Stewards of God's Image
In today's world women are serving and leading more, and in a wider variety of duties than in previous generations. So, on some levels, serving in the military as a woman is no big deal--women are serving in a variety of assignments in most military units and civilian organizations.
There is a special challenge in store for single Christian women serving in the military, particularly for those who lead and are entrusted with leadership responsibilities. But any woman, regardless of rank or status, interacts within a sphere from which she will emerge either as a person of influence or a person to be influenced.
I approached my military service as an aviation officer as a sort of missionary endeavor. I didn't expect to be surrounded by very many men and women who wanted to become more holy. But I also didn't want to become less than God intended simply because I was surrounded by circumstances, language, or activities that were not so holy. I wanted to leave a mark, and point others to the Lord Jesus through my actions, words and behavior in both official and off-duty capacities. I was not so concerned about making a mark as a woman as I was with making a difference as a person, accepting challenges as personal opportunities to grow in character, maximizing the capabilities and talents I was given, and offering light and hope and service to those around me.
I have come to appreciate more and more, though, how my identity as a woman plays a part in my mission and ministry focus. We are all called to serve God in this life so that we might enjoy even closer union with Him in the next. Our lives as men and women ought to be complementary rather than competitive in reaching this goal. My hope is that by sharing a few guiding principles in my life, single women in the military will be encouraged to press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). And that it will spark a dialogue about how OCF might serve the mandate in Hebrews 10:24-25, particularly in terms of training, exhortation and encouragement to single professional servicewomen. Here are a few principles to consider:
Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23). Women have to be very intentional about this. Our hearts are the wellspring of life and staying alive means cultivating our hearts and guarding them against deadening activities and relationships.
Choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). Choose life-giving activity and social interaction. Select lunch friends, church, Bible study, OCF and other service and fellowship opportunities. Often work is very draining and difficult. Outlets are important.
Seek to uphold the dignity of others. We often feel like we need to dominate in order to be heard, noticed, appreciated, or followed. A woman is respected first of all when she respects herself enough to stand firm, and when she respects others enough to honor them as persons created in the image of God (Psalm 139).
Uphold the dignity of femininity. Seek out what it means to be female, feminine, woman-at the core it means being created in the image of God, which is amazing and beautiful. There is a depth, strength, and an inherent receptivity in women. We play a large role in upholding the masculinity of men and helping men to be the men God created them to be. "Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way" (CCC 2335).Understanding how our differences equally reflect God's image might lend itself more to teamwork than competition. First Peter 3:4 teaches about the heart of true adornment and beauty. Gentleness and quietness are not the same as weakness and silence.
Keep the standards high (Romans 12:1-2; James 3). I try to guard my own tongue. Women have many words to speak each day. May they be words that edify and build others up.
Guard the hearts of others (Hebrews 13:1). As women we have a lot of responsibility in helping the men in our units be true to themselves, their wives and their families. Modesty in speech, dress and behavior plays a role in this.
Pray. Pray for your supervisor and those in your care, especially to find ways to honor those most difficult to respect.
Combat loneliness. Loneliness is the cross that single women often bear, particularly for those serious about following Christ. One of the best cures is to pour yourself into the lives of others. See what your chaplain might be working on and volunteer where help is needed. There are many service outreach possibilities around most installations. Cultivate a hobby. The servicemen and women under your care will also benefit from receiving your prayers and creative leadership.
Ask for help. Surround yourself with families and a few good friends that you respect and want to emulate. While on active duty I found that I really had to maintain a sense of personal space and time. I asked many people for prayer along the way and sought out positive examples, whether characters in books, friends, or other military mentors. The Bible is a rich source of help, wisdom, and encouragement.
Learn from motherhood. Not all women can, will, or want to be mothers, but motherhood is something inherent to the female identity. Mary, the mother of Christ, though she was never a military officer, certainly lends us a great example in the realm of motherhood; she influenced Jesus in His formative years. A single woman might not be a mother in the physical sense, but the Christian officer does have lives in her care and responsibility over which she exercises elements of motherhood. Even cheerfully taking up mundane duties for the betterment of the unit and your own sanctification can serve as an example to the watchful eyes of peers and subordinates.
Search out your vocation. When you look down the road years from now, where do you want to be? I want to be married and in the midst of raising children. I view my singleness as preparation for such a time.
One of the most helpful exercises for me was to map out a twenty-year plan. I usually stopped my plan after six to eight years because I realized that staying in the military as an active duty officer, receiving more and more responsibility, was not compatible with my goals and my true heart's desire-raising a family as a stay-at-home mom.
I had to take a hard look at what I wanted and at my personal desires, talents and interests, and decided to request a release from active duty. Much prayer surrounded the details.
Learn to exercise contentment and peace in your circumstances, and discover the desires of your heart as you discover God's heart and will for your life.
Julia left the Army in 2005 after seven years on active duty as an aviation officer. She lives in Washington, DC, and is an administrative assistant in the Archbishop's office in the Archdiocese of Washington. She has been very active in OCF and has served on the OCF Council.
Adapted from the April 2006 issue of COMMAND magazine for the December 2010's Best of the Best of COMMAND, 2000-2010.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. United States Catholic Conference, Inc.-Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997.