Fort Bliss Army chaplain a spiritual adviser, serious athlete
FORT BLISS -- To call Lt. Col. Karen Meeker a go-getter is kind of like saying El Paso is a little windy in the spring or LeBron James can play some basketball.
Meeker, the 1st Armored Division's new division chaplain, has some serious accomplishments both in the Army and athletically that make her stand out as elite by almost anyone's standards.
Meeker, 45, has completed five Ironman Triathlons since 2004; climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, last December; and has been a pioneer for women in the Army.
She is the only woman division chaplain in the Army right now and only the fourth overall in history.
She is also the first woman chaplain to serve in Special Operations and to qualify as a
Jumpmaster and Pathfinder, two elite designations that are described as difficult to attain.
Along with Master Sgt. Annie Jackson, the division's senior chaplain assistant, they form the only all-female team to lead a division chaplain's office.
"I'm really happy to be here in El Paso and at Fort Bliss," Meeker said. "I'm really honored to serve as the division chaplain for the 1st Armored Division and be on Gen. Pittard's team, to be the Iron Shepherd."
Meeker is single and is a United Methodist reverend.
"It's just me and Jesus," she said. "Work, worship and play is my life. For me, all three complement each other in a way that is life-giving."
Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commander of Fort Bliss and the
1st Armored Division, said Meeker is an "incredible asset to this division and installation."
"We are blessed to have such a dynamic leader, an incredible athlete and a great spiritual adviser," Pittard said. "Our chaplains do so much on behalf of our soldiers and families, and we are really excited about having Chaplain Meeker serve as our division chaplain."
Her previous assignment was as the executive officer for the Chief of Chaplains in Washington, D.C. She replaced Lt. Col.
Michael T. Klein, who is now deputy command chaplain for the European Command.
She took over her new duties on Jan. 22.
Meeker said she enjoys all kinds of athletic pursuits.
She started doing Ironman Triathlons while recovering from breaking her leg in eight places. She was hit by a car while riding her bike in 2003 at Fort Bragg, N.C.
She decided to do her first Ironman as a way to keep motivated during her rehabilitation.
An Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile open water swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon or 26.2 miles.
She completed her first Ironman in Panama City, Fla., in 2004 just 16 months after her accident.
She shuffle-jogged the first four miles of the marathon, walked the rest and used a cane for the final three miles. She finished in roughly 16å hours, just making it under the wire for the 17-hour cutoff.
Her last Ironman was in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 2010. Her best time ever was in Louisville, Ky., in 2007 when she finished in about 13åhours.
She also did an Ironman in New Zealand in 2009 while on a break during a deployment in Afghanistan.
"It was awesome," she said. "It was the perfect R&R for me."
Last December, she reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The peak is 19,340 feet. Meeker called it a nontechnical climb that is 95 percent trail and trekking. She unfurled a small 1st Armored Division sign at the top to recognize her next duty station.
"We had all kinds of layers with us," she said. "As we were climbing, it would be sunny out and be nice and warm. Then, it's raining, sleet or hail."
Her athletic endeavors give an indication of what female soldiers are capable of, she said.
"Women bring a lot to the table," Meeker said. "Even this past Olympics, women athletes were doing amazing things. Our female soldiers are the same. They bring so much to the fight, physically, mentally, emotionally. They just bring a lot. I just thank God I am a United States citizen where I have this opportunity to serve the nation and God in uniform."
As a chaplain, Meeker said her role is to provide religious support for soldiers and their families anywhere, whether stationed stateside or deployed. "It allows the soldier the right to exercise their freedom of religion," she said.
Earning designations like being a Pathfinder allows her to be closer to the soldiers she serves, she said.
"Army chaplains are with the soldiers day and night through all kinds of operations," she said. "It allows that gateway for being with the troops, from PT to any operations. That's where we are. Chaplains are out there with our soldiers, taking care of them and their families. Having these qualifications has allowed me to be with them and be that ministry presence."
Meeker, a native of Shickshinny, Pa., said she grew up in a family that put a premium on serving and giving back.
She also knew she was being called by God to serve as an Army chaplain from the time she was in high school.
"I definitely grew up in a family and community where giving back to the country is very important," she said. "We don't have a lot of career military in our family, but we've served and done our part to give back to the nation."
Meeker has been on active-duty with the Army since 1997. She has a bachelor's degree in classical Greek from Bucknell University and a master's in divinity from Harvard Divinity School.