Col. Leah Botona Boling took his place on September 12 as the first woman and person of color to serve as director of the Air National Guard Chaplain Corps to Air National Guard Readiness Center To Common base Andrews, Maryland. Although his military chaplaincy service began over 19 years ago, Boling’s dedication to guiding others through chaplaincy has been a lifelong passion.
Boling first felt drawn to the service of the faith when she was just a little girl living in the Philippines. Growing up in the town of Mati, Boling often saw a woman from his community, Lola Pada, helping hospital patients as a volunteer chaplain.
Years later, Boling was working as an intern at the Philippine Customs Office when she was approached by a missionary and mentor who asked her if she felt called to the ministry. This divine intervention sparked Boling’s fond memories of Lola Pada and ultimately caused her to forgo the internship to begin a journey to chaplaincy.
After graduating from the Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary in Baguio, Boling moved to Honolulu to work as a hospital chaplain and soon met her husband, Jeff, an aviator stationed on the island.
âMy husband actually told me about military chaplaincy and suggested that I consider enlisting,â Boling said. âI didn’t think it was for me until I found out that my Sunday School teacher was the wing chaplain at the 154th Wing. He introduced me to the Air National Guard. “
Boling continued to question whether military service was right for him until the morning of September 11, 2001.
âWhen I saw the attacks on our nation, I cried all morning and prayed,â Boling said. “I felt determined to help and I knew I had the skills, both for mental health and spiritual healing, to help people get through this.”
In April 2002, Boling was sworn in as the first female chaplain in Hawaii Air National Guard history.
âMilitary chaplaincy is similar to a church pastor,â Boling said. âThe only difference is that my church is bigger than the steeple because my church is all over the world where the airmen are. I baptize. I marry. I bury. I advise. All the great work the pastors do, I can provide it to the Airmen anytime, anywhere.
As the first female director of the ANG Chaplain Corps, Boling believes her perspective may offer new perspectives to decision-makers in the National Guard.
âMy own perspective, my own experience is so unique and that’s the thing about diversity. Everyone has their own story and their own way of seeing the world, âBoling said. ” Whether it be the diversity thought, gender, ethnicity, religion or even sexual orientation, diversity in leadership matters because it reflects our people and brings so many powerful experiences to the conversation. Diversity is important because it’s the right thing to do.
Boling says her Filipino heritage will also play an important role in how she leads the ANG chaplain corps.
âIn Filipino culture, we have a concept called Bayanihan,â Boling said. âGrowing up, I saw people in my community working together to literally pick up a neighbor’s house with their bare hands and move it to a safer or better place.â
This Bayanihan spirit speaks to members of the community who come together to achieve great feats; a metaphor that Boling translates by working with his fellow wingers to accomplish the mission.
“This teamwork, this concept of the Filipino family, this Bayanihan, I put it on the table as [ANG] director of chaplains.
Boling recognizes that his rise to this position is an important step in the diversity of Air Guard leadership. Plus, she hopes breaking down that barrier will inspire young girls, women and people of color to aim so high.
âWhatever you want to accomplish, whatever your goal, it’s achievable. You just have to work to get there, âBoling said. âConnect with mentors, friends and family who will validate you, support you and give you honest feedback. Maximize your education and use your own experiences to help others. Most of all, speak your truth, be genuine, and do your best to be the best you can be every day. “
Today, Boling’s tenure is ongoing as an advisor to the director of the ANG and the Head of Headquarters Air Force chaplains on all matters relating to religious freedom, accommodation, morale and readiness of company chaplains.
âI bring the female perspective, the maternal perspective, the Filipino perspective and, most importantly, the perspective of Leah Botona Boling. As I sit among all the Directors of the Air National Guard Readiness Center, I will use elements from every perspective to ensure that every decision we make is nurturing, caring and in the best interests of our Airmen, â Boling said.