Honoring a Commitment to ServiceDuke Divinity students and alumni who serve in the military reflect on the meaning of Veterans Day
By Rebekah Ramlow
What does Veterans Day mean to you? Every soldier will hear that question at least once, says Duke Divinity grad and Army chaplain Soojin Chang.
Observed every year on November 11, Veterans Day began as an acknowledgment of the armistice between the Allied nations and Germany to end World War I on November 11, 1918. Named “Armistice Day” through a Congressional Act in 1938, it was “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace” and to remember the service of those who served in the First World War. In 1954, Congress changed the name to “Veterans Day” to honor all American veterans.
The Duke community gathers at Duke Chapel every November to honor those serving or have served in the United States Armed Forces.
In anticipation of Veterans Day, these Duke Divinity School students and alumni shared reflections about how their military experience shapes their ministry and spoke about what Veterans Day means to them.
Soojin Chang — United States Army
“Veterans Day reminds me that I am walking in the footsteps of many soldiers who have gone before me, commemorating and honoring their sacrifice and dedication and that I am paving a new path for future soldiers who will follow after me. I am proud to be a part of this special group,” says Soojin Chang, Th.M. ’23.
Chang has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army for 13 years and says that for him, being a soldier is both a job and a calling.
“In the military, I work with various people in various ways, learning to cooperate at all times. These experiences significantly diminish my prejudice and bolster my efforts to collaborate with others.”
In his work as an Army chaplain, Chang ministers to men and women of many faiths and beliefs, but he says that he looks “to discover commonalities that can strengthen the existing diversity” among officers.
“The military is a group of people with many skills who have gathered to answer their calls,” Chang says. “It amazes me when I see each person devoting all their ability, effort, and time to their calling above and beyond their personal situation and see how they sometimes risk their lives to fulfill that mission.”
In 2022, Chang was selected for the Advanced Civilian Schooling program, which led him to enroll at Duke Divinity School to pursue a master of theology degree. When he finishes his degree, he hopes to teach at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in Fort Liberty, N.C., and to serve as a 2nd Group chaplain, providing spiritual guidance and support to Special Operations soldiers.
Chang says the professionalism, diversity, and discipline that he learned in the military prepared him for his time at Duke.
“Duke Divinity School offers a valuable time to expand your academic, spiritual, and personal growth,” says Chang. “It’s important to take the time to get to know other students and professors, engaging with them on a spiritual, theological, academic, and personal level. Getting to know them can significantly enhance your academic and personal growth.”
On Veterans Day, Chang is reminded to look back at his journey so far and renew his dedication as an active soldier and as a Christian. “It is a day to renew my commitment, refresh my heart and gain new strength, and start paving a new path again,” he says.
Makala Carrington — United States Air Force
“Veterans Day for me is a rich tapestry of emotions, memories, and meanings that encompass family, service, community, and legacy, says Makala Carrington, M.Div. ’24. “It’s a day that resonates with the core of who I am, honoring not just my personal journey but the broader commitment that my family, as well as fellow veterans, have made to this country.”
Carrington serves as a public health officer in the United States Air Force. She works with enlisted airmen and guardians to fulfill mission readiness requirements (medical, dental, etc.), oversees inspections, and responds to environmental needs of the base.
She recalls a powerful memory from her commissioning ceremony at Officer Training School, the event when participants raise their right hand and recite the oath of office. Afterward, they receive their “first salute” from an enlisted officer.
Carrington’s first salute was given to her by her father, a retired U.S. Army veteran who served 20 years. “This was the first time I saw my dad cry. I’ve never seen him so proud of me, and after growing up in Fort Bragg—hearing my dad’s military stories and waking up to him singing jodies before school—everything came full circle in that moment,” she says.
Veterans Day, says Carrington, is a celebration of service. “My commissioning ceremony marked a significant milestone in my life, where I followed in my father’s footsteps to serve my country. Veterans Day is a time to feel a sense of pride in that legacy and to acknowledge the continuity of military service within my family,” she says.
Carrington earned her master of public health degree from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and she then applied to Duke Divinity School after reading about the Theology, Medicine, and Culture initiative. She had always felt a call to serve as an Air Force chaplain and was interested in the ways theology could intersect with public health and military service.
She says that the Air Force taught her the core values of embracing community, integrity, excellence, and service—that we’re all in this together, something that rings true for her as a student at Duke Divinity as well.
“As a student, I am grateful for my community, we’ve carried each other through,” Carrington says. “As an officer, I am grateful for those I have met along my journey that have embraced me, mentored me, and struggled with me; community is everything to me and I would not be the officer or person I am today without my village.”
Veterans Day for me is a rich tapestry of emotions, memories, and meanings that encompass family, service, community, and legacy.
It’s a day that resonates with the core of who I am, honoring not just my personal journey but the broader commitment that my family, as well as fellow veterans, have made to this country.
Justin Maynard — United States Coast Guard
Justin Maynard, M.Div. ’13, served on active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard at Small Boat Station in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., from 2002 to 2006. He was a Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class, radio dispatcher, and federal law enforcement boarding officer—responsible for responding to distressed mariners and driving search-and-rescue boats.
Currently, Maynard serves in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in Gainesville, Fla., as a clinical chaplain with a mental health specialty.
The U.S. Coast Guard instilled in him the values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty, says Maynard, which are values he tries to provide to his patients and their families today.
