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Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Lorraine K. Potter, 60, recently spent a week touring the United Kingdom speaking with troops in the chaplaincy about their role in today’s Air Force. Stars and Stripes caught up with the Air Force’s first female chaplain at the RAF Mildenhall chapel for a chat about religion’s role in the war on terror, breaking down gender walls and serving as the chief chaplain of the Air Force on Sept. 11, 2001.

What brings you to England this wonderful time of year?

I was invited to speak at the Mildenhall prayer breakfast and also want to get around the country and speak to chaplains separated from the larger Air Force.

What do you hope to achieve during this trip?

My goal is to be a mentor and to give folks a plan of action: Move your lips in prayer and keep working toward your goals.

When did you join the Air Force?

I joined in 1973 and served 31 years before retiring in 2004. When I joined, Vietnam was just drawing down so I never got to go.

How different was the atmosphere in the chaplaincy and the Air Force when you joined in the ’70s as the Air Force’s first female chaplain?

The challenge was that you were in a fishbowl. Everyone watched what I did.

Was there discrimination?

One airman said I was doing the devil’s work. Another time a group of airmen stood up and left during a service just as I was getting ready to speak.

They just got up and walked out. That’s pretty bold.

Later, several came back and apologized. But I’m more worried about what’s going on now. Promotion rates for women in the chaplain service are very low. There’s still a theological bias about women being in the ministry.

What was it like to serve as the Air Force’s chief chaplain on Sept. 11?

A short story from that day reminds me that there is great evidence that God did not forget us in the face of all that tragedy. Normally, there are only seven chaplains in the Pentagon. But that day, there were over 40 in the Pentagon for appointments and meetings and other stuff. Within minutes of the attack, they were out doing ministry.

Is there a danger of the war on terror becoming a war between the Christian West and the Muslim Middle East?

That’s an issue for the folks in the States, not the troops in the field. The troops see people in need and want to help. And sometimes our biggest challenge remains our own prejudices and biases.

What do you want to remind ordinary troops about the chaplaincy during your trip?

You don’t need to wait until your life hits a crisis point to come talk to us. Some people are turned off by all the religious talk, but we’re not going to talk religion unless they talk religion. We are all spiritual, but not all religious. The spirit is life.


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