difficult.
So when I had a visitor come down to our Headquarters he asked what did I want to do and I said well I've got 18 months to go, I didn't come into the Air Force to do something I've in civilian life. I wanted to go overseas. Well he interpreted that to mean that in 18 months I wanted to go on a remote tour which was the usual progress from chaplains coming in. The places that were open were Korea.
But he called the Chief's office and said, "I just talked with Lorraine and she's volunteering to go remote." I didn't know I was doing that but with only 18 months to serve on my initial contract, I guess that is what I was volunteering for. So I received orders to go to Osan Air Base, Korea. I must admit that on my trip over, I wrestled with the Lord all the way over saying there are 850 other chaplains in the Air Force. What are doing with this lone female sending me over to Korea.
I must tell you my natural bend is I am a homebody. I don't like doing new things. I like to stay home. As a matter of fact, I'm a twin and even at birth I sent her out an hour before me so that I wouldn't have to go first and here I am, the first woman chaplain and now I'm going the first over to a remote tour where there are over 3000 airmen assigned there, Fifty women were there, that's all when I arrived. They had just started to send women on this remote tour.
Zarbock: Fifty dependants.
Potter: No, no dependants. This is all active duty military. It's considered a remote isolated tour. Once I got there and I remember wrestling, a pilot came on the loud speaker as we're circling around the land. He said if we looked out the right hand side of the airplane, you can see Osan Air Base. At that point I said,
"okay Lord, here am I, send me".
I was offering a great thing. What else could I do. But once I got there within six weeks I realized that God had a plan for me to there. Particularly as they were integrating women into that remote site, there were issues that Commanders had in terms of advice, also working with our Social Actions people in terms of quality of life for women, uniform issues. Some of them seemed rather insignificant at the time, but it was the first time they were wrestling with those issues.
Zarbock: But the insignificance of the issues of the time, 50 to 100 years from now when this may be seen are going to be absolutely dazzling. What were some of those issues? You said uniform issues...
Potter: With some of them were uniform issues and first was mine, I may be from Rhode Island, but I hate to be cold. When I got there they were issuing the, they had just been issuing these little ski jackets to the women because the parka was too big. So the big heavy parka, they would give you the little ski jackets which I guess are fine if you're skiing or exercising but not really good when you're out on an air base in a place like Korea, which gets very, very cold.
I went in and went to get mine and they were going to issue me this and I asked if I could get a regular parka. They would not let you alter. It's government property. They wouldn't let me take them downtown where there were the best tailors in the world to have it altered.
They wouldn't let me go down and they said I had to wear a government issue parka. I couldn't even go down and get one made which I did wore for a while. It looked just like they're made but it didn't have the stamp of approval inside. But at the time I asked if I could talk to the supply commander who was a captain, I was a captain. I said, "I'm not the smallest person that's ever going to be assigned here. There will be women here who are smaller than me and if the government is going to have us here, they must equip us and I want a parka that is going to keep me warm through these months or Uncle Sam can send me home."
So he said "we'll see what we can do." Well what was interesting is about five weeks later, it's the beginning of November, it had started to get cold so I had gone to my illegal parka I was wearing. They delivered one from J. C. Penney's which was navy blue not the khaki green color that everybody else was wearing and had a fleece hood that was baby blue color. I thought and said to him, "You wouldn't let me have one made downtown that looks like these, but I can wear this." Yes and it had the seal so I would get stopped every now and again about...
Zarbock: For being out of uniform?
Potter: For being out of uniform and having to show them this...it was a great parka. I loved it. I wish I could have brought it home with me. But it was trying to be sure that we had the right equipment and they would make adjustments. The other issues were the kind of entertainment that was on the base, what was being done at the clubs, was it ok to continue to do some of the girly things that were being done in the clubs or not particularly when you had enlisted women and officers there.
I think the other kinds of issues was representation on boards when they would have award boards etc. The others were simple things like can the women walk around in uniform not having their jackets zipped when the men have to have their jackets zipped. Those seemed insignificant at the time, but they were wrestling with trying to have us being as included in as well as taken care of. The other issues were what was the quality of the dormitories.
I had great support from my senior chaplain. It was a great tour. When I came back from Korea, I was now a real chaplain in the eyes of my colleagues because I had earned my stripes. I had gone remote which was one of the most important questions that my classmates seemed to have whenever visitors from headquarters would come to our orientation class.
The policy is after the first assignment most Protestant chaplains or most chaplains at that time went on a remote tour to Alaska, to Korea, Thailand, would Lorraine go remote. Well I had done it and I'd earned my stripes. I was now a real chaplain. Came back and was assigned to Pease Air Force Base. I was thinking of getting out because I really wanted to do Clinical Pastoral Education but I was a person of little faith in terms of my ability to land a job.
So I decided I'd take my next assignment. I was not back in the States three weeks and the Army called me and wanted to hire me as a civilian CPS supervisor at Fort Hood.
Zarbock: Date that, what year was that?
Potter: I came back in 1976, came in in '73, spent 18 months at Wilford Hall and then 13 months in Korea, came back. I had already signed in and accepted the assignment at Pease in New Hampshire which was 100 miles from my family which was a really good assignment since my stepfather had also died the last year and wanted to available for my mother.