“I provide honor ceremonies for veterans after they die to bring comfort to the family,” he says. “The values of honor and respect assist me in listening to and treasuring the lives of veterans who have such amazing stories of resiliency. The devotion to duty instilled within me the desire to continue to contribute toward efforts of increasing chaplain support for suicidal veterans.”
As a chaplain, Maynard is passionate about suicide prevention and addressing the underlying spiritual crisis with veterans who are struggling to want to live or recovering from a recent attempt to end their life.
“I remember one time receiving a call as a dispatcher from a distressed wife whose husband had not returned from a day of boating,” says Maynard about his time in the Coast Guard. “I was able to get out on a rescue boat and search for him. I found him hours later, shivering in the darkness of night, and so thankful we came to find him and bring him home.”
Maynard says he will never forget the look of relief in the eyes of the people he helped to rescue. “Those images of rescue have translated into my own experience of God’s divine intervention in veterans’ lives, especially in recovery from suicide attempts,” he says.
In serving veterans today, Maynard attempts to offer this same kind of relief with a theory of pastoral care presence called with-ing. “Being in the presence of suffering, creating space for people to feel truly heard, honored, and seen, is what I mean by with-ing, as it involves being an active and engaged compassionate presence.”
Giving every person this sense of dignity, attention, and devotion is what Veterans Day means to Maynard. “Our nation takes a day to pay our respect and honor to all those who have served our country in uniform since the birth of our nation,” he says.
Anna Page — United States Army
Anna Page, M.Div. ’19, chose to attend Duke Divinity School after her commissioning as an officer through Army ROTC because of the school’s growing military community, the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies, and the ability to take additional courses at the Sanford School of Public Policy. Because of the school’s proximity to Fort Liberty in Fayetteville, N.C., she was also able to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves as a chaplain candidate.
“As an Army officer, having a military community and being able to attend classes on national security were important considerations for me,” Page says. “As an Army chaplain, learning in an ecumenical environment was essential. As a priest in formation, receiving education in Episcopal theology was imperative. Thus, Duke offered me the optimal environment to grow and form in all aspects of my vocation.”
Page is now an Episcopal priest and active-duty Army chaplain at Fort Liberty, working with soldiers and their families to provide religious support, ensure spiritual readiness, and offer ethical or religious counsel.
“As a chaplain, I am privileged to hear the stories and do life with the people whom I serve,” she says. Whether in formal counseling sessions or in conversations at the gym or drop zones, she views all the shared stories as integral to her work.
The Army taught her the importance of character and principle, says Page, something that she sees in the stories of the brave women and men that she works with who embody those values in everything that they do. Those stories are honored on Veterans Day, a time to remember the legacy of individuals, families, and entire generations.
“This day of honoring service is important to me because it reminds me of my family’s history of service to country, of which I am proud now to be a part. I would not be me if it were not for those who have served and for those with whom I am serving,” says Page.
“Veterans Day is a day of celebrating the people who have served, their commitment to service, and the legacy of service that is woven into the fabric of our nation.”
Veterans Day is a day of celebrating the people who have served, their commitment to service, and the legacy of service that is woven into the fabric of our nation.
Evan Adams — United States Marine Corps
“My personal calling has been deeply shaped by the stories of sacrifice, service, and resilience that I inherited from my father’s experiences as a Marine Corps combat veteran as he passionately shared the significance of living a life of service and embracing a cause greater than oneself,” says Evan Adams, Th.M ’23.
These values led Adams to pursue military service himself, as well as theological education, earning both a master of divinity from Andrews University and a master of theology degree at Duke Divinity School.
Before coming to Duke Divinity School, Adams served as the director of the Chaplain’s Religious Development Operation (CREDO) for Marine Corps Installations Pacific (MCIPAC) from 2018 to 2022, stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
Adams’ primary focus was to provide important programming on topics ranging from marriage enrichment, personal growth, leadership development, suicide prevention, and resiliency training. “These carefully crafted programs were designed to enrich the lives of the approximately 30,000 service members and their dependents under the umbrella of MCIPAC’s extensive area of responsibility, from Japan to Korea to Australia,” he says.
Adams feels a deep call to pastoral care and says he would often go the extra mile to be of service to the enlisted. He recalls one such story that took place during his deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 with Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 (MWSS274).
While stationed at Camp Leatherneck II in the Helmand province, Adams operated the “Chapel of the Desert,” a place of solace and support for Marines, and he started using the chapel kitchen to bake cakes for the Marines on their birthdays.
As word got around, he received a package from a mother requesting that he bake a cake for her son’s 21st birthday, but the cake became a mess on the tumultuous journey to deliver it to her son’s location.
Despite it all, says Adams, when he delivered the cake, the Marine was overcome with emotion. As tears streamed down the young man’s face, Adams was struck by how such a simple act could be a conduit for the unwavering love and support of a mother and demonstrate unity among service members.
“This experience encapsulates the essence of military service—a community that transcends challenges, distance, and adversity. It is a testament to the profound connections formed, the sacrifices made, and the shared values that bind us together,” he says.
Veterans Day represents a tapestry of experience and emotion, says Adams, including valor, resilience, spirit, community, and deep personal sacrifice that can come with severe costs to mental and physical health. “It’s a day to celebrate the heroes among us and to stand united in the pursuit of a brighter future for all veterans.”