EL PASO—Before dawn boots hit the ground and soldiers carrying rucksacks begin a hike through McKelligon Canyon. This is not just a physical training exercise, it’s a spiritual journey.
“Ever do the Stations of the Cross before?” asks Lt. Col Meeker, the chaplain for the First Armored Division. The Methodist minister joined other chaplains walking alongside troops on a Holy Week hike.
“There’s a call for us to take the higher ground to be the example, “ Maj. Daren K. Coleman, the Brigade Chaplain told soldiers as they began their reflections on the 14 stations of the cross which mark moments in Jesus’ crucifixion.
“Jesus said no greater love than this—that you lay down your life for a friend,” Chaplain Meeker told about 50 soldiers gathered in the shadow of the canyon just after sunrise.
“After being at war for over ten years we know what it means to lay down a life for a friend,” said Lt Col Meeker.
She assumed her duties at Fort Bliss on Jan. 22. Two days later the military lifted a ban on women in combat.
“I think it’s really exciting and we’re going to see some women do amazing things,” said Lt. Col Meeker. “It’s going to benefit our country and the cause of freedom around the world.”
She has deployed with troops in Afghanistan, and is the first woman chaplain to serve in Special Operations. She has also earned the elite paratrooper status of jump master.
She’s also completed five Iron Man triathlons. In December she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
Lt. Col Meeker now oversees 48 chaplains and chaplain assistants in the First Armored Division. Chaplain Meeker and senior chaplain assistant Sgt. Annie Jackson are the only female team to lead a division.
Fort Bliss has four women chaplains and expects to get a fifth this fall.
“Some soldiers feel comfortable speaking to females more than they do to males regardless of their actual gender,” said Sgt. Arverna Slaughter, a chaplain assistant who helped organize the Holy Week hike.
The chaplains offer counsel and comfort at a critical time as soldiers coping with multiple deployments now transition from the battlefield to the home front.
“It’s been a heavy toll on our soldiers and their families,” said Chaplain Meeker.
Her message for troops: “To let them know there is a hope and strength that comes from God. And together we get through this.”