Had a wonderful experience there. Was half-time hospital chaplain at a 50 bed facility and also was co-pastoring one of the services with a United Methodist chaplain. Worked with the Protestant women at the chapel which I realized I really needed that kind of women's support now that I'd been completely engrossed in this male world and was having a great time enjoying the flight line ministry, enjoying the pastoral care ministry.
Zarbock: Let me interrupt again. For the sake of the history that you're revealing, you talk about flight line ministry. What does that mean?
Potter: Actually our role as chaplains and I'll start here which will be a theme throughout, our role in the Air Force chaplaincy is we're here to be visible reminders of the holy. We're here to represent God. We're here to have a ministry or presence that reminds people that they're not going through life and through the trials of military service which has its trials by themselves.
So the port of our responsibilities is to go out and do unit ministry, go out and visit people in their work areas which is a great advantage compared to civilian ministry because we're living and working, we're playing by the same rules everybody else is, but there's an expectation that we're there where they are and that provides opportunities for conversations, actually some counseling and encouragement that's not really called counseling.
It takes a great deal of courage for an individual to walk into a chapel and say I need help and I want to get counsel. When we're out and about they don't have to do that. They also don't have to be embarrassed by their friends who say what did you go to the chapel for, which is also why right now we're really encouraging our chaplains to have offices in the work areas so the people can drop in and see them, kind of a morale area. This is working great over in our deployed areas to have morale tents where chaplains are out there doing that.
While I was out there doing that, being received very well, not very many challenges at the time but feeling like I was getting a good mixture of experiences and finding out that I really was enjoying working with women's groups. I was enjoying preaching which was really not my sense of calling, was still able to hospital ministry on a full time basis and had a staff that really helped me to learn how to work with other people. Probably my best mentor was the secretary at that chapel.
Zarbock: I was going to ask you if you had a chaplain's assistant.
Potter: Yes, we had chaplain's assistants. In the Air Force we're not assigned one on one. There are chaplain assistants who work in our offices. At that time the emphasis was on their being a chaplain, what we called chaplain managers which means managing facilities and funds and appointments and things like that in our bases. They were not out and about as they are now. We really have moved I think to the right way where our chaplain assistants really work with us in trying to provide the ministry that's needed. So they go out in the areas. But at that time, they worked in the office.
Zarbock: But they were military enlisted men?
Potter: They were military. In my first three assignments there were no women assigned. There was a secretary assigned at the hospital as the wing chaplain's secretary. That was the only woman on the staff there. Then the secretary at Pease was the only woman there. There were no women assigned in Korea. We had a Korean interpreter, a male, who worked on our staff in addition to the men who were assigned as chaplain, chaplain managers.
Zarbock: Let me do a little time line here. How long at this point had you been in the service?
Potter: From '73 to this was now '76, so about four years.
Zarbock: During that period of time had you met any other Air Force chaplain who was a female?
Potter: When I was in Korea, the head of personnel called to tell me they had their second woman chaplain that they had just commissioned, Chaplain Sharon Fredo from the United Methodist church, no actually it wasn't her. It was Linda Jordan who was also American Baptist. She was sent to Kiestler Air Force Base and was really having a difficult time there because she had a senior chaplain who was not sure whether it was gender discrimination or religious discrimination, but she was in the Air Force for 18 months and not allowed to preach, not allowed to use her pastoral skills, was struggling at that time.
By the time I was coming back from Korea, Chaplain Jordan was leaving the Air Force. She said she could not work in this kind of environment and Chaplain Sharon Fredo, United Methodist, had just been commissioned and they were sending her to Kiestler Air Force Base to replace Chaplain Jordan. When I was told that I did tell Chaplain Jim Thurman who was in personnel that that was not a wise thing to do.
They did it anyway. Chaplain Fredo did very well. She ended up staying and retired after 23 years, missed one promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, but then made it to Colonel. I'm really proud of the work she did. So I met Sharon - she was from New Hampshire so she came through on a visit to her family and stopped by and I met her there.
After that I was in about five more years and we brought in three more women chaplains. I made it a policy just to call them and say I'm Lorraine Potter, here's my DSM number so you can call on the phone if you want to touch base. Several felt like they had no problems or discriminations, that they would do fine. They wouldn't need to call me. After about a year and a half, they all did just to talk.
We needed to talk to one another to check out our paranoia. Some of it was real, there were some folks who didn't want us there and some of it's not real. Some of it you know if you start looking for it, you're going to find it. I felt that one of my jobs was to try to be an encourager and support person.
First piece of advice I'd give them, go remote. Ask for an isolated tour cause you'll win your stripes. Your colleagues will then say well she's paying the same dues I am and that clears the way. I still think that's true. With our deployments, most women have the chance to do that anyway. We're not assigned because of our gender, we're assigned because we're chaplains get to go...to be deployed.
It was my experience at Pease and the support I had with the secretary there who was a great advisor. She taught me how to use a secretary, she taught me how to work with other people who were struggling with my presence there.
Zarbock: For example.
