When Rev. Amber Kunkel became a chaplain 3 years ago, she didn’t anticipate becoming the first female chaplain in the 79 year history of Hurlburt Field in Niceville, Florida, or the first female chaplain to work within the Air Force Special Operations Unit (SpecOps) community, which contains some of the most elite service members within the U.S. Air Force. 

But after her graduation from the Air Force’s Basic Chaplain Course (BCC), Kunkel made her way to Niceville, Florida, serving those who serve in some of the most fraught environments in the world.

“As havoc has its way in your life, your spiritual life can keep you grounded, focused, and having hope. ‘Spiritual fitness’ is a pillar in the Air Force, and my experience in chaplaincy has helped me know what that is, and recognize how to help those who serve admit when they feel at a loss. Sometimes, even as believers, we need to offer space to say, ‘I feel lost today, but I know the one who knows the way.’” 

Kunkel completed the BCC program near the top of her class; and although she had prior experience in local church ministry, and in traditional pastoral education, chaplaincy has allowed her to pivot those gifts into a context that has cultivated the best in her character. Upon completion of BCC, Kunkel was authorized for worldwide service–meaning she can be deployed anywhere in the world to support special operations personnel. 

“Can you imagine being ready, willing, and able to serve God anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice?” said Dr. Gary Carr, The Chaplain Endorser for The Wesleyan Church. “It’s one thing to have training and experience and be available to serve in a particular locality; but imagine having someone for whom the world is the district; and those in management say, ‘We will send you anywhere in the world as a minister.’ That’s incredibly special, and that’s what Amber has achieved here, and it’s something she uniquely has gifts and graces for that lead me to anticipate a very successful ministry.” 

“Wanted and trusted” are two words Kunkel shares as she reflects on her experience in the Air Force thus far. Kunkel has been grateful for the support of her fellow chaplains, command officers, and the servicemembers she interacts with every day.

And while Kunkel serves as a representative of the Air Force, she also serves as a representative of The Wesleyan Church, respecting and working within an interfaith environment that reflects the diversity of our culture–which she thinks might be instructive to the church. 

“I go into this environment as one who carries the light in my own faith, but also respecting and being of help to those who have other faiths, which is interesting because even in pastoral, local-church ministry, learning to live in a pluralistic environment is not new. We all live there; but the military acknowledges that and equips strongly their chaplains to understand what it looks like to respect and live out your faith in a pluralistic environment. That was something I was not initially taught in other educational components; but that kind of interfaith dialogue is something that may benefit us to become more comfortable with in local congregations.”

As Kunkel considers her journey from enlisting to pandemic survival to graduation of BCC and her present service with SpecOps, she looks upon the experience as an exercise in staying curious in pursuit of the purpose God has for us. 

“I received my calling when I was 30 into pastoral ministry, and when I was 40 I was swearing in–and to this day, I’m like, ‘Do people see: what would God really do with you if you just gave it all?’ And so I’m serving now, washing the feet of anyone God places before me.”As readers consider how to follow God’s call to serve, Kunkel invites readers to consider exploring military chaplaincy as a fulfilling avenue.  For more information about how to explore chaplaincy, visit wesleyan.org/ecd/chaplains.