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MEF: Iraq veteran on her way to becoming Army chaplain - May 2010

Doretta Fortenberry and fiance Joshua Remy (above) hope to have joint careers as Army chaplains. Fortenberry earned her master of divinity degree from the Perkins School of Theology.

Most soldiers do not go into a war zone and find a new career.

But Doretta Fortenberry did.

She was a recent graduate of Texas Tech University and headed toward a teaching career when she surprised her family and friends by joining the Texas National Guard in 2003.

When her unit deployed the following year, Fortenberry landed at an Army base in southern Iraq, working as a clerk for the brigade commander.

That's when soldiers began reaching out to her for spiritual guidance, and Fortenberry recognized her calling to become an Army chaplain.

"I felt such peace and contentment doing it," she said. "You just know it's the right thing."

On Saturday, she took an important step toward that goal when she was awarded a master of divinity degree, magna cum laude, from the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University a United Methodist University supported by the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment.

"It feels wonderful," said Fortenberry, 32, as she joined her parents and other family members after commencement ceremonies at Highland Park United Methodist Church.

Fortenberry found she loved the discipline and order of military life.

"The whole Army lifestyle works for some people," she said.

She also embraces the adventurous side of the military because it allows young soldiers to open up about things that matter most to them – their fear of dying and their relationship to God.

"They start realizing they could die anytime they left the security of the base compound," Fortenberry said about conversations she had with the troops. "They were trying to make sense of why they were there and what was going to happen if they died.

"They were struggling to make sense of God and why he would allow this war."

Fortenberry gave them answers and often directed them to the brigade's chaplain. Some of the soldiers began to call her the assistant chaplain.

"After six months in Iraq, I knew this was what I was being called to do," she said.

But it wouldn't be easy.

First, Fortenberry needed three years of seminary training, interspersed with two summers at Army chaplain school and two additional years of training before being ordained as a full elder in the United Methodist Church.

She plans to join the Army as a full-time chaplain after serving as the associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Pearland, a Houston suburb, for the next two years.

But some of that time will be spent planning her wedding.

She is engaged to another chaplain, Joshua Remy, 35, of Fairfield, Calif., whom she met at chaplain school. They will wed when he returns from his first deployment in Iraq in 2011 or 2012.

The couple hopes to have joint careers as Army chaplains.

Some people have wondered why they won't wed before he leaves this fall.

"I want to have a welcome-home kind of happy wedding," Fortenberry said, "and not a quick, sad, good-bye wedding before he leaves."


--adapted from a story by Sherry Jacobson, Dallas Morning News

Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Ministeriald Education Fund apportionment at 100%.

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