Potter: There was a concern, she'd hear things like I was getting special favors or special attention because the commanders would call and ask for advice from me. Usually it was on women's issues. This was particularly true in Korea. I had one chaplain who just thought I was getting extra benefits. I don't know what benefits he thought, I was working as many hours, I was doing counseling etc.
There was a sense that because it was a very competitive environment at that time with our promotions and it still is that somehow I would be recognized. I will say that in my now, over 30 years being in the Air Force that I've lived in a glass house. You are seen. The advantage of that is when you do things very well, it's known.
But if you mess up, the whole world knows. I mean I spent the first 18 or 20 years taking surveys that were anonymous where you put down what we call our AFSC, what's your code for your job which is chaplain, I put chaplain. What's your gender, female. What's your grade and then I'd put my grade. I was the only one in most of the categories so obviously if they wanted to find out who that was that filled that out, it wasn't anonymous.
So there is that sense of living in a fish bowl, but I felt that that was okay because if I'm here to be a visible reminder of the holy that I would hope that somehow how I handled the crises and the challenges that come would be a testimony to others about how I do that. I've been very blessed. I've made every promotion, but I will see that the majority of our women chaplains have missed a promotion over these last 30 years.
Some of have been able to recover and have a second look. That is not going to be happening right now because our promotion rates are so small. But I came in and just was enjoying what I was doing and my bottom line was well I'm having a good time. If the Lord wants me to move, I'll have a clear message.
So I went from Pease to Andrews Air Force Base, spent a year there, was picked up to come up here to the Chief's office for what we call ASTRA, Air Staff Training Assignment. These were for senior captains to come and get an overview and kind of do a training, get a chance to see the bigger picture. Then from here received a joint spouse. My husband was an Army chaplain. We were married when I was at Andrews so we went over to Germany. He was the Post Chaplain for the Army there and I was the Protestant chaplain at Lindsay Air Station.
I thought at that point that issues of my being a woman chaplain were behind me, that I had also felt that you travel with the Chief of Chaplains, you're serving under the Chief of Chaplain, people are nice to you when you're traveling with the Chief. They were very nice to me. As I went over there though there were some rumors about the fact that the heavy from the Chief's office was coming. Well I was a captain, heavy, I don't know, Captain...That's where we start.
There were also some concerns about my being a woman chaplain over there. It's there that I experienced probably the most direct discrimination of being a woman in ministry. There were a small group of airmen that actually lived in the dormitories that were going to bible studies with my senior Protestant when I arrived. It was his class. He had about 20 or so of those guys that would attend.
The first four times that I preached there was a group of about six or seven of these young men who were in the church service. When I would get up to read the gospel lesson and to preach, they would get up and walk out. They did that three times, maybe four times. I then decided that that was absolutely inappropriate, told the Senior Protestant Chaplain that the next time they did that, I would stop them.
I would use their names so the rest of the congregation would know who they were because it was inappropriate for them to demonstrate and disrupt other people's worship, that he as the senior Protestant had made a practice of publicizing who was preaching it was either her or I. It was either he or I and I said at the time there are 23 other worship services in this community, 14 other Protestant chaplains. They can choose to worship elsewhere. I don't need to be everyone's pastor, but I need them to not be disruptive to other people's worship.
I'm a slow learner. In the first four or five months every two weeks I'd have two of these young men who would make appointments to come in and see me. Their point was they wanted to talk about biblical basis of women in the ministry. After a while, I realized that I'd look at my appointment calendar and every Wednesday or Thursday every other week I had these appointments.
After that had happened for about four months, I said to the senior Protestant I was not going to take anymore of that counseling, that there were other chaplains. If they were really serious about wrestling with that scriptural issue, go talk with them. It was now very personal. I did not get a lot of support from my senior Protestant at that point who could not understand why I was unwilling to carry on those conversations if I was such a highly trained counselor.
I just reminded him that it was now becoming personal because they were not talking about women in the ministry, they were talking about Lorraine in ministry. What was interesting was after that year, one week after my senior Protestant chaplain left, I got a phone call from two of these young men who asked if they could take me to lunch. I told them I would meet them there.
Zarbock: I'm sorry, these are enlisted men?
Potter: These are enlisted men.
Potter: They were in their 20's, mid to early 20's. Yeah, at that time they were young compared to me.
Zarbock: Do military regulations permit them to invite you to lunch?
Potter: Well as a chaplain you can do that. What's interesting is that one of the regulations of the military is that if you have any prejudices you cannot act on them or speak on them; however somehow it's okay because religion is seen so personal that those kind of prejudices even today are really hard for us to address and squelch. That's one of my issues as Chief of Chaplain to make sure that we start addressing that in a much more aggressive way.
At the time I said ok, I'll meet them and have pizza with them and talk with them. They had invited me because they wanted to apologize for their behavior earlier, that they were wrong. I appreciated the fact that they wanted to do that. I was a little concerned that they waited until their mentor, my senior boss and chaplain had left, but I also felt that one of the things that I was able to accomplish in my presence and there are places I'd go and be invited to preach and then show up there too, was they had to wrestle with those issues.
The issue is that God can use us in all kinds of ways and all kinds of people and it's not that we should restrict ourselves to hear what God has to say to us because we mix up different people.
Zarbock: Looking ahead again into the far future when this tape is revealed again, revealed to somebody, as best as you can what was the motive behind this disruptive group?
Potter: I think they really felt that the role of women in the church as leaders was prohibited by the Scriptures. I also believe that there were several folks who had some pretty significant personal issues and it was much easier to deal with someone else's issue, an outside issue than their own personal issues of divorce and broken relationships and those kinds of things. I think they could couch them in religious terms and that was why it was ok for them to do that.
It was also as we know say my husband refused to give up his maiden name so he and I have different names, that we were challenged, I was challenged that I was obviously again breaking the scriptural requirement to be submissive to my husband because I did not have his last name. Obviously when I would try to explain, they did not care. The issue was much easier when people called and asked for Chaplain Potter rather than Chaplain Saunders. We knew who they were asking for.
We didn't have to say male, female, Army, Air Force and were able to continue to be very supportive. What's interesting are our roles at home and in our personal lives are very, very traditional, more so than many others in today's society.
Zarbock: What do you mean by very traditional?
Potter: Oh I do the things in the inside, the cooking, the cleaning, the buying of gifts and all over these 25 years. He's retired from the military and working in civilian ministry, he is doing more of the things with shared responsibility so we can have time together, but at the time, he washed the cars, cut the grass and I took care of everything else inside. He took care of most of the bills and I took care of the domestic things.
The issue for them again, we were challenging what they thought were the mores of what was traditional and obviously just my being in a military uniform back in the early 70's was seen as a challenge. My working as a chaplain I was seen as somebody who was interested in equal rights, women's liberation and all that. I was not. My goal is to be faithful to God's calling, to do what God wanted me to do. I had grown up in a family that said whatever you want to do, work hard at it and God will give you the opportunities to do it, so just do it.
So for me it was a very painful year because I kept, I guess when you're young in ministry you want people to be accepting of the ministry and not critical of it. I also realized that I was really firmly committed to what I was doing. When I came back from there, we were assigned to San Antonio. I went back to hospital ministry because my husband went to Fort Sam Houston.
I had asked to do that because in our ministry in Germany he had a full time parish, I had a full time parish. I was trying to be the pastor spouse in his community plus trying to do all the things in my community and I was tired, feeling that if I was doing hospital ministry five days a week, I wanted to be involved in his ministry. If he was staff work, I could do parish ministry so we were hoping to alternate that now that he was a Colonel, I was a Major at the time which ever worked. He ended up going to be the Senior Pastor at Fort Sam Houston.
So going into the hospital was helpful. I could then teach Sunday School at his community, go to worship and still do my job. Did that for a couple of years and then went from there to staff work at training command and was asked to go there.
Zarbock: Located where?
Potter: That was in Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio. We had the advantage of being able to have several jobs there, but didn't have to move houses. Then when we got too many Baptists in the
Headquarters I had to move. They had two Southern Baptists, a National Baptist, an American Baptist out of five chaplains. They decided one of the Baptists had to go. Even though there were two Southern Baptists, I said I looked different and went ahead and moved which turned out to be a great opportunity.
We then moved to Egland Air Force Base which was a fighter pilot base with A-10's in Tactical Air Command at the time so it was a real macho group. My husband had now retired and as we moved down there, he ended up becoming the director of a newly established Family Support Center and I was being the Wing Chaplain. I was a Senior Chaplain at that base.
It was the best two years of ministry. The best advice I got was from a Command Chaplain who at the time was Chaplain Don Harlan who later became our chief. He came down and I was bemoaning the fact that my superstar on the staff was leaving in four months and I just had some pretty average kind of folks that were there and one that wasn't even sure he was going to stay.
He said, "Lorraine, if you had all superstars you wouldn't need a leader and this is going to be your test. The test of a leader is what you do with just the ordinary and we had a phenomenal extraordinary ministry which was there for two years. Also again another saying was if you could get in with the fighter jocks, you're in the real Air Force." I still have probably the best friends, line officer friends came from our two years there.
From there I came up to the Chief's office and worked in our Plans and Programs Division and it was during that time, for the first time I realized maybe I could be colonel because I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and I saw the other Colonels and I saw I was as capable as they were. I was given opportunities to serve in headquarters. I had been at the Major Command, I'd been at headquarters. So when I was promoted to Colonel, I was the first woman chaplain in the Department of Defense promoted to Colonel as a chaplain.
Had a magnificent ceremony with his Chief of Staff and I felt like this is it, I had arrived, this was great. It felt like I needed to do three years of an assignment, I wanted to go down to the Chaplain School. My background is in education and training as I said earlier, did not get to go there. I went to the only assignment that I told my husband I did not want and would rather retire from and that was going over to the Pentagon for the Armed Forces Chaplain's assignment which was one chaplain deep and it was working for the Secretary of Defense.
I saw that as a woman Colonel, we're a dime a dozen over there. That's where they send the women Colonels from the line. You're doing the equivalency of captain's work because you're doing staff work for senior officers. Also I'd be out of the Air Force. I thought I'd be really hidden away from the Air Force. I wanted to be out where I could so that I could do leadership. I was a Colonel, I was part of the system.
However I ended up taking the assistant and I went over there and I will tell you that that assignment is the one that has best prepared me to be the Chief of Chaplains.
Zarbock: 16 December 2003, ____ Air Force Base, interviewee Major General Potter. I am Paul Zarbock, go on.
Potter: I was on the Armed Forces Chaplain Board as the Executive Director at the Pentagon. What was interesting in that report was that I think the Chief of Chaplains felt he had to sell my assignments so I saw the return note from my assistant vice chief of staff who said, "If she's so good, why is she not going to be a Major Command Chaplain?"
The next one available needs to go there, Chaplain Potter. Well I'd seen that and I thought that was interesting, okay, but this was a three year controlled tour. We did some interesting things, but I will tell you now that I'm back here. I went over there in 1994 and here it is 2004 and some of the same issues are still being discussed which then goes to show how slow the progress is of making, some things in the government are policy.
One of the most exciting issues was I was trying to introduce Muslim chaplains into the military. So I had the privilege of working with the first young man who wanted to be an endorser who was a retiring gunnery sergeant in the Marines. He was a convert and had a full 20 years in the Marines as a Muslim getting pretty good support from the chaplains who were there, but realizing there was a great need in the vacancy, particularly for him and he felt for others of his faith, noting having Muslim chaplains there.
We're still working that issue, still have some controversy here in 2003 moving into 2004.
Zarbock: Is one of the issues the absence of seminary training?
Potter: That was one of the issues, where did get their education and training.
Zarbock: So certification and credentials.
Potter: And we did some creative things. I think the first Navy Muslim Chaplain was trained in a Lutheran seminary. The concern that I had at that time as a colonel was I want someone who's trained in his own faith background. The other concern is particularly for those who have converted to the faith is they really need to be well grounded in their culture and tradition.
We're have concerns with being sure that we we're really as diversified as possible. There were still concerns at that time of how do we support those who claim to have a pagan faith, what does that mean. Those are still issues today. So it was really an eye opening kind of experience as well as the opportunity to work with the other chiefs and deputies.
I was also finding that I had a great secretary who was real smart and made me look smart. The other part was realizing that in that job that the Chief of Chaplains was real smart, made me look smart and the other part was realizing that in that job that the Chief of Chaplains was coming in the direction that I put him in because I would set up the agenda, I would set up the items, I would get the backing but found it to be a very good learning experience.
Zarbock: Let me gnaw away just for a minute on the issue of pagan. Would the phrase be pagan worship?
Potter: I don't know, it's pagan religions is what they're referred to now and these are folks who were not in a Judeo-Christian or the Abrahamic religions as the world has known them right now. The issue for me is that I'm here paid for by the United States government as a chaplain while I represent my faith. It's the free exercise of religion.
What we've been able find over at least the last ten years is that those who have expressed a desire for support in their pagan faith, usually they have been identified by the Wiccan faith, has not been able to get some lay groups, they need space to meet. If they meet on base we have to be sure that there are accommodations of religious practices, that unit cohesion is important, health safety readiness, those kinds of issues so they've been supported and provided for. Their numbers are very small.
But we live in a great democracy particularly in the area of religious freedom. We can demonstrate to the world that we can have respect and treat people with dignity while disagreeing in what they believe. I've seen this particularly as I've moved in to the arena of work with Native Chiefs and Chaplains. Our democracy is unique in that all the work is absolutely unique. In most of other democracies, have chaplain services that they hire to serve their own kind. So they'll hire a rabbi to take care of the Jews. They'll hire a Catholic to take care of the Roman Catholics. They'll hire an Orthodox chaplain to take care of the Easter month of faith. In Germany even in Gaelish, the Lutheran come to take care of their own. They don't cross bounds.
As a matter of fact, I just got an email from a rabbi who I have assigned over to the Joint Forces Korea office. They are now working with the Koran chaplains and had a meeting for the first time just within this month where they discussed how together our chaplains take care of other needs not just their own and they've asked for more meetings. They've asked for opportunities to discuss them. They've asked for opportunities to discuss and are absolutely amazed that a rabbi can take care of a Christian and that a Catholic can take care of a Protestant in counseling needs and support needs.
So we're demonstrating that I think in a very powerful way. So to be part of that sort of on the cutting edge as we move now into the unknown. What that does though for us is particularly when you're dealing in the area of religion are that people are passionate about what they believe and it's very threatening when something is seen as foreign and difficult and therefore we have to really learn better how to resolve conflicts and do that in a healthy, peaceful kind of a way.
So I think we in the Chaplain Service are leading the way not for just military but also our country is leading the way in our world that is really humbling for how to get along. I did that for 15 months and then was given the opportunity to go to Europe as the Command Chaplain in Europe. My husband, at this point I had told him after 20 years, it's his decision every time I take an assignment. He said well for your history, there's never been a woman Command Chaplain, you've got to go do that.
So we went to Europe and again it was an opportunity, the right place, the right time. This is at the time when we were going into Bosnia, into Hungary. A tough time, I was right on the cutting edge working with the Army who was struggling. They struggle more than we do, the shortage of Catholic chaplains and here it is Christmas Eve, almost Christmas Eve and we don't have chaplains in Bosnia. And what more important time to do that. I promised the Army that we would get a Catholic chaplain in and it was Christmas Eve before I got him on an airplane.
Christmas day I was finally able to get our Protestant chaplain in to do those kind of services. I saw him like two years in Europe. We had things going on in Bosnia and Hungary, when we had problems with Turkey and the Kurdish refugees. We had problems with Turkey for the Kurdish refugees and there were humanitarian concerns in Africa and several other places. All of this is being done out of Europe.
I realized we were doing the work of God. What are we doing, we're trying establish the peace, we're trying to maintain the peace. We're feeding the hungry, we're rescuing those that are in danger and while we're being instruments of the military and defending America, we in the United States military are doing the work of God. I was very proud of the ministry I saw going on. It's that that kind of reinforces, I'm in the right place at the right time, we're making a difference in our world and that's where I had my most exposure to the NATO Chief of Chaplains and being part of that experience and realizing how very special our chaplain services in the United States really is.
Also seeing us work together, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, trying to be sure and I'm sure it helps to have Army husband chaplain in order to say if I've got resources the Army does and vice versa. We ought to work together. I've been told that was the best working relationship in Europe that we've ever had in trying to provide that.
After two years I got a phone call and they said we've got another job for you. Your husband wants to retire in San Antonio, do you want to go San Antonio and go get training as a command chaplain. That's where we wanted to go and it was my answer to prayer. I wasn't quite ready to get out.
Zarbock: The year is what?
Potter: This was 1997. We spent '95 to '97 in Germany and then came back to San Antonio. And is the best fit, this will be the best job I've ever had in the Air Force Chaplain Service, is being
Command Chaplain for Air Education and Training. Went into a place where they was my background. My concern for other chaplains as I went around was I want them to be trained to succeed, succeed in a mission and succeed personally.
Sometimes just because you think you're promoting, you think you're able to go ahead in there rather than have the skills that you need or the background you need. As I went into training command, here's where some lessons came into focus for me. You talk about what is the chaplain service, what does mean, where is it going and what did I learn.
As I got there, I realized, here we are we bring in over 30,000 young people a year into the military enlisted and then we bring in I think it's something like 8 or 9000 officers. So we're bringing close to 40,000 of our brightest youngest folks in our country. First thing I want to say that every teenager ought to do basic training. I've decided the absolute transformation in six weeks of going through basic training even if they never served in the military, and I was told it cost about $10,000 for one person just to show up at basic training whether they ever finish their training.
But it is worth $10,000 investment in every young person that we have in our country to give them experience, having to learn in a group, having to learn discipline, having to learn that they can't make it through life alone and the privilege when I go down four or five times I went and had lunch with some of the trainees. Consistently I would ask them what did you learn; there was two things they learned. First thing they appreciate the little things. They appreciate home, they appreciate momma's nagging, they wish that momma was there to do some nagging.
They appreciate those little things that were at home that now they wish was closer by. The second thing they tell me is they could never make it without their buddies, that they need other people to do it. I've been to some graduations down there and I've talked to some parents particularly when I've preached on a Sunday after graduation and they'll say Chaplain, you know that kid I put on the bus or airplane six weeks week. I don't know where he is, but I've got a young man, I've got a Marine that's different than when came in. I am so proud of them. That's after six weeks.
But I also realized there that everyone in the military is in crisis or at the edge of crisis, every day, every day, and my calling as I saw it when I came in and I hope I said this earlier in my interview was that I want to be with people who are in crisis, going through he challenges of life. But there's nothing more challenging that leaving home, getting on a bus and every kid that gets off that base at Lackland Air Force Base, boy how I did get there, and man, they're going to kill me.
And they realized at that point that life is very crisis. There are those who go through the Academy. There are those who are in crisis every day. Those that go to pilot training, you think these are the elite. You think these are the young people who are going to fire at planes. Yet every day they live with the anxiety that they may physically get sick and physically can't handle flying. They've been dreaming since they were 8 years old of spending their life that way.
There are those who find out maybe they can't academically, they're in crisis if they're not doing whatever. Then you're in. You're doing the job you want if your lucky. Then you get orders and you don't want to go. You get married and every one is married, there's going to be someone who doesn't want to go. There's going to be a kid who doesn't want to live. There's going to be a kid in high school. There's going to be medical problem.
Then the longer you're in the service, if you've got aging parents. You're in crisis because you don't want to go because you want to take care of elderly patients. That doesn't the count. You may get killed doing this job. In Desert Storm our military changed, particularly in the Air Force. We are not as home base. We are a forward deployed unit. Which means you watch the CNN, you watch Fox news. Why, you've got to find out where you're going to be 48 hours from now.
You've got to find out what you've been doing. That impacts us which means that we're always sort of on the edge of crisis. But what that also means for us is we're open to find out what's really important in life. What's really important. That's where you have those God moments that come, that people are willing to let the chaplain - and say what's happening, what does this mean and how am I spending my life, what is this is the last day of my life.
What about the issues of family and how are they provided for. It's that kind of experience that was realized that we needed to tap into so that as I went into training command, my goal was to train my chaplains to be ready to walk those roads and those uncertain places and to be in the foxholes with these kids and kind of climbing over the mountains if we have to. So we ended on the student training centers. How do we contemporize worship so that these kids who had never been to a church and hear the words of worship and gospel but do it through music, doing it through experiences so in the command by the time I had left, four of the five technical training bases had what we called student centers. One we'd have for 25 years now at Keisler, but the other bases realized that this is one of the drop in places where the chaplains are around and they can get a home environment, when they can ask the important questions and not to have walk into a chapel which is completely foreign to the majority of these young people.
Zarbock: A student center might find a comparability on a university campus as a student union.
Potter: Yes, very similar. Informalities and particularly when they're in a training environment. They need this place and it may be a place for study, our family support centers also work with their resources. Those that come in with young families, there's usually a place for the spouse and young kids can go and kind of hang out in this training environment.
So I was able to work. The band was allowed to be a singles ministry training for chaplains and develop the format to do training in masses for chaplains and chaplain assistants. The other, I think I was unaware of this, our chaplain assistants needed to be trained at some of those very areas as we do. But I was down there as training command having a good time planning on putting my transfer papers in. My husband said, that's where we wanted to retire. The other thought was I really wanted to go back terminate my career as a colonel where with now have full-fledged CP program. His comment was, "nah, I'm ready for you to retire, but let's not make it easy on the board. This is the military. They're not going to choose a little girl chaplain".
So I said we'd wait and see. I think he was praying for that. Well when the list came out and I was selected I must tell you it was a rather traumatic time as I went home to tell my husband that General Newton had just told me that I was on the list for Brigadier General the next day because when we talked about it, we knew it was a six year commitment for me to continue to serve.
So I went home. I had fallen that day and hit my head pretty bad and so he was at home waiting for me because my staff had called and told him I'd gone to the hospital because I'd hit my head. So I called him and told him I was okay, I'd be home, had to go to a prayer for a Christmas party and then I would come home.
Well that's when I found out that the Christmas party that I was going to be selected. Well when I came in, I tell you this because it's a tribute to my husband but it also shows his commitment in supporting me. I walked in and he said, "well how are you doing." I said, "my head hurts a little bit, but I'm fine". I said I had something to tell him, that General Newton was talking that I'm on the O7 list.
He looked at me and asked how hard did you hurt your head and I said I hit my head alright. And then he started to cry. I'd been selected and I could not do this but I needed his support. He said, "okay, the board and the Air Force are not done with you, I'll move one more time". Then I started to cry and I thought what a commitment for him to know that the sacrifices for him for me to do this is much more than it is for me.
I have the satisfaction of handling the ministry and the commitment to try to continue to make a difference. So we left there and packed up and went to Washington.
Zarbock: That year was what?
Potter: That was '99. We moved here in June, September of '99 to do that. I was promoted. There were some challenges. I think the biggest challenge which resulted in a long time
Inspector General, investigation was a real challenge which I think came about because of the real struggle that the woman chaplain was the first minority to make it to the general office of ranks in the chaplaincy.
With this opportunity I will tell you that the greatest challenges and the most painful things in life are the greatest opportunities for God to use for blessings. I see that with where I started when the most painful sense of loss through my father's illness and death and it opened the door for God to use me in this way. When I see that this was a very painful, most painful thing in my life to go through.
Your integrity is being challenged, your leadership is being challenged, realizing that for the 27 years before hand or 25 years, I'd been living in a glass house anyway, my life was an open book. But what it did for the chaplaincy was causing us to focus on and make sure that what we're doing is taken care of, that we were diverse, that we are providing opportunities for all our people to be trained and succeed. I think that we are leading the way in areas of diversity because of all these challenges.
We've changed all our personnel assignment processes who they are completely consistent with what the line officers do realizing that the people who come in for ministries, you have to focus on what's important and it's taking care of people. So as I became the chief, I set up three goals.
My first one is that because of the conflicts and the jealousies and the kinds of internal things that were going on with the some of the chaplains, that the first thing is the spiritual health of the chaplains and the chaplain assistants. You can't give out of a dry barrel and you can't give out if you have no real sense of calling. So how do we help and strengthen the spiritual fitness of the chaplain service members.
Number two is to be concerned about the health, the training. We train and equip for the success of a mission. The expectation our Air Force members have on the kind of ministry that we want train for success for the mission and the individuals.
The third one was that I wanted us as an Air Force chaplain service to be ready, we had to be ready to deploy. That third goal was taken care of on 9/11/2001 when that terrible tragedy occurred. What it did is it did focus our job that as military members our job was to protect freedoms, our own freedoms and the freedoms of the world. It was in the response to the attacks on the Pentagon particularly that I saw firsthand the outstanding quality of our chaplain assistants who were really doing some great leadership things.
They made me feel like this 5 feet tall Chief of Chaplains was 6'10" on the days when I saw the work and the ministry they were doing. Also another piece to say God provides. The Pentagon at any one day usually has seven chaplains in that building. Only one assigned to take care of ministry for 32,000 people. The rest of them are chiefs of chaplains and staff chaplains, but seven.
On that day there were 40 chaplains in that Pentagon who within minutes, it didn't matter what they're grade was, whether they were two stars, one star, lieutenant colonels, they were all doing hands on ministry around the clock and then people volunteer and had our folks from the National Guard coming in, our Rerservists coming in for six weeks right under our noses so to speak, taking care of the ministry, with readiness minds. We're ready to go knowing that the war on terrorism was going to be a long time.
But we were here to take care of people. And the things that are people have seen, they have to then come back and live with it. It's our job to help them to stay whole, to stay connected and to see God in he midst of whatever the tragedy is. So that's been a great opportunity. The one thing I keep saying to folks and I want this on tape, following September 11, on the Friday after in Yankee stadium, that was a prayer service. Thousands of people went to that prayer service at Yankee stadium, every faith group represented.
But they all went together and prayed for our nation, for our world. This is the Friday after. In the newspaper in the Washington Post there was an editorial and in it they talked about this great miracle that could only happen in this country after such a tragedy as September 11 and it could only happen this one time in Yankee Stadium where people from every nationality, every faith, joined hands in prayer with one purpose in mind, that is caring for one another and our nation and our world. I read that and thought we've got a better story to tell.
The chaplain's services in our military do that every day. That miracle happens every day in the ministry chaplaincy. We share sacred space. We share sacristies. We join hands in prayer every day for our people. We go where they go so this miracle could only happen on this one occasion, I need the rest of America to know, our chaplain services do that every single day. Now we're stretched.
Half of the conflicts, there's about 40 or 50. There are killing wars going on right now in our world. Half of them are over religion, over half of them are over religious differences. We have a chaplain service where we have Catholic, Protestant, Muslims. We have chaplain assistants who are more committed to religious freedom than many others because they've experienced discrimination. So in that experience the power of the chaplain service and the advantage for me to be able to serve and make a difference has been incredible.
My time as a chaplain and particularly as Chief of Chaplains where I go out and I do prayer work, I've got a taste that some of my colleagues don't get. I'll have people at the end of a service come up to me and say, you don't remember but two years ago...this happened to me. A young lady came up and said you don't know me but I was Midland Hall when you did a prayer service and that was going to be the last thing I ever did and something convinced me I needed to go. She said her life was a mess and she decided she didn't want to struggle any more. She said but you came and you talked about reporting for duty in prayer. She said you know God sent you here today cause my life wasn't very good, but what God did by sending you was to remind me that even as bad as it was it was up to me to get in touch with my faith.
I have several dozen of those kind of experiences where individuals would come to me and say something like that. I know that I've made a difference in a few people's lives and that's what I felt God's calling was. I had a young lady come up to me and say, "I've got to tell you. I retired as a Master Sergeant, you knew me at England Air Force Base. I was a senior airman. Because of your ministry I realized that all that time I thought God was calling me to ministry and I was telling him I couldn't do that cause I was a woman. Your ministry showed me that I can do that. I need to tell you that I retired as a Master Sergeant. My husband retired as a Master Sergeant. Today outside of March Air Force Base, we're pastoring a new A&E, African American Episcopal Church and it's because of the ministry you provided."
That's the difference that chaplains can make. Not what I can make, but what chaplains can make. That's where we say the painful parts of life, God can use them to make them into opportunities for blessings for other people and I've been blessed to do this for 30 years, going into 31 years. As I say to the folks who are struggling now, our promotion rates are the worst they've ever been because we come in and we like to stay.
I ask two questions. The first question I ask all my chaplains and assistants, because you've worn the blue uniform, have you made a difference in someone else's life. And I will tell you that 100%, that's over 600 or 700 people who all raise their hand. The second question I ask is would you do it again. Life is short and fragile. Would you spend your life doing this again. I will tell you 90% said yes. Then I tell them you've had a successful career no matter what you're wearing on your shoulders or sleeves, you've had a successful career. If you can answer both those questions at the end of your life, then I believe you've had a successful life.
My job as a chaplain is to help people that God's given them life to have a successful life which is making a difference in our world.
Zarbock: These are the lessons or the blessings you have received?
Potter: These are the lessons and the blessings both that I've received. For me the Scripture story that I knew was my mantra was the story of Joseph in Genesis. His brothers beat him up, they're jealous. He's different, he's daddy's favorite, they beat him up. They meant to kill him. To be thrown into a pit and be sold to go to farm country knowing that your father thinks your dead, to go off. Every time he prospered because he stayed with God's will. Then at the end his brothers come back. He says to his brothers, you meant it for evil, God meant it for good.
God sent Joseph to save his people. Worst thing that happened to you Joseph, was you were beat up and sold into Egypt. The best thing that hp to you Joseph you were in Egypt and saved my people. So all of us can see when we're in the valleys and the trials, that those things are put into God's hand with the eyes of faith will turn out to be blessings later. It doesn't mean that we liked what happened to us. It doesn't mean that any of that is good. Our job is to turn our lives over so God can use them to bless others. I pray that's what my ministry has been about.
Zarbock: Chaplain Potter, it's a pleasure to know you. May the Lord be with you.
Potter: Thank you, and also with